Monday, September 17, 2007

Depression in Aisle 8

Yesterday I did something I haven't done in quite some time: I went to my local supermarket.

I live in a bad neighborhood. In order to preserve my unbroken record of living in New York, I have opted to live in a less than ideal locale, calmly coping with the drug dealers, the occasional shooting, the lackluster food delivery options, and the absence of many of the amenities the rest of my home borough rightly takes for granted. It was Sunday, we had been spending a lazy long weekend, punctuated by some frivolous eating out and dressing up (as documented earlier), and I just wanted something to eat. Right. Now.

That's what the local supermarket is for.

So, with a vague notion of something quick to heat and eat, I entered. I've lived in this apartment for four years and have made my way to the supermarket loads of times to stock up on garbage bags, sugar, parchment paper, light bulbs, etc., but I can't remember the last time I went in here for food. I do most of my shopping at the Whole Foods near my office and the Union Square Greenmarket. I am the girl on the subway laden with bags. By the way, please give me your seat when you see me - this stuff is heavy.

As I walked up and down the aisles, though, I felt myself grow more and more dissatisfied and vaguely ill. The man of the house had requested a hard sausage, and the options available to me were Oscar Meyer - meat of uncertain provenance (or uncertainly meat) stuffed to the gills with freshenators, colorizers, and starchatives (he is far less demanding than I (and often dismissive of my food fascism) and accepted the Hormel pre-sliced pepperoni like a champ, though I was pleased to see the majority of the package in the trash this morning.

The produce aisle looked like something out of a documentary on starving children in war zones - the fruits and vegetables donated by rich countries left to spoil on a tarmac somewhere while 14-year olds with uzis prevent people from taking it. There was no fresh bread to speak of, unless you count the spanish style rolls which are without taste or nutrients. There was no cheese save packaged cheese (forgive me I bought Polly-O String cheese as I know he likes it) - and I'll have more to say on that later. The frozen foods were plentiful, but not a single product worth looking twice at. Frivolously I read some packages noting that there were far more ingredients than strictly necessary or preferable, and that, more often than not, simple things were labeled as flavored i.e. chicken parmesan made with chicken flavor, macaroni and cheese with real cheese flavor. What is real cheese flavor?

I saw the Top Chef-hawked Bertoli frozen skillet meals and almost took one with me, but the idea of cooking it made me ill - there were just too many mystery inclusions. I did discover organic milk, but many of the cartons (of both organic and conventional) were either past or nearly past their expiration.

I ended up buying a frozen pizza and I did, in fact eat it. There was nothing wrong with its taste (bland vaguely tomato), but it didn't really taste like anything going down. It was so clearly designed to make me full without nourishing me. I took home a bag of Pepperidge Farm bagels which had a more natural feel to them than the Thomas's ones (which are a consistency no bread product should be - a very very disturbing squishiness), but couldn't really commit to eating one so I threw them in the freezer.

Had I wanted chips and soda, I would have had limitless choices. There were three separate chip displays including the new, and incredibly grotesque sounding, crab flavored Lays. There was an entire half aisle (in a four aisle supermarket) devoted to soda (though, in fairness, they did have some Izze).

I get a lot of grief at home for my shopping habits. The man of the house doesn't understand why we need to pay twelve dollars a pound for flank steak from the market and why I won't just buy an apple in the store in June. Since he does none of the shopping and is clearly pleased with what he eats in our home, these little disagreements crop up only on the rare occasions we go shopping together (when ample fun is made of me for convenience purchases like organic bouillon). And, to be perfectly honest, until yesterday, part of me felt as though my shopping habits had a fair amount to do with conscious choices and politics (though anyone who has eaten supermarket meat recently will back me up when I say that taste plays a major role in how I shop). Now, having seen that the poorest people are supplied with food that is bereft of nutrients and stuffed to the gills with white flour, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and methylethylwhatevrylmimicyrlfalserylcolorylickyryl - food that lets you know you've eaten but does nothing but stuff you with simple carbohydrates and, presumably, cancer, I realize that health is now trumping politics in my mind as I shop for our household. I don't ever want to go to that supermarket again for something that isn't a household cleanser or paper good. It made me not a little sick.

Now back to that cheese:

A 15oz. package of Polly-O Extra Long String Cheese set me back $5.99. Read that again to make sure you got it, please. Even at Whole Foods, which can be a little pricey, a pound of fresh mozzarella is, I believe, $5.99. It certainly was $4.99 at Fairway, and the bocconcini I bought at Citarella a couple of weeks ago was $7.99, and that's a prepared food. When I hear people lament that buying and eating good food is too expensive, I'm going to remember the mozzarella.

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