I love this title on Jeff’s site: Corn syrup is the new opiate of the masses. It’s one of those funny little things that I wish I’d written. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of months now.
The Husband and I do most of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods. It was something we started doing the summer between my two years of grad school. I was working full time during the summer months and there wasn’t a tuition bill to pay, so I felt less anxious when I saw the higher grocery bill. I enjoyed the better quality of the produce and the greater selection of organic foods. When school started again, we intended to return to shopping at our regular supermarket, but we weren’t as happy with the choices, and so now we do most of our weekly shopping at Whole Foods, with a run by Safeway on the way home to pick up kitty litter and various odds and ends that we couldn’t get at Whole Foods.
I’m sure some of my attachment to Whole Foods is simply based on packaging and marketing. I’m buying into something, and I’m aware of that. I want to buy groceries that are labeled organic and locally grown, and Whole Foods is willing to cater to that desire. I tell myself that it’s not just for my own health, but for the greater good: pesticides aren’t being washed into rivers, and energy isn’t being used to transport produce from other continents (okay, Whole Foods isn’t a great example for my second rationale, but at least things are labeled so I can buy locally grown items when there’s a choice). It is also certainly something for my health. I like to read labels and know what I’m eating, but it takes time, and I know that anything I buy at Whole Foods is going to be free of most of the ingredients that I try to avoid, such as “fake sugar” and hydrogenated oils (and fois gras--am always reading labels to avoid purchasing anything containing fois gras). I know that I am privileged to be able to afford to be so picky.
When we got back from London after Thanksgiving, it was a Sunday evening. We picked up Thai takeout on the way home from the airport, and for the next few nights ate soups that I’d frozen before we left. Because Safeway is the nearest supermarket, The Husband finally went over there one evening after work to pick up the staples—sandwich bread, cereal, yogurt. Every day in my lunch I take a lot of little snacks, including the little cups of applesauce that I use to have packed in my school lunch. The Husband, who is not usually the fanatic for reading labels that I am (“’Wheat’ and ‘whole wheat’ bread aren’t the same thing. And just because it says whole wheat on the front, doesn’t mean it is. You have to check that the first ingredient is actually whole wheat flour.” Oh, it is fun to be married to me!), chose that night to read applesauce labels. Nearly every one of them contained corn syrup. He found one that had a more limited ingredients list, although not as limited as the applesauce we normally buy, which contains apples and water. After he told me about this search, I started reading the labels on other things he’d bought. The “healthy, whole grain” cereal he’d bought me contained corn syrup and offered 13 grams of sugar per serving. The store brand yogurt was made with corn syrup. When I stopped in the Safeway next door to my office a couple of days later to pick up some chutney, I couldn’t find one that didn’t contain corn syrup.
It's not that I eat only healthy foods. I am quite willing to steal a handful of peanut butter M&Ms from a co-worker's desk, or rot my teeth with candy from strangers (or sisters). I love ice cream, and I've been known to eat popcorn and 7-Up and the movie theater and call it dinner. And I don't buy my peanut butter at Whole Foods, because I truly believe that it doesn't taste good without sugar and partially-hydrogenated oil. But I do hate that by the coffeemaker at work we have non-dairy creamer and artificial sweetner--no actual milk or sugar. And I worry about the people who don't have the choices that I have. Are people honestly surprised that sixty percent of Americans are overweight or obese?