Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Where I shop and why

I think it’s important to consider where we shop for foods. I choose stores by the quality of the products they carry and determine if they are worthy of my visit. That may sound snobbish, but if you’re interested in not only your health, but in supporting businesses that are committed to carrying quality food, I think it makes a difference where you shop.

My favorite places are Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Mother’s Market and my local farmer’s market. You may have noticed that I didn’t list a single supermarket chain. That’s for a reason. I rarely shop at one, simply because I don’t want to support the consumption of the vast majority of what is stocked on their shelves: highly processed foods, foods that contain genetically modified ingredients (estimates put that at 70% of what you find at supermarkets), preservatives, chemical additives and sugar in its various forms in addition to things with unpronounceable  ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, and artificial sweeteners.

Even if you, like many health experts tell us to, shop along the perimeter of the store, where you find produce, dairy and meat (purportedly the healthiest and least processed foods) and avoid the center aisles, you’ve made some improvement. But those foods are questionable as well, given the pesticides on conventionally grown produce and hormones in most conventionally produced meat and dairy. Though a few supermarkets (like Pavilions) carry a line of organic foods and have a small “health food” section, most of those foods are totally overpriced. These can be found much more reasonably at the health food store, so what’s the point in shopping there?

Trader Joe’s celebrates 45 years this week and it’s come a long way since its early beginnings when it was mostly a wine and cheese shop. The store has evolved - you can now buy a good selection of produce, and a wider range of meats, many of them organic or naturally raised and without hormones. Lately, gluten-free options have been on the rise. The manager of my local store said Trader Joe’s is against genetically-modified products so none of their products contain them and for this I applaud them. Plus, I find their prices are great, so I buy a ton of stuff from them. They also welcome emails from customers and take comments and suggestions very seriously, often bringing back items that might have been discontinued because people miss them.

Sprouts is another great store, offering a few things that TJ’s doesn’t, namely a meat department and sandwich counter, a vitamin and cosmetic department, and a bulk section where you can buy nuts and seeds, granola, grains, beans and snacks. Bulk items can be a good value, and require a lot less packaging. Sprouts has weekly specials that run Wednesday-Tuesday and sometimes great deals can be had. Unfortunately, I find their organic produce section to be lacking but they are expanding it, hopefully due to consumer demand. What I like best is that I can get freshly made sausages that they make themselves without any artificial ingredients. Since they have a butcher on site, I can also get bones and other meaty things for my dog. They are also very happy to order items for you and call you when they come in.

Mother’s Market is a chain of 7 health food stores in my area. Their staff is knowledgeable and helpful and many of the faces I’ve seen over the years are still there, and that says something about a store. Mother’s offers a smaller, family-run, shopping experience than what you’d find at a huge (although fabulous) store such as Whole Foods. While WF is awesome, my smaller health food store has what I need. I can find all my supplements, protein powders, and natural cosmetics there, and can enjoy their deli, juice bar and restaurant in addition to all the healthy stuff you’d normally find. Several of the stores offer informational seminars from nutritionists and health professionals on a variety of subjects from time to time.

And though I list it last, I think it’s actually the most important, and that is my local farmer’s market. This is the only place you can look the grower directly in the eye. You don’t get that at a supermarket. The people selling you their wares are happy to discuss them with you. If you don’t know how to prepare (or even pronounce) a vegetable, you can ask them. I love this direct contact with the people who are responsible for growing the food I eat and I believe in supporting them. Farmers are some of the hardest working people there are and they don’t get enough credit for what they do. Some markets have even gone beyond the usual produce and bring in vendors that sell everything from local honey, farm-fresh eggs, meat and fish, and bread, to pita and hummus and even tea. The larger markets often have food trucks where you can catch lunch, or crafts people selling knitted caps and embroidered things, jewelry, etc. Some markets hire musicians to entertain, and others even let you bring your dog (but check this carefully. Most do not allow them)!

So that’s where I shop and why. I encourage you to look at where you shop and why and realize the importance of your choices. Do your stores support the beliefs you have in taking care of your health? If there are tons of things at your market that are full of crap and don’t support health, why are you still shopping there? We have an incredible amount of power in how we spend our dollars. Where we shop, and what we buy, makes a difference.

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