Monday, November 23, 2009

Health Food Wannabe

Nobody said this would be easy.

In a quest to reduce my exposure to unnecessary and potentially harmful food additives, I have been doing more grocery shopping in those nuts-and-berries type stores these days, and I've come to the conclusion that eating healthy - you know, organic and unprocessed and fresh as possible foods - is actually kind of a pain in the neck. I'm learning that it takes more than just lofty food ideals to actually get the stuff into your pantry and on the table.

For one thing, there's a whole different food language to master. The words natural and wholesome do not translate to organic. I'm accustomed to grabbing a can or a package and tossing it into my grocery basket, but lately I find myself standing in store aisles with my glasses pushed up on my head and squinting at food labels. Quinoa? Amaranth? Is parboiled brown rice cheating? Who knew there were so many different kinds of beans? And how in the heck do you cook those things, anyway? Is grass-fed beef really any better than organic Angus beef? Does it matter if your chicken can roam at home on the range? With the buffalo? Is buffalo the same as bison?

Once I have chosen and schlepped the ingredients home in my organic cotton reusable shopping bag, then there's the whole preparation and cooking thing. Unfamiliar ingredients and longer cooking times don't always result in food that um....appears superior to my previous fare. What? Mac 'n cheese isn't always a fluorescent orange color? And it doesn't come in a tidy little blue box?? (Just kidding. Actually I'm used to the kind that comes in a yellow box. I do have my standards, after all.) And I'm not so far gone that I don't remember cooking oatmeal that comes in the round cardboard canister. It's just been awhile. A very long while.

I'm not totally unaccustomed to cooking from scratch. I have loved making home made breads and slow cooked pot roasts and poultry for ages. But I've been cooking on auto pilot for so many years that making changes of any kind is hard. Some things have been easy - it's just as simple to toss an organically grown potato into the oven as a commercially grown one. No, the most difficult changes have been in making the choices: what kind of potato is really more healthy than others? And the expense - eating organically definitely consumes a bigger part of our food budget. Are there really enough benefits to eating organically to justify the cost? Besides, after all the angst and study and consternation, does it all matter, anyway?

Well, sure it does.

I know this, especially after all the time that I have recently spent reading countless studies and listening to my doctors and dietitians. But right on cue, whenever a challenge that involves self-control presents itself my whiney-butt and undisciplined inner child makes her appearance.

"I don't waaaaannnnnnnnaaaaa eat healthier! I like high fructose corn syrup and mystery meat hot dogs and Twinkies and Wonder bread. I want to buy a zillion Little Debbie pastries for a buck a box! And soda pop and artificial sweeteners and colors and flavors! Waaaahhhhh!" *rolls on floor with fists and feet flailing*

While roaming around the various organic food stores, I did finally make an observation that helped me to corral my out-of-control inner child. After I eventually came up for air from all those ingredients and labels and bins of strange looking grains with shiny little aluminum scoops, it occurred to me that there were more differences here than just packaging and brands in these types of stores.

Oh, yeah, the simple concrete floors and soothing natural colors, the absence of plastic bags, the artful yet eco-friendly lighting, all those things definitely set these stores apart from my usual grocery haunts.

What really got my attention was the clientele. It took several weeks before it occurred to me that the people that shop these types of stores............well, they just seemed different than those that I was accustomed to jostling aside at the cereal aisle while reaching for a ginormous package of Cap'n Crunch.

Unlike me, none of those health food types were cruising the store slugging down a blue raspberry big-gulp-size Slurpee while snacking on leftover McDonald's french fries.

As I looked around at these shoppers, I noticed that they too were carefully examining labels and ingredients. They sniffed and poked and prodded the vegetables and fruits. They moved through the aisles and made their choices in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. But the real clincher? The real characteristic of those health-foodies that put inner child Julia in a straight jacket? That made me stop and think, "I want to join this club!"?

I'll betcha that a good 75% of those shoppers appeared to be in much better physical condition than me. That's it. Plain and simple.

Of course there's no guarantee that any of these folks were in as good of health as they appeared, after all invisible illnesses are named invisible because they are invisible. Any Sjoggie can attest to the frustration of hearing someone say those dreaded five words: But You Don't Look Sick! Sigh.

At the very least, I could definitely make the observation correctly that most of these shoppers were more fit than I am. Who knows - maybe the reason that they are more svelte than me is because at these prices, one really thinks twice before pouring a second bowl of cereal or finishing off a bag of expensive organic chips. I guess there's all sorts of motivation for portion control.

I really wish that by shopping at the right food store, one could guarantee a healthy and fit body. Wouldn't that be grand? But in spite of no hard and fast promises, I can't believe that I am doing my body a disservice by being more particular about what I eat.

Someday I want to blend in with this crowd.

photo by memoossa

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Beautiful. What a GREAT post. Hang in there, cheering you on.....