Sunday, February 26, 2012

How Do You Buy Food Responsibly?

An American grocery store, flooded with choices.
Image from Beauty recalimed blog;
from a very interesting visual post about
the differences between Africa and the U.S.
Although I manage well now, I used to experience extreme anxiety when food shopping. On a good trip to the grocery store, I'd take about 90 minutes to buy around $40 to $50 worth of food. I'd put things in my shipping basket, regret it, and return it to the shelf 20 minutes later. More than once, I noticed early warning signs that my shopping was completely unproductive, and I'd just walk out of the store empty-handed.

The number of choices an educated American makes when food shopping is staggering. Beyond figuring what you'll eat over the next few days, you also have to balance health, nutrition, and psychology (not buying sweets is as dangerous as buying too many; if you have a craving and can't satisfy it with what you have in the house, maybe you'll buy convenience food spur of the moment, which is bigger than what you need or want...). Then the ethical questions must be addressed. How much meat to buy? How much fish? Is the fish sustainable? Should your foods be locally sourced? When is price more important than proximity of origin? And how do you decide between what you should buy to meet at your ethical baseline versus buying healthy foods you know you'll actually eat?

Numerous times have I stood over a mound of bananas pondering these questions.

I wrote recently about the value of meal-planning and list-making. I do those two tasks not only to be more efficient with time and money, but also as a lifehackerish way of coping with situations that cause extreme anxiety. Methodical solutions help.

Still, does it ever seem completely crazy that Americans face all these choices to begin with? How much time and money do we have on our hands that deciding between locally-produced honey and a jar imported from Greece is even considered an ordinary option?

We get hung up on mass-food industry issues like the difference between natural sugar and corn syrup (which I see as a diversionary tactic when we should be talking about any kind of sweetener used as filler) when really we ought to be demanding simplified options. The food industry is too big and is hardly about "food" at all.

What I'd like to see is a movement toward simplified food stores. Farmers' markets and green markets are the right start. Give me simplified options that decrease the number of decisions I have to make while shopping. That's what I really want.


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