Friday, March 13, 2009

Sure, You Spent $150, But What Will You Cook?

I'm a bit of a voyeur. At the grocery store that is. I love to look in other people's carts and see what they are buying. And I've decided something: People are nuts.

It might be safe to say that I'm at my most judgmental when I'm at the grocery store. I assume things about everyone, and feel intensely curious about what, say, makes that completely sane- looking woman buy 13 tubs of chicken liver? There were nuns at the grocery store today. I smiled kindly as I passed each of them (they were shopping separately--is that okay? Do they like different things? Do they each put labels on all their own food, like roommates?), but craned my neck to get a better view of what exactly they were buying. Cases of bottled water it turns out. Nuns can eat granola bars too.

Last week my favorite was a very sweet-looking Hispanic family who had filled three produce bags, to the top, with jalapeno peppers. Are they drying them? Is that a three years supply? Freezing? Making salsa? Go through that many in a week? I was still thinking about them when I pulled into the aisle with a man loading his cart with boxes of pudding and singing along with his iPod. His enthusiasm for pudding was only matched by his great relish of the song "Shout."

But each week, invariably, I end up in line behind the parent whose cart is filled top to bottom with four cases of soda, two kinds of ice cream, three bags of chips, 18 frozen dinners, six cans of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, a case of Top Ramen, a baker's dozen loaves of white bread and a case of frozen pizza. Tucked into the available space are fruit snacks, pop tarts, pizza rolls, Cocoa Puffs, mozzarella sticks, hot dogs and chocolate. On top of this tempting load there is always perched a single bunch of bananas and a gallon of milk. In short, the cart is filled with things that are snacks, not meals to be prepared.

The bill always comes to some extraordinary amount: high fructose corn syrup isn't cheap, I guess. I'm especially impressed when said parent is accompanied by fat, complaining kids who look like they have the energy output of a three-toed sloth.

I'm not skinny. I haven't been skinny since I was, well, never. I'm not talking about eating disorders here. I'm not talking about genetics. I'm not even talking about force feeding your kids broccoli until they either give up and eat it or choose starvation over anything green. I'm talking about common sense. And in some cases I think I'm talking about child abuse.

It seems that lately when I go to the grocery store and see teenagers with their parents, the children outweigh them, and sometimes by a lot. Even the trimmer ones have that awful roll of tummy fat hanging over the top of their "skinny" jeans. When did food and all things digital become the driving forces in a young person's life?

I have a friend who is in her early 50's. Hard times have recently caused two of her daughters and their husbands to move in with her. One has a child, the other has a baby due any day now. These women are in their early 20's. These girls "don't cook." And if anyone can explain to me just what in the heck that means, I would be grateful. I hear this all the time. "Oh, I don't cook." What do you mean you "don't cook?" You don't read? You don't own a stove? You are so inept you can't figure out how a pan works? Anyway, my friend asks her charming sons-in-law the other day, independently from one another, what they want to eat for dinner; she was going grocery shopping and wanted to make a list. The reply? Each said "Burger King."

I buy snacks for my kids. And I make treats for my kids. We are not above burgers and fries a couple of times a month. They are picky like other kids--there are many things they won't eat. Dinner time is sometimes a battle, but we try not to be too up tight. When I make something for dinner that I know they won't like, I make an easy alternative so that no one is hungry. I'm really not trying to get all self-righteous here.

It just seems that the job of food is to give us energy for the activities we do--growing, working, exercising, whatever. Food might also sometimes be a source of socializing or comfort, but this is really secondary to food's job: fuel. If the food you (routinely) eat makes you sluggish, tired, unhappy and unable to do your activities then it is a simple matter to change. The grocery store is full of healthy things to eat too. Lots of those healthy things are sweet or crunchy or snacky or even easy to prepare. If people don't want to change their shocking habits for themselves, they should at least be responsible enough to do it for their kids.

Be good at the store this week: I'll be watching . . . .
Oh, as long as I am ranting. I have to make a comment on Robert Pattinson. You can't go anywhere these days without his moody face staring out of a magazine or poster or special-edition-Twilight-movie-book or Robert Pattinson fan book that is all about his movies since he has been in like, what, two? Since when is hairy, stoned and wind-blown the new sexy? (Johnny Depp might be the only truly notable exception.) But mostly I want to know who told Mr. P that he could sing?


Z. Marie said...

It is sad to see what people eat. You also know that those same people who are buying all of that crap at the grocery store are eating crap from fast food places, too.
We have some big food issues at our house, but luckily we're nowhere near that bad.

Janssen said...

This makes me CRAZY. One of my high school acquaintances just posted that she'd made dinner for the first time in her four year marriage this week. Dinner was grilled cheese sandwiches with mac and cheese. Not even joking.

I do not understand the "I don't cook" thing either or the "I don't like to cool" idea. Um, I don't like to vacuum, but I choose not to have a disgusting floor. I don't really love doing dishes, but I don't choose to spend my money on disposable dishes. Since when did not liking something change reality? And cooking seriously just stakes practice. You can make a nice meal without spending a lot of money or time.

And, I am so sick of Robert Pattinson I could die. Seriously, I wish they had cast anyone else. Johnny Depp would have been a better choice.

Doreen said...

I admit it, I hate to cook. But when I do, it's not too shabby. :p I like to peek in people's grocery carts, too. Yeah, it's amazing what some people seemingly live on. And to think they're still alive... But don't mock the cheese sticks. Best. Snack. Ever. ;o)

Yankee Girl said...

Have you seen the book "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats"? If not hit your local library.

Also, in defense of the pudding man, I recently have suscribed to the idea of stockpiling things that are on sale in order to build up my food storage. This means that quite recently I purchased quite a bit (maybe 10--just enough to reasonably use before it expires 2 years from now) of pudding that was on sale. All but one package is now sitting in my food storage. So just remember that when you are looking in my grocery cart.

FoxyJ said...

I'm totally a grocery voyeur too--and I've always loved to cook. Our grocery store is mostly shopped at by college students, so there's often herds of them milling around in the aisles trying to decide what kind of chips to buy. Actually many of them do seem to buy fairly healthy food too. Of course, I do live in the food snob capital of the country, so that does make a difference. Here I sometimes feel the silent judgement from other moms that my daughter's snacks aren't all organic, whole-foods type stuff.

Yeah, we probably aren't the most healthy eaters either, but 95% of the time we eat at home and it's homemade. I really don't understand the 'not cooking' thing either. I've read that on a few blogs of people I know and wondered what they eat every night then. How will your kids learn to eat real food?

Sherry said...

I'm with Janssen. I don't like to drive, but I have to do it to get places.

Lately, I've found it very difficult to cook when I get home because I'm so exhausted at the end of the day. Not only that, but when I get home at 6:20, I'm hungry RIGHT NOW! And I can't wait to cook a meal. And here's my solution:

Have a quick bowl of cereal. If it's sugary cereal, it counts as the dessert for the day. Then, I can get going on making a healthy meal, and I don't feel like I'm going to die of hunger in the process.

Since it's just the two of us, I usually can make one meal that will last us two days, and that is excellent news for my long days at work.

Melanie said...

A while back I listed to a radio segment that talked about why some of Americas poorest people are also Americas fattest people. It turns out that, thanks to government subsidies, the foods and ingredients (corn) that are least expensive are not the most nutritious. If you were trying to feed yourself or your family in the CHEAPEST way possible, what would you buy? Ramen, mac and cheese, even a box of twinkies is often cheaper than a bag of apples.

I don't in any way think that this is an excuse for being lazy or careless about your eating habits, but it does go to show that eating a healthy diet can be somewhat of a class related issue.

Lady Susan said...

Ironically, High Fructose Corn syrup IS cheap. which is why it is in everything. Let's hear it for the sugar tax and the corn subsidy. Somethings we just bring upon ourselves.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Janssen: if the mac and cheese was from a box, she still didn't "cook."

Yankee-G: you are off the hook from my snarkiness if you are all righteous and food storage-y. When I come over though, I'm expecting the chocoloate covered cheesecake balls (I'm acutally reminded of an SNL skit here) and not some lame pudding-from-a-box. ;)

FoxyJ: "herds of them milling around trying to decide what kind of chips to buy." Bwah! At least they aren't texting.

Sherry: Plantboy and I were exactly in your position when we began putting together easy weekly menus with better fare on the weekends. We shopped, together on Saturday mornings and then stuck the menu no matter what, unless there were leftovers. I like your cereal approach too though. Starting the menu thing early in our marriage was great, however; because now we have the habit established and there is nearly always something to make for dinner, with all the ingredients on hand.

Mel: The food and poverty thing is such an interesting topic. Like with other behaviors poor (or more likely, uneducated) people exhbit, eating is so short-sighted. Yes, the fast food might be cheaper at this minute, but heart disease and diabetes always costs more in the long run.

I heard a great Alternative Radio program some months back called "The Cornification of America." It was hilarious and informative. I'm so anti-corn now unless it is on an ear or popped. ;)

Slyck and Slim said...

So now that I read this I know I will be sneaking peeks at other people's shopping carts from now on. I usually just try to keep eye contact with the friends I run into in the grocery store -- to avoid feeling like I'm peeking in their bedroom closet. But now the friends who read your blog will probably laugh when next time I ask them what they've got in their cart. I might have to invent a drawstring tarp to cover my cart while I'm shopping. I'm sure I could rig it to be like a shower curtain too so the person behind me in the checkout line doesn't see all the wheat germ and flax seed that I buy. :) How do you explain food storage to someone who doesn't cook?

Anonymous said...

Your post really struck a nerve with me. You are gonna judge people based on what is in their shopping cart? Seriously? Not very Christlike if you ask me. Let's see. I buy produce items that are known to be high pesticide carriers at Whole Foods to avoid that and I also purchase my bread there unless I get it at Great Harvest. I buy my other produce (pineapple, bananas, peeled skins, etc), canned products and sale items at local grocery stores like Walmart. I refuse to purchase meat at Walmart so I hit another local grocer for that. So if you see me in a store with a few "strange" items that couldn't fix a meal, instead of judging me maybe you should realize that not everyone is perfect and green like you. I shop around for the best deals, eat half organic and cook as much as I can. But as a working mother I am not able to make big gourmet meals all the time and have to take shortcuts.
I found your post to be rude and egotistical and it makes me wonder what you are judging me about in other areas of my life. If this is how you view strangers I wonder how you view your friends.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Slick, how do you explain flax seed and wheat germ to someone who DOES cook? Help me out here? Remember that lentil spaghetti I made for you three pregnancies ago? Good times.

Anonymous, are you sure you actually read the same post I wrote? It seems that you are doing better than any of us here with your own food habits. As far as my food voyeurism goes, well, maybe you just don't come here often enough to pick up on a bit of snark. You're welcome any time, just bring your humor with you. ;)

Janssen said...

Oooh, well done! Congratulations!

Suburban Hippie said...

I am glad I'm not the only one. Actually I see obese people eyeballing what I am buying as much as I am eyeballing what they are buying. I swear I can hear their thought "If I have to eat that card board to be as thin as she is I'd rather be fat."

Okay so maybe that isn't what they are thinking but I can feel their hatred when they see all my healthy food going into my earth friendly grocery bags.

emandtrev said...

I will admit I do love my treats as much as the next person. I'm a bit of a grocery store voyeuer too. However, I read somewhere a long time ago (back when I was trying to figure things out in the nutrition/kitchen/cooking area) to shop the outside perimeter of the grocery store as much as possible. That is, you're more likely to get your "fresh" products rather than those loaded with preservatives and HFCS. Truth be told, it actually works a lot of the time. Not to say that I don't have to show accountability (white or wheat, for example) or sometimes end up with Doritos in my cart, but it is a good rule of thumb. Even for those who "don't cook." Good post!

Science Teacher Mommy said...

SH--They are looking at you and thinking, "It is people like THAT who are ruining this country. Why doesn't she just move to France?"

CaLM RAPIDS said...

I wonder what you would think of me when you look in my cart and see only lemons and maple syrup. Hhmmm...what's up with that???

I have an aunt that had a neighbor and when this neighbor remodeled her house she took out her kitchen. Yes, you read that right. No kitchen in the house. Every meal was an eat-out! I wonder if she kept a fridge or microwave for left-over doggie bags--I really don't know; but I do know that the house will never be sellable. Pretty sad.