My cart is filling nicely. Grapefruit and cauliflower; carrots and green beans; mushrooms and brussels sprouts. Fresh salmon (albeit a little tired from having to crawl so far inland) and air-chilled chicken. I wonder idly what other ways there might be to chill chicken, and what difference it makes anyway.
But there is no time for idle wondering. Down another aisle I go, looking for chicken broth to help turn my Thanksgiving ham bone remnants into pea soup. So many choices. I don’t usually pay extra for ‘organic’ anything, and it seems silly to buy ‘low salt’ when that means paying for them to take out something that I’ll just have to put back in. But look, here’s one made from free-range chickens that committed suicide in the wild. I’ll get that: it will annoy the Big Guy, who’s a free-ranging curmudgeon himself, just a little skeptical about marketing claims.
Time or not, though, the idle-wondering engine will not go into idle. As I add the boxes to the bottom shelf of my two-tier cart, I wonder idly whether the free-range chickens that gave their all for this broth were happy before being . . . what? Ground up? Ee-yew! No, no, boiled is more like it. Even so, yikes. Definitely time to move on.
Next stop, the ‘natural foods’ section. I’m looking for a different brand of almond butter. This store’s store brand isn’t as nice as the organic version which is my other grocery store’s only offering in this category (which is, in turn, my excuse for even having tried it), but it’s more reliably in stock. I pick up a jar that’s the right shape and size for almond butter and check the label. It’s an excited label, but it seems to be blaring conflicting claims. Here it says, Tastes just like peanut butter! but just over an inch or so it says, Peanut free! What, then, I wonder idly, is in it, to make it taste like peanut butter, if not, you know, peanuts?
But I know the answer already, at least in general terms. The specifics this time are ‘toasted soy nuts’ followed by a long list of ingredients that I would have said had little place in a ‘natural foods’ section. I decide I’ll pass on toasted soy nut butter—I wonder idly whether they were free-range soy nuts, but the label is silent on this matter—and continue my quest.
As I pick up my lactose-free milk, I pass a display of small plastic jars of . . . something dark. Could this be almond butter? No, this is ‘chocolate chip cookie spread’ and I decide to pass on reading the label. I’m pretty sure the first ingredient isn’t ‘chocolate chip cookies,’ although it’s not impossible that it’s ‘toasted soy nuts.’
My selections completed, I move on to the less than user-friendly self-serve checkout—Put the item in the bag!—and reflect idly on the range (none of it free) in this one grocery store: the study in contrasts, not to say conflicts, that it represents.
Organic fruits and veggies, and free-range chicken, chicken broth, and eggs, hold down not just the health-conscious but, maybe, the health-preoccupied end of the spectrum. These foods are supported by marketing that slyly invites me to imagine their benefits, without actually stating them, thereby avoiding the lie direct.
Organic cauliflower! That must be tastier or at least healthier, right?
Air-chilled chicken! That must be better somehow, right?
Free-range chickens! They must have been chicken-foot-loose and fancy free, right? Or not.
But at the health-unconscious end of the spectrum, the chocolate-chip-cookie spread and the ‘I Was Pretty Damned Sure It Wasn’t Peanut Butter’ soy nut offering, are both proof that anything with enough fat and sugar tastes, you know, good. These tasty treats are supported by marketing that slyly invites me to imagine them as food, without actually saying so, thereby avoiding a different lie direct.
As I head out the store, I reflect sort of sadly that even a trip to the grocery store is a gauntlet of constant pressure, whether from supposed super-foods or pseudo-foods. On the bright side, though, it seems that even marketeers don’t like to lie. Not, at least, directly.