Take a stroll through your grocery store and do a quick survey of how many choices you have for a variety of different items. Mayonnaise– low-fat, full-fat, fat-free, wasabi, lemon, olive oil. Pretzels – rods, sticks, braids, twists, nuggets, cheddar, sour cream and onion, honey mustard. Frozen waffles – egg, multi-grain, low-fat, high fiber, strawberry, flax, blueberry, wheat-free. The array of foods is just as dizzyingly endless as their varieties and flavors.
Maybe this is part of our problem: The sheer abundance of choices provided at any given grocery store in any given town in the country. From pretzels to yogurt and from frozen pizzas to waffles, perhaps it is no wonder why our enormous selection of foods has also bestowed upon us enormous bums.
In the beginning of June, I began my second trip to India – home to yoga, sandalwood, chapattis and one of the highest rates of underweight children in the world. As I meandered through the Indian grocery stores, I marveled at how the limiting choice for cereals, toilet paper, coffee, juice and peanut butter (yes, there is peanut butter in India) not just tempers the appetite but significantly quells the trademark American behavior to consume, consume, consume.
It wasn’t like there was a lack of food on the shelves. On the contrary, I could find everything from graham crackers to powdered cream for my coffee, but my choices were restricted to one or maybe two varieties. And trust me, there is a sweet freedom in having less.
Notably absent also are streets lined not by fast-food drive-thrus, convenience stores and 24-hour donut shops, but rather by small tea shops that serve chai the size of espressos and coconut stands that offer fresh coconut water (not coconut milk) right out of the green, bulky and fibrous coconut shell.
I’m not suggesting that the American food industry begin to resemble that of India’s. India is, after all, plagued by severe malnutrition and massive rates of communicable disease; but perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from other cultures whose obesity rates and obsession with food and body image is nowhere near the prevalence that we have grown too accustomed to here in the Land of the Free.
The more our eyes see, the more we want. Therefore shopping at farmer’s markets where items are limited, but full of quality, or sticking to the perimeters of the grocery store brings relevancy to the sage adage “out of sight, out of mind.” And in our culture of plenty and abundance, it’s an OK thing to put down that fourth box of cereal and be perfectly satisfied with the other three resting in your kitchen pantry.
June 27th, 2009