Warning: The following essay may or may not be satire. You be the judge. I love my local supermarket! There's all those bright, bold posters on the walls, all spiced up with attractive photographs of mouth-watering fruits, vegetables and meats. There's lots to choose from and the hours are great. The staff is friendly and the check-out is quick and easy. But most of all, I love the way that the food in my supermarket is conveniently arranged by disease category.
Surely you must have noticed it yourself by now: there's one aisle for heart disease, one for diabetes, one for osteoporosis, one for celiac disease and auto-immune disorders, one for depression and one for neurological disease. Conveniently, this cuts way down on the decision-making process. No longer do I have to read labels to find out precisely what illness I'll be getting with my food-product purchase; I'll just go to the appropriate aisle, make my selection and be on my way. Saves a lot of time and stress.
no safe way
It's high time that we admit the stark and uncomfortable truth: the vast majority of the products in our supermarkets are poisoned in one way or another, either chemically, genetically or morally. Sometimes it's obvious and sometimes it's subtle, but it's there all the same. If you subtract the corn and grain-based products, the hormone and antibiotic-laced meats, the high-fructose snacks and drinks, the pesticide-laced vegetables trucked in from Mexico and the gassed-up tomatoes from Florida, what are we left with? Is there anything in the supermarket that's safe to eat? Anything at all?
By my count, there are only about 3 or 4 non-poisonous foods available for purchase in my supermarket. On a good day, there are organic vegetables, humanely-raised and grass-fed meat and eggs, wild salmon and similar seafoods. And that's it; a handful of items out of several thousand. So maybe it's time for our retail food marketeers to do us all a favor and call a spade a spade: "Welcome to your friendly neighborhood poison and disease center." It may not pull in the customers, but it is truth in advertising.
The problem of a poisoned food supply is compounded by our Paleolithic history and inclinations. Just think about your life experience in a wild natural environment: You haven't eaten for a day or two and you're ravenous. Your tribe is working a river bank to the west of camp, hoping for any kind of game, or at least some fruit, roots or nuts. Suddenly you encounter a small animal, which you quickly kill with a barrage of rocks. Or maybe you scare off a pack of lions and scavenge a kill. Your expert fire-starter guy is off on the other side of the grassland this day, so what are you to do? Are you going to be picky and hold out for something that's broiled to a perfect medium rare? Of course not.
Your prime directive is to stay alive and you're going to eat whatever you need to eat to make it so. This willingness, multiplied by thousands of generations of human evolution, brings us to the 21st century and a world of poisons masquerading as "food." Are you going to be picky? Of course not. Especially because those "foods" are intentionally engineered to be hyper-sweet, hyper-flavorful versions of their natural counterparts. And so, it's no wonder that we've become non-discriminating gluttons of modern food-poisons. Bring our Paleo ancestors to the local supermarket and they'd behave precisely the same way we do.
So therein lies our dilemma. We're programmed to eat whenever and whatever we can, but our food supply is toxic. Paleolithic impulse plus a poisoned food supply adds up to an epidemic of chronic disease. Eat a diet of cheap grains, high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fats and tainted meat and you may as well make your reservation for the hospital right now. They'll be glad to have you, of course. Just make sure to sell your home before you check in; you're going to need every penny to pay for your treatment.
optimal shopping strategies?
So what are we to do when faced with the poisonous cornucopia on display in the local supermarket? How do we shop and eat when almost every single "food" item is chemically or morally tainted?
One nutritional pundit has come up against this conundrum and sums up her research with this bizarre recommendation: "Rotate your poisons." In other words, we can't possibly eat healthy, but we can mitigate the damage by shifting the load from one internal system to another: one day you abuse your gut, the next day your heart, the next day your nervous system. This defeatist attitude is depressing: We can't hope to eat healthy and nutritious foods, but at least we can slow down the rate at which we're being killed by our local "food" store.
Naturally, some consumers attempt to navigate their way around toxic supermarkets by "moderating" their consumptions of poisonous food products. They claim that they only eat the poisonous stuff "occasionally." But this is a steep and slippery slope, one that leads to a deep abyss. Get yourself started on a diet of food products, even in moderation, and you're going to find yourself on the way to nutritional oblivion. Hyper-sweet processed food stimulates the appetite and sets up a wicked positive-feedback loop: the more of it you eat, the more you'll want to eat. In this sense, there is no "safe dosage."
Of course, the standard advice in nutritional circles is to "shop the perimeter." The idea here is that the poisonous food-products are located deep in the center aisles of the supermarket, while the real food is stocked around the outside. This advice is good in principle, but it's not necessarily valid. My survey tells me that there's plenty of poisonous "foods," toxic meats, and other unrecognizable "food-like substances" on the outside track. Obviously, supermarket designers read the same books that we read and track our behavior with in-store cameras. These "attention scientists" are constantly innovating new ways to distract us away from low-profit food and towards high-profit food-poisons. Thus, we can no longer rely on perimeter shopping to save our health.
Finally, many people now suggest that we should stop going to the supermarket altogether and live instead on wild game and real foods from local farmer's markets. It's a great idea, if you can pull it off. But the unfortunate fact is that many of us simply don't have access to wild fish, game, organic vegetables or farmer's markets. Many neighborhoods don't even have poisoned supermarkets and are forced to rely on convenience stores for their toxic calories. So, what's a body to do? We've got to eat. Something.
It seems to me that the only sensible recourse is to get focused, strategic and ruthless. Food shopping can no longer be treated like a casual leisure activity. Instead, we've got to treat it like what it is, an excursion into dangerous territory. Shopping should be a premeditated, highly focused surgical strike.
For motivation, borrow a page or two from the Navy Seals, the SWAT academy or a classical Ninja school: Practice, plan and execute with precision. When you roll into the parking lot, adopt your best combat-readiness. Study your route in detail, focus your energies and prepare to engage. Leave your cell phone in the car; you won't want to be distracted. For maximum focus, go alone. Memorize your list, grab your wallet and go.
When you enter the front door, avoid the grocery carts; you won't be buying much anyway. Instead, grab a hand basket and proceed directly to the organics. Select the brightest colors you can and stay focused. Don't look at the TV displays or the advertisements. Don't engage with the person handing out free samples. Next, head to the meat department and grab the most expensive stuff you can find: the wild salmon and the grass-fed meats. If seasonally necessary, make a laser-focused dash to the frozen food or canned food aisle, but only as a last resort.
Whatever you do, don't select any non-food items. No toilet paper, no cosmetics, no flowers, no greeting cards. These are all slippery-slope items that will distract you from your primary mission; if you need these things, get them elsewhere. Select only what's on your food list, then head directly to the check-out. When in line, don't look at any of the trashy publications or special offers. Just do the transaction, put your food in your bag and head directly for the door.
When you get home, check your shopping bag for any non-food offers or promotions and dispose of them immediately. Wash your food and set it up for cooking as desired. Then you can relax, secure in the knowledge that you penetrated the danger zone and emerged with your physiology intact.
You'll live to eat another day.