I think I’m in a state of shock.
My mind is still flooded by the whorl of dizzying colors, shapes, and sizes of seemingly endless temptation. Brightly lit boxes and foil-lined bags screamed at me as I hurried past. They called to me like hawkers at the State Fair, “come taste me, you know you want me”. Jars and cans clad in brilliant wrappers, rattled and clinked with whispered yearning, “pick me, choose me, I’m so yummy”. Item after item, shelf upon shelf, aisle after aisle – such a vast array of promise, I wanted all of it. Yup. I was in Walmart hell.
I had just returned from a cross-country trip with my husband, a month-long journey over America’s varied landscape, sometimes camping, sometimes overnighting in a hotel. Our goal was to off-road in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park so we were mostly geared to camp. And since we were driving our vehicle the whole way, we built in plenty of time to visit scenic places along our route out west and then back again on our return trip to the mid-Atlantic.
Among the varied challenges of being ‘on the road’ for a solid month, food choice was among the top. I was a seasoned enough traveler to know how hard it is to find restaurant fare, especially from the Interstate, that isn’t loaded with salt, sugar, grease, or refined carbs. And then there would be ‘road food’ choices to consider as well, and how I would manage that urge to fill hours of empty miles with munching and crunching. Health and fitness is a part of my every day existence. I know how good I feel when I eat lot of fresh food and how crummy I feel after I splurge on greasy, take-out.
My solution was to eat mostly camp food, which is incidentally much the same as I eat when I’m home – healthy. Now ‘healthy’ can mean many different things depending on where you sit; but for me, that means low refined carbohydrates, low animal fat, low sugar, and very little processed foods to eliminate things like preservatives and artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, etc. But I’m not excessively strict in the sense that I follow any specific diet. I do occasionally treat myself to the odd hot dog perhaps, or a sandwich with deli-meat. I sometimes enjoy things like French fries, and life wouldn’t be worth living without my weekly slice of pizza. So to be clear, I’m speaking in general terms.
So after a very long month of communion with Mother Nature, busy Interstates, and festive campgrounds, I returned home to bare cupboards; scrounging for a bag of dried chickpeas hoping to magically transform them into tasty hummus, squeezing the last drop from the well-traveled milk bottle at the bottom of our cooler. I finally came to grips with the fact that a much needed trip to Wal-mart was on the agenda for the day.
Oh, woe is me, the bombardment of delectable treats for as far as the eye could see. Food that I know would taste ‘oh so scrumptious’ was mine for the taking! All those sweet, easily digested, instant calories. I resisted at every turn, but the packages kept reaching out to me. My traitorous stomach grumbled in complaint, “hurry up – choose one of those – yes – that’s it”, as my treacherous hands grabbed a glowing box from the shelves to throw in my cart. But then I would awaken from my market-imposed stupor, my mind regaining its control to promptly put that offensively, tasty – but invariably UNheathly – snack back on its shelf. A couple of times, I re-checked the ingredients just to make sure that the item was still filled with fat, sweetener, refined carbs, preservatives and oh yeah, everything artificial. It’s small wonder why shopping experts suggest skipping the center aisles – but what to do when you need a bag of dried chickpeas?
It took every ounce of my self-control, to walk out of that store without purchasing any of those tempting items; foods that I know will not keep me healthy. I know they are empty calories, fake food. I know there is no redeeming value other than taste and a momentary satisfaction that appeals more to the emotions than to satiating my body’s needs. Yet I still struggled.
It made me think of my fellow Americans who may not have the luxury to be as health-conscious as myself. I thought about that overworked, harried single Mom trying her best to be everything to everybody and folks who have to add an hour’s commute onto their work day. Then there’s the downtrodden and overstressed populace – low or middle income, it crosses all boundaries with the same results. We all need to eat. We all shop for food. But if I, who spend a lot of time with food selection based on healthy choice, needed to fight so firmly against the pull of marketing geniuses – who by specific design lure us to desire these foods that are so bad for our bodies – how on earth would people too busy or ‘unaware’ ever resist that call for instant gratification? It’s no wonder that the news is filled with reports on ‘fat Americans’. We have a whole lot of help, courtesy of food industry giants, so we as populace really need to wake up and exert some effort towards our own health.
The good news is – it’s not just me that sees this travesty. More and more folks are discovering the fact that we, as a Nation, have become too disconnected from our foods’ actual source. I can see a whole generation coming up in the ranks that do choose a healthy life-style. I see more folks gardening and preserving their own food or joining community cooperatives for grass-fed beef, cage-free chicken eggs, and organically raised vegetables. With the ever growing farmer’s markets, the call to “buy local”, and the expansion of ‘whole foods’ sections of certain grocery store chains, I think the tide is slowly moving towards food that will actually nourish our bodies. I guess that’s why I found my trip through Walmart’s grocery aisles so surprising.
Meanwhile, I finally did get my hummus ‘fix’. I’m happy to report that I’m so addicted to that delightful chickpea spread, I make my own from scratch so that I always have a fresh supply. And olives. Yes, must have olives…