Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where is the Actual Food in America's Supermarkets?

I walked into a big box supermarket for the first time in ages today. I've got to say that it was a shock to the system considering that I've grown all my vegetables this year and I buy my meat and dairy direct from a small family farm. Upon entering the supermarket I felt like the whole place was shouting at me, each item desperately competing for my attention, trying to distract me down a long aisle and disorient me to the point that I'd be wandering around in a daze, susceptible to all sorts of ill-advised purchases. I found the whole place impersonal, overwhelming, uncomfortable and alien. The store was massive, just completely overextended with too many choices of food-like substances filling the aisles.

Let's take the butter section for example because this is indeed Eat More Butter and butter was in fact the item I needed to purchase. It took quite a few minutes of wandering through the store to even find the butter section but once I did I stood dumbfounded. Take a look…

Where is the butter? Seriously, where is it? In this wall of butter-esque products, less than a quarter of what you see is actual butter. It's located in the bottom left, not even at eye level. The rest of what you see are butter substitutes made to look and taste like butter with different combinations of ingredients both real and chemical. This isn't a post about the why you should always choose real butter (I think our blog title makes my stance clear though if you need more information, click through to Why Butter Is Better by Sally Fallon Morell and Mary G. Enig), this is a post about the American supermarket.

If you extrapolate the statistics of the butter section (1/4 butter, 3/4 fake butter) to the rest of the supermarket, what do you have? TOO MUCH of very bad things. It's hard to see the actual food between all the processed and imitation foods clogging the aisles. Having choice is all well and good but frankly, it shouldn't take 10 minutes to walk to the other side of the store. If you distilled the supermarket down to its essentials - fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, eggs, dairy, grain - it really wouldn't be very big at all, probably about a quarter of the size if not smaller!

Instead we could drop the "super" and just call it what it is - a market, a grocery store, a place to buy real food. And that indeed would be super.

Over to you - has anyone else spent some time away from the big box American supermarket and walked back into it with new eyes? Have supermarkets lost your business? Where do you like to do your food shopping?


  1. Ugh. I WISH I didn't have to shop at the big grocery stores, but I make a STRONG effort to keep only to the perimeter and to not stray into the aisles filled with processed foods. I desperately wish we lived in an area that was more conducive to gardening and local farming. I've been researching a few of the local CSA's, and I think my husband and I (along with my parents) are going to buy in for a share this season...as we've transitioned to a very heavily vegetarian diet (my hubby can't give up meat completely, bless him).

  2. First time reading your blog btw, and loving it!

    I am lucky to live in an area that really focuses on local/organic REAL food, and spoil myself with as much of it as I can. I have been shopping at our local food co-op, the local natural store (which is huge and amazing!) and the farmer's markets and only going to the larger stores when I have no choice or when pressed for time and passing one.

    I don't like the big stores, and after even seeing (much less tasting) fruit and veg from the gardens and farm markets, the stuff in the superstores does not even look good anymore, despite being bred and chemical-enhanced for perfection to the eye.
    I avoid processed food, and it is scary how much of it there really is, just like your picture, the 'real' food is in smaller area, below the eye, like bottom shelf liquor, rather than the good stuff it is.

  3. Katie and Sarah - thanks so much for your comments!

    Katie - I've found that the more you look beyond the supermarket, the more there is! A CSA is a great starting point (certainly was for me!) because it puts you in contact with other people that share the same eating values. They in turn may know great sources for organic, grass-fed, pastured meat that your husband will be glad to have! Have you checked out www.eatwild.com for meat sources in your state? Their state maps are extremely helpful.

    Sarah - You've brought up such a great point - it really is shocking that the fruit and vegetables in supermarkets are engineered to look perfect to consumers, but what a let down they are! It's no wonder so many people claim not to like vegetables! Also we've lost so many great vegetable varieties... it seems the only vegetables grown for these big superstores are those that are sturdy enough to handle being shipped across the country and eaten a week after being picked. Why would anyone want to eat that? Give me REAL vegeatbles - delicate lettuces, crisp radishes, peppery arugula and sweet beets and beet greens straight from the earth! There really is no comparison.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. i can so appreciate this blog post - today while washing my hair and for about the umpteenth time, i was thinking about the shelf life of products that are not food (though wondering this about food as well certainly has its merit). i see all of this, the photo you post, your words, the products, in my mind more than when actually at the store - why? because i try to go only once every two weeks to bear precisely that commercialism of consumerism. i practice distracting myself by heading directly to what i want to get (bread, soymilk, almonds, yoghurt, banans, some lettuce) and then flee - quickly. the competition of products has no hand on my attention but my time is better spent not being prey to it, this i know and i bask in being ignorant.

    oh and about that shampoo i was using while i was wondering - i think products might not be being rotated enough moreso now than prior. i have yet to really smell shampoo freshly, and i am searching on where now to purchase that item.

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