Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shopping at the D'Ag is a Drag

I have to admit that for the past several years, I have been very spoiled by my supermarket options. When I lived in LA, I lived a few yards from a Trader Joes and a Gelsons. When I lived in London, I lived around the corner from a Waitrose (cue chorus of angels and shining lights. Waitrose is the bomb, dude.)

So I always had a good store very nearby to go to for all my staples: peanut butter, jam, pasta, etc. Sure, none of the stores had bulk bins, but they did sell less-processed food that often came in glass jars. I could find peanut butter that was made solely with peanuts. I could get jam with no high fructose corn syrup. Gelsons carried local milk in returnable glass bottles. Waitrose carried an extremely wide selection of fair trade products. While my ideal was always to do my shopping at the bulk bin store and farmers' market, a lot of time that just didn't happen. But these stores were not bad alternative options.

Now, living in New York I live further away from a grocery store than I have lived in years. And the closest store is a D'Agostino. Which means that that is where I end up shopping.

First of all, it's a little bit of a shock just how small grocery stores are in New York City. I kind of don't understand it. I mean I know it's a small island, but they seem to have plenty of room for you know, Chase bank branches on every corner of every street. They seem to have scarily large Duane Reades. So I'm not sure why all the grocery stores I've been into are so teensy tiny, but whatever.

And then, once you're in the teeny tiny D'ag, they only seem to sell processed brand name food. Peanut butter with thousands of ingredients. PICKLES with high fructose corn syrup. Produce flown in from all over the world (though I guess I should be thankful that my grocery even HAS a produce section.)

And that's when I realized that this is how Americans shop. I've been on planet hippy grocery stores for the past few years, and I'd sort of forgotten. I'd forgotten that everything is Kraft, Nestle, General Mills, Heinz, Oscar Mayer. I'd forgotten how HARD it is for the average person to avoid high fructose corn syrup. I'd forgotten what it was like to live in a world where you had two choices: Skippy or Jif.

Now, I know, I know. New York has lots of good farmers markets. And I can go there. And I should. And New York even has a Trader Joes. And I'm sure if I tell you all where I live, someone can point me in the direction of a natural food store or bulk bin store not far from me. I know there are other options and it is possible for me to find them.

But that's not going to change the fact that *most* people don't shop at natural food stores. Or bulk bin stores. Or Gelsons. Or Waitrose. Most people shop at Ralphs. Or D'Ags. Or Walmart. Or Tesco. Or Asda. Where it is almost impossible to find food without high fructose corn syrup or palm products or industrial soy and corn.

And that's the problem.

We can, as individuals, aim to make better decisions. We can try to be better consumers. But ultimately, it's not fair to blame the consumer because they shop at the grocery store next door and not the one that you have to take two subways to get to.

Now, I do believe things are slowly changing. D'Agostino carries quite a few organic products, and frankly, I know industrial organic has major issues but yes, I will take some Earthbound organic spinach and Horizon Organic Milk in a pinch. There are more whole wheat products out there, and there are some alternatives to high fructose corn syrup. But there is still a long way to go.

So, I think I'm going to keep shopping at D'Agostinos for a while. Not the least because I'm lazy and I will always take the option to buy my groceries on the walk home from work. But also because it is a good reminder for me that the rest of America does not live in my happy grocery bubble. So we have a lot of work to do.


Rosa said...

Ruchi, the rest of America has it *worse*, i swear - when I stayed in New York I was mostly around crazy dumpster divers, and I swear they ate better (generally, if the cook wasn't stupid) than most of the people around them.

But the rest of America is getting better, too, and it's because of market pressure from folks like you. So make your voice heard at the D'Ag! When I was living in NW Iowa in the early '90s, you could be completely surrounded by fields of soybeans...and not be able to buy any soy products at the grocery store. A few years ago, there was more than one kind of soymilk at the store - and this summer we stopped at a grocery store in eastern Nebraska where they has LOCAL PRODUCE. It was amazing. Maybe they always carried local produce and never signed it before, but still.

ruchi said...

Rosa, oh I am sure that the rest of America has it worse. I mean there are also plenty of areas in the States where you CANNOT buy fresh produce. I hope we can change that as well.

Green Bean said...

I had that wake up call a week or so ago. I realized that not everyone has the opportunity - time, money, proximity - to shop at farmers markets and Whole Foods and such. Thankfully, more and more healthy options are being available mainstream but it is pretty shocking.

Lee said...

Umm...reading the comments above, how can you NOT be able to buy fresh produce?

I mean, I lived in Fairmont WV for a year (I'm based in New Zealand, which is a whole different story) and even in Fairmont you could get heaps of fresh veggies at the local supermarket (A Giant Eagle). Have things changed so much?

As an aside, though, American food scares the crap out of me. I remember reading the ingredients on the side of tomato ketchup, and the list being five inches long!

You read the list on a bottle of tomato ketchup here, by comparison, and it is "tomatoes, sugar, onions, salt, acetic acid, citric acid, spices (including mustard)". That's it. Why does US food have so much extra stuff in it? Weird.

I also remember how sweet everything was - it was like someone had dumped tablespoons of sugar on everything. And Americans, when they come here, have a hard time adjusting to the food - they complain it is "bitter" (e.g. not dosed with sugar and corn syrup).

But how to get the system to change - well, that's beyond me. Apart from consumer demand. Only when people start demanding better, real food will companies provide it. Until then, you just have to make your own, I guess.

Food for thought, absolutely.