The American Food Companies Insult My Intelligence

Vegetables

Food should radiate beauty, not subatomic particles.   (Photo credit: neonbubble)

Unbeknownst to many people, cooking requires as much artistry as poetry.  And like most artists, I enjoy visiting the holy temples of art supplies, also known as grocery stores.  The beauty they contain rivals the world’s greatest museums.

On this blog, I occasionally write about visits to farmer’s markets, international grocers, and other unnecessary specialty retailers.  Today I’d rather mesmerize you with the magic of your typical everyday supermarket. Unfortunately, most people overlook the wonders that await them under the glare of fluorescent lights and screaming toddlers.  Forget about those distractions and let the food shine.  If you want your culinary creations to sing, you need melodically enhanced ingredients.  So pick up any product and you’re sure to find poetry where you thought none had existed.  Let’s start with a soft drink label:

Phosphoric acid,
Brominated vegetable
oil, and Benzene

Acid rocks!  Although you could go all hippie and call this the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, soft drinks taste better during the summer.   So let’s say that the Age of Cancer will arrive soon at an unsuspecting body near you.  It will be more magnificent than liquor!  And it will be smooth like butter!  Nice, healthy, natural butter with no added chemicals that melts on your tongue and leaves a warm milky feeling.  So maybe a stick of butter will add to our culinary symphony:

Sodium chloride’s
reduced!  Healthy!  Safer than
our regular stuff.

And where there’s butter, you’ll find toast.  Nice warm hearty toast.  And basic too: grains, water, yeast, and a little salt.  However, we need artistically enhanced toast, one that crisps up with convenient speed to a beautiful dark color.  I wonder what sort of prestidigitation makes that possible…

Sugar.  More sugar.
This bread is not safe for you.
Diabetes, right?

Having lived in Europe, my wonderment never ends over the riches of salt and sugar that the American food companies add to everything.  Witness the pageantry of low-sodium canned corn and tomatoes, both of which Mother Nature got wrong by not enhancing their flavor like in the original canned product.  And let’s not forget the sugar-free desserts that abound with spectacular chemical sweeteners while maintaining a gloriously elevated calorie count that reveals the aesthetic shortcomings of a basic Italian biscotti.  Speaking of all this wonderful processed food, let’s look at a can or two:

Canned bisphenol A:
More cancers, Obesity,
Disrupts dopamine

See?  You can always improve the classics.  Nature’s radiance finds its completion in the laboratory, much like Haiku ascends to unimaginable heights once we eliminate our reliance on a culturally constructed notion of “natural beauty.”  And on the topic of natural things, we ought to conclude our supermarket tour by visiting the produce section.  There, we can observe a helpful sign above the merchandise, one that kindly transports our minds from dark thoughts of pesticides:

We coat fruit in wax.
It looks shiny, crisp, healthy.
You’ll pay more for it.

But what are a few extra cents for produce compared to the bills for a lifetime of health ailments?

Beauty.  Poetry.  Groceries. 

Paying Full Price Insults My Intelligence

Models in a mall

(Photo credit: Toban B.)

Although I am unemployed, I still have to wear clothes.  (Trust me, that’s not negotiable around here.)  That means I have to own clothes and I can’t own clothes unless I buy them.

I’m not a big fan of Wal-Mart and similar stores because the merchandise just doesn’t last very long.  However, I have a fairly strict budget.  And in spite of this, I don’t have to walk around naked.   So I’d like to share an easy tip with all of you.

First rule of shopping on a budget: don’t go to the advertised sales.  Advertised sales are designed to get customers in the door to view a very limited number of reduced price items in hopes that other (more expensive) merchandise will also be purchased.  You should also know that some clothing manufacturers prohibit stores from advertising their products below a certain price point.  It tarnishes the brand’s image if everyone knows you can get Armani for ten bucks.

Instead, stop in occasionally when there’s no official sale going on.  Stores still have to get rid of unsold merchandise and they do it under the radar when there’s no publicized “special event.”  After all, stores are allowed to sell products below the agreed-upon minimum if a customer has the product already in hand to see a physical price tag.

This, incidentally, is why Amazon doesn’t list the prices for some items until you click on the product’s page.  Viewing a list is like browsing the racks and clicking a product is equivalent to looking at something more closely.

The only downside to shopping like this is that a lot of the super-clearance stuff looks really tacky on the rack.  About half of it will look good if you take a moment to try it on.  The other half was designed by clowns, and probably for clowns as well.

But if you were Bozo, you would have gone to the advertised sale instead.

The Poor Man’s Snobbery Insults My Intelligence

You may think that only rich people can be snobs.  I intend to prove you wrong.

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I like international grocery stores.  Besides the selection of food, the products are usually cheaper and sometimes significantly so.  For instance,  you can find spices for obscenely low prices; the brand name companies represented at your regular grocery store sell you a small bottle of spice for a lot of money, but I get my spice for one to three dollars per pound.  These are Indian brands or direct imports by the international market for consumption by the local immigrant community.  I may not get the “comfort” of a familiar brand, but that’s relatively unimportant.  If a spice brand is good enough for people in (or from) India, it’s good enough for me.  The quality is there.

English: Brazilian Linguiça or pork sausage on...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But instead of seeking good deals, many Americans buy (literally) the food companies’ advertising.  The grocery stores keep telling us how much of a bargain their prices are and the manufacturers also bombard us with messages about their products’ quality and budget friendliness.  And people absorb these messages unquestioningly.

So, I was visiting some friends one time and decided to bring some sausage from a local mom-and-pop butcher shop run by immigrants.  (Usually, my friends supply all the food for everyone; this doesn’t seem right.)  The sausage at this shop costs 30-40% less than what the grocery store sells.  It’s also fresher and of much higher quality.  However, my friend (who is not poor by any means) responded self-righteously to my contribution and did so with more than a little discomfort; he had agreed to let me bring food but I think he overestimated his ability to deal with it.

Some people who aren’t rich take their economic status as a sign of virtue; my friend was no exception.  It also didn’t help that people have learned to equate price and quality.  I brought better stuff, which somehow meant that I was flaunting my “higher” status.   (Um… I’ve been unemployed for a while and wasn’t rich before that, but no matter.)   I recommended the store and mentioned the lower prices but my words fell on deaf ears.  “Our prudent Kroger is better than your profligate place, you scum.”  Or something like that.

If that’s not snobbery, I don’t know what is.

If you want to spend the extra money to finance a world of wonderful advertisements, be my guest.  I’d rather spend the cash on something useful, or perhaps keep it in my bank account.  I’m a big fan of frugality, but I guess that makes me a snob too.