Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Shopping, the reason Americans have poor diets. A guide to getting the best and most for your food dollars

I have been aware of this phenomena for a very long time now but just haven't said or done anything about it. When I go to the store, I look for the best that the store, or farmers market or specialty shop has to offer. And I buy that. I read the ingredients on any packaged processed food. I inspect every piece of produce, I look at every potato in the bag.  I shop at specialty shops and I buy spices in bulk, and never in those high priced little containers. I get the best value for my dollar. And it's easy, it just takes a few minutes extra. Last week at the Winco my son said let's buy a cantaloupe. I told him no, they would not be edible. He insisted, and they were on sale for 48 cents. Okay, time to teach a lesson. I explained how melons grew larger depending on temperature and amounts of chemical fertilizer used. Cooler weather, bigger melons are forced to grow with more chemicals used. I showed him how an unripe melon would have the stem cut and the stem end would be firmly attached. I also showed him how if the melon was ripe and soft enough to eat, the blossom end would give and you could press it. None of those melons were ripe, nor soft, nor small. He picked one, we took it home, let it sit on the counter a week, and cut it open last night, it had little taste and was still hard. We tossed it. We had also bought a watermelon, for a 1.98. Same thing. I told him that melons will be available soon at the farmers markets and a real local melon that was organic will be a shock to him if it's been a while since he ate one. Sad for me to think my own son has been buying supermarket produce. Sigh, we try to raise them right, but...

Produce, learn to eat what's in season. Learn to be choosy about what you select.

I'm always amazed at how much produce costs at grocery stores. The markup is truly frightening. I've been in the food business in one way or another most of my life, even today I buy my produce wholesale, or at farmers markets. There is a huge markup at retail in the chain mega and super marts. But then if you look in the dumpsters behind the stores you see why. Traditionally grown produce that isn't in season is trucked in from great distances and generally of the poorest quality. Picked long before it's ripe, the stuff is banged and rattled and most don't do well in transport. That's why so much is tossed. When I shop at the local super or mega mart, I am always amazed that people just walk up to the produce bins and pick up stuff and put it in bags or just toss into their carts. Without even looking. Stuff that I look at and toss back is then picked up by other shoppers right after I reject it outright. I can barely imagine what the stuff in the dumpster looks like. Given appearances though, it seems as though produce is a rarity for some, boxed takeout, pizza and burgers seem to fill the shopping carts and must sustain a major portion of America. But for those wanting to eat better, here is a bit of info on what to look for in produce at the local farmers market, (the preferred place to shop) or if none are available, then at the super market.

Potatoes- loose potatoes dug within a week are fantastic and local farmers in every state grow them. If not available, then look for loose at the mega store, and as a last resort, in the bags. But LOOK at them. If they're green, sprouting, moldy, huge cuts in them, put them back in the bin. Just 'cuz they're there doesn't mean YOU have to buy them, let Joe Average and his uneducated kinfolk buy them and throw them away for the store.

Onions - Black spots, softness, cuts, and again, the black stuff on onions is MOLD and is toxic. Don't buy them, and if they are growing black stuff in your cupboard, toss them and disinfect the area. Now, sweet versus not sweet. Onions have a lot of sugar. More in their younger stage of development. How do you pick a sweet onion, and it isn't by going to the bin that is labeled sweet onions. It's all about picking the onions that are more flat and flying saucer shaped as opposed to the elongated or even globe shaped which all onions begin to change to as they use their sugar stores to begin flowering. If they are really pointy then they are near to flowering and most of the sugar is gone. If they do sprout, as long as they are not mushy, just cut out the green part, that is usually pretty bitter. I guess we could throw garlic in here with the onions, about the same.

Peppers, Summer Squashes, Eggplants - Here the biggest thing to look for is bruising. Well, really in all produce, bruising is the biggest cause of spoilage. Bruising damages the skin which is the actual barrier between the veggie and the real world of bacteria. Dark spots mean bruises. Bruises mean loss of freshness and in all probability spoilage within a day or two. If everything is bruised and you need something for a recipe and are cooking it that day, then okay. But don't expect to buy zucchini that have long dark bruises on them to be good to eat five days from now. They won't be.

Greens -  Bruising here is the cause of most of the spoilage. You can look through the plastic and see dark edges of broken leaves, floppy dark leaves, or downright black in portions of the bags or containers, that means it was good last week, now it's trash. Don't pay the store to toss their trash for them.

Fruits - Apples, peaches, plums, and all related tree fruits will all show you if they have been mishandled and are bruised if you just look. LOOK at them, dark spots are the scourge and pathways for the bad bacteria that live everywhere, especially on commercially grown fruits from corporate growers. THEY DON'T CARE, local farmers care. Farmers markets are the best places to buy any produce. But I've said that before. Commercial strawberries are the dirtiest things at the mega stores. They are grown using more toxic insecticides and petrochemical fertilizers than any other item available to you. Here, again, local farmers markets are the only option. NEVER EVER EVER EAT COMMERCIALLY GROWN STRAWBERRIES.

Melons -  Seasonal, sorry but forget about them in the winter, Those are grown in Central or South America with huge amounts of petrochemical fertilizers to get them to grow FAST. They are picked green and hard and cold shipped with them sometimes spending up to ten weeks in containers. Cantaloupes should have the stem pulled off in one piece and there should be a round indentation where the stem was. That means it was ripe when picked. If the stem is dried up and stuck on, then that melon will never ever get any sweeter. It will get softer, but not sweeter. The blossom end should be softer and will give when pressed. Watermelons will be yellow where it sat on the ground. Thumping is an art and maybe three people in the US understand it. Other melons, just go with the softness of the blossom end. It should give.

Cut up fruit in plastic clamshells- Are you nuts?

That's probably most of the common stuff. If you're eating other more exotic things, good for you and you probably know what to look for. But lets talk about some other stuff. Spices. One of the big differences between restaurant foods and home cooked food is in the spices used. Well, better restaurants, not the crappy ones and boxed takeout kind. Good chefs use a lot of spices and it makes a difference. If you have ever eaten at Mediterranean, African, Latin American, Polynesian or most any other cuisine and liked it, it was probably because the spices used were different than American food. I can only hope that you will go out and try try try to make new and interesting things to eat. Spices do in fact make for a fantastic life. However, don't buy your spices at the spice rack at the local grocery store. Come on, 4.59 for a half ounce of ground ginger in a tiny plastic shaker bottle? I shop for my spices at a restaurant supplier. But then I am in the business. But there are lots of fun places to go that will tantalize you if you have any adventurousness in you at all. Here in Phoenix, there are a number of Oriental Grocers that are the size of the local supermarkets and packed with unique and unusual things. And cheap spices. There are also quite a few Middle Eastern and Mediterranean places as well. And an Ethiopian grocer as well. The only place in town where you can buy Teff at a reasonable price. Go look, smell, have fun. There are also a couple of spice shops with a huge variety of spices and blends. But then again the prices are up there and specialty ethnic grocers have the same stuff for less. Plus, lots and lots of cool things to look at, get grossed out by or just learn to love love love. Lee Lee's in Peoria is where I buy all my seaweed. I started to eat a lot of that for the iodine, and it just tastes good. Just one of a myriad of unique and unusual things available if you just go out and look.

Never be afraid to try new things. Yeah, some are gross. However I do eat fish eye soup, it's pretty tasty. If you are limited to shopping at the local mega mart or super market, then you only have a very limited quality of the foods available to you. Just about everything else in the market other than the stuff on the outside walls, ie, the produce, meat and dairy, is PROCESSED and processing means stripping away nutrients and adding back in Fat, Sugar, MSG, and other chemical additives. It's all done for the convenience of the food manufacturers and has nothing to do with health for the consumer. Just because they print on the box that it is healthy and nutritious doesn't in any way mean it is.

Here I will finish by telling you that if you have any desire at all to consume better healthier foods, shop at local farmers markets, when at the grocer, read the labels of EVERY product before you toss it into your cart. If you can't pronounce the names of the ingredients, it's a pretty safe bet that it isn't good for you. Try new things, make cooking fun, a family and friends experience.

You are what you eat. Don't be a crappy person.

1 comment:

  1. Well in response to an email, the reason I know what stores throw out is because I have three friends that raise chickens. They feed them produce scraps from local grocers. All three get enough for their chickens, Richard has eighty chickens, by going to just one store each. Plus I've been out looking for boxes when moving and seen the stuff tossed into the trash. And sad to say, when I was a total bum and drunk, I lived off store trash for a couple years in the early seventies.