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Fear and Loathing in the Supermarket

December 9, 2015

Fear. Everyone’s talking about it.

Did you ever see Defending Your Life? It’s an old movie with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. Most people hate it. I must have seen the picture over twenty times. All sorts of big subjects were tackled rather brilliantly in the story, including death, love, and yes, fear.

Rip Torn plays a lawyer of sorts and was explaining how citizens of the universe view life down on Earth. Instead of telling you about it, here’s the scene. But if 3:30 is just too long to watch, right now, the nut is that everyone on Earth uses 3-5% of their brains, and pretty much our entire lives are driven by fear.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from the clip, “Fear is like a giant fog. It blocks everything. Real feelings, true happiness, real joy. They can’t get through that fog. But you lift it… and you’re in for the ride of your life.”

We all have fears. But I’m not particularly afraid of death. It’s coming for all of us. I don’t fear for my safety or the safety of my family, as I’ve learned that safety is an illusion. Freak accidents happen all the time. You can’t protect yourself or your loved ones from random events.

A friend’s father slipped from a low rung of a ladder, broke his neck, and died instantly. Fatal car crashes happen all the time. Cancer snatches the young and old alike, sometimes with breathtaking speed. Animals attack. You choke on a donut when eating alone at home. Undetected aneurysms rupture. This is getting dark. Let me get to the point.

The point is that life is fragile. Life is fleeting. And that’s part of what makes it so very special.

There are plenty of food writers who feed into people’s fear. That’s not what I try to do. But if we’re not long for this world, and we are not, you may want to make sure you’ve enjoyed a well-lived life. And that is a big part of the reason why I find myself appalled by what supermarkets pass off as food.

I’m starting to think there are almost no good produce choices in the supermarket. Conventional crops are grown in a monoculture, planted in synthetically fertilized soil, sprayed with pesticides and herbicides that require protective equipment to handle, picked before they were ripe, trucked around the country, gassed to give them a ripe appearance, and sold as a farm fresh product. It’s fake food.

Large scale organic produce isn’t all that much better. Today, they can be grown with pesticides and herbicides too, just so long as those poisons are synthesized from natural substances.

The point here isn’t “chemicals are bad.” We’re made out of chemicals. Everything is chemicals. And I’m not trying to say that eating food sprayed with pesticides will disrupt your hormones, give you cancer, afflict your kids with ADHD, or whatever the fear du jour is currently. My point is that large scale agriculture is a shitty way to raise the food that we eat. The crops are optimized for sturdiness and their ease of production. There people farming on a large scale are not optimizing for flavor or agricultural diversity.

The latest GMO apple was designed to get brown more slowly after it has been sliced. Yes, something is gained, but something else is sacrificed. All because “the consumer” doesn’t want to get a lemon or soak apple slices in some otherwise acidulated water.

It’s crazy.

The list of offenses goes on and on down the aisles. Preservatives in packaged foods, just so grocers can order more and keep them on the shelves longer. Advances in dairy production which mean cows don’t see the light of day. Meat that is raised in giant barns the size of football fields, which produce even larger lakes of excrement. Cereals that are more like candy than healthful grains. Yogurt that is more like ice cream than a cultured dairy product. Ice cream that’s packed with so many gums and fillers that it can no longer be called ice cream by law. 100% orange juice that’s full of other things, like flavoring agents to make it taste the same bottle to bottle. Eggs that come from chickens who spend their entire lives in cages so small they will never be able to spread their wings.

Again. This is getting mighty dark. And the above list barely even scratches the surface.

There is no reason to fear these things. There is an antidote to fear. And it’s not hate. It’s not protesting the big ag firms who lobby the politicians and grease the treads. The answer isn’t getting angry.

The answer is getting smart, and spreading love.

More and more, the Capital Region is attracting some fantastic food mongers. Honest Weight Food Coop has been here for a long time. But more recently, we’ve had fin – your fishmonger arrive with sustainably sourced and incredibly delicious seafood. It’s the real deal. As are the cheeses and other gourmet delights at The Cheese Traveler. I just had my first visit with Emily at Sentinel Butchery in Troy, and what she’s doing with whole animal butchering is just amazing. She cooked me up one of her flat iron steaks in a little bit of lard, and I fell in love.

Real food is here. We’re surrounded by farms. Things are getting better. There is a lot to be hopeful about. But it takes some time for the mainstream to figure some of this out. So, maybe you try and do something audacious this holiday season. Find some real food that you love to eat, and share it with a friend. Or even better, drag a friend to one of the local mongers or a farmers market so they can see the difference between supermarket food and actual food.

It’s a sound strategy for conquering both fear and hate, in whatever form they raise their ugly heads.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2015 11:08 am

    My God, man, what a dark post. Don’t fear the supermarkets. We live in a society where we are free to shop there and only buy the good stuff. And in the meantime I am buoyed by the scent of cinnamon brooms and the endless fascination of watching what people put into their shopping baskets.

    The antidote for fear is not love (love is great, but its opposite is hate) but grabbing life with both hands and getting involved, starting with taking the helm of a Price Shopper or Hannaford cart. Let’s ride, brother.

  2. December 9, 2015 4:02 pm

    We can hope that love is always wise. Even if it isn’t I’d still rather be foolishly loving. But buying from local producers, even if we must perhaps go an extra mile, is something probably everyone who reads your blog can do. We can also keep nudging our grocers to sell local produce. Ask for it. Whine for it. Badger them for it. Or go out to the farms and make a connection. For instance, Nine Mile Farms has about a ton of food that it needs to sell. Why not consider being a little generous in the form of buying it? Their contact information is here:

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