When I was a kid, I remember grocery shopping as a monthly family food-venture. My mother would take us to Washington Heights and we’d meet our father out front. They would both divide, take up different sections of the food market, reconvene and take diplomatic stances on which plantains were best for the “10 for $1” sale or which limes were best for marinating chicken. As they reflected their decisions like true Dominicans, shouting over a pile of Yucca in the produce section, my sister and I made our own decisions, choosing which tiles to avoid for our “Lava “game. See, we didn’t mind the fussy adults or the frigid air that constantly smelled of boxes and lettuce because each time we ventured to the 151st supermarket, it became a scavenger hunt for a 90’s kid biggest treasure. The diamond of all grocery items. The crème de la crème of snacks: Bugs Bunny Graham Snacks:
They were so hard to find and the supermarket only had them in stock about 2-3 times a year. Every month was a mission to find the little grocery nugget in its section and whenever my sister and I would find them, we’d say a prayer to the snack gods, sneak it under a pack of chicken drum sticks and hope for the best when we got to the checkout line. In the democratic Dominican house of America, we all had job or purpose at the supermarket.
Now that I’m older, wandering into my local supermarket alone, making healthy self-conscious decisions and placing a $6.00 carton of organic blueberries into my cart, who am I arguing with?
Here’s my mentality: I buy a red pepper because it’s red. Pick a lemon because it looks decent. Is it ripe? PFFT, I hope so. I want to go home and make some bangin’ ass tea. Don’t have time to squeeze tear drops outta this thing, I gotta wake up early but then I ask myself, should I put more mental effort into picking lemons? What are “good” lemons?
Easter- yellow lemons? Non-GMO lemons? Organic lemons? Cruelty- free lemons?! Free- range lemons?! Kosher lemons?! Gluten- free lemons?! Sin-free lemons?!
…Okay so I made the last one up but I’m pretty sure we’re close to discovering the inner demons of lemons. Did I ever eat a demon lemon? Would that make me an exorcist? I WANNA KNOW.
So how do I choose the “right” lemon for my body and soul? Let’s look at how we produce and classify foods. Words like organic, gluten-free and non-GMO are agricultural terms to define how foods are grown and processed but in the food marketing industry, it’s a classist-based labeling system that drives our agriculture economy and shapes our perception of nutrition and health.
Das right. Our food industry is classist and imma tell ya why. Let’s take the word ‘organic’ for example. It describes food grown without chemicals, hormones and genetically modified molecules. Some scientific research has shown that organic foods have more nutritional value then their processed counterparts and even though the claim has been widely criticized, the word “organic” has become a health-food marketing staple. Putting the word “organic” in front of anything implicates that the item is healthy, transparent and in good quality. So if I’m at a supermarket, hovering over some demon lemons, as a consumer, I have to make an educated decision between varieties of lemons and choose one that best suits my life-style. I’m responsible for the choices I make. Not the supermarket, not the produce company and not the farmer. Hold onto this thought.
So because I’m responsible for my decisions, I can choose to spend .50 cents on a demon lemon or $ 1.00 on an organic lemon and I can’t argue with this. You pay more for quality, American Economics 101. Now for the sake of my argument, I’m not going to dive into the environmental, labor and ethical benefits into spending more on organic food because it’s not about that. Our current food classification model is a social representation of a well-disguised ranking system that ultimately influences how consumers, businesses, government and scientists view food.
Now when I was a kid, back at the Washington Heights supermarket, organic food wasn’t an option. A tomato was a tomato that came from X location. That was it. I wonder if I was born now, would my parents argue between organic platanos and processed platanos. Probably not. They’re cheap AF. Honestly they recently learned about food differences when I started bringing groceries from Trader Joes and Whole Foods.
“Why you buying pan when we already have pan?”
“Because it’s not organic.”
Even though my fridge was consistently stocked, thanks to my dad’s empty-fridge anxieties, I still purchased organic or non-GMO equivalents so I could essentially… live cancer free. FO’EVA.
I know it’s inevitable but I’ll do anything to slow down the process rather than let it catch me in my twenties. Until I have babies, I want all the energy to do me, okay? (You gotta imagine me snapping my fingers otherwise it’ll have no effect). Eventually the processed foods in the fridge perished and I’d keep buying my organic stuff. My parents were surprisingly supportive but sometimes my mom would be like:
“Why just don’t you just wash it…really well, like I do?”
“BECAUSE THERE’S CHEMICALS IN DA FOOD MA”
She didn’t get it. I didn’t have time to wash zucchini for 10 minutes. SPLASH, CHOP N’ EAT. Ya knowwhatimsayin???
I eventually moved out of my parents’ house and in with my boyfriend. I’m in charge of grocery shopping. I get most of my non-perishables from Thrive.com and get the produce, meat and other groceries from the local Key Food or Whole Foods. I’m really conscious of the choices I make and try to buy organic or non-GMO when possible. Fortunately, labeling makes this easy for me so I just grab and pile items into the cart. I recently looked at my credit card bill and last month I spent about $300.00 on groceries. It may not be much to you pero like, I don’t even eat at home every day and my boyfriend usually eats out so…food is just there for me.
So I almost pooped/popped a blood vessel but I think I figured it out. When it comes to grocery shopping, I’ll be honest with myself. I pretend to be frugal but I’m really not. I’ll choose anything that looks and sounds remotely healthy and move on with my life. I know non-processed items are more expensive but if it’s supposed to maintain/ improve your health, it’s a solid investment right? Okay, so you probably forgot by now but let’s go back to that thought I asked you to hold onto.
U.S agriculture is federally regulated in the way it’s grown, processed, sold and consumed. Doesn’t matter how much you eat or what you eat, the government will still impose the minimum amount of fat, protein vitamins and minerals an average person should consume in a day. You could eat three boxes of Dijorno and tell the government to waf in the diarrhea it gave you, because ‘MERICA right? The company would still obligated to tell you how much nutrition was in a cheese- smothered cardboard but the government doesn’t have to hold the company accountable for missing the daily, government-defined minimum again, because ‘MERICA right? It’s our constitutional right to choose and eat our poisons. Oh, with the exception of marijuana, of course. If the government can regulate the amount of alcohol we drink, the cigarettes we smoke, and the marijuana we buy for “health” risks, why can’t the government enforce laws that would force agriculture to be healthy, safe and accessible to everyone? Essentially, why can’t organic lemons be regular lemons? Why not have one standard, way of growing and producing food that is safe, healthy and environmentally –friendly, a standard every farmer can abide to, so that everyone pays the same price for the same amount of food for the same quality? Capitalism. Diversity among food qualities has manifested into a social food pyramid; a hierarchy of different qualities that suggest some foods are “better” than others which ultimately influences how consumers perceive, interact and spend on food.
Amazon purchased Whole Foods last year for a whopping three billion dollars. Since then, the online retail giant brought their innovative online shopping experience into the food industry, dawning a new era of food shopping. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been praying for a merger of some kind when Trader Joe lines started to break my soul.The last thing I want to do after work is to stand in a mile-long checkout line for “Cookie Butter” and Greek yogurt, lug it back to Queens on the train then on a bus and get home about an hour and half later to realize I actually went for the hazelnut creamer and forgot all about it. Do you know how frickin’ frustrating that is?! So the day finally came Amazon and Whole Foods merged and I’m daydreaming of food shopping online, coming home after a long day at work and find it there waiting for me. Honestly that is the sexiest thing I have ever fantasized about. It’s like coming home to your lover in lingerie. Except your lover is food and the box is lingerie…ok lemme stop. Fantasies aside, the idea was reaaaal tempting but then I started thinking about produce and who would pick what. If I wanted a lemon would they pick the ripest one or a dry one? Do they know how to pick a ripe lemon? What if they picked a demon one? It became a nightmare real quick.
Instant gratification is a lucrative business but it’s an addicting component of our shop culture. So much so, Amazon’s business model is based on compulsive and instantly-gratifying shopping experiences. It allows them to saturate the market with all sorts of goods ranging from products that come straight from the company or cheap replicas from third-party businesses and because you can’t touch or feel what you’re buying, you have to rely on peer reviews, which at times, are often manipulated. So essentially, if you buy food off their website, you can only rely on product descriptions and labeling. Do you see where I’m going with this? Honestly I dunno where I’m going with this. I just want to eat food… and not feel like I need a doctorate degree to understand the concepts and labels of regular food. When life gives me lemons, I want to make lemonade and not worry about them murdering me in my sleep.