Searching for Patience


I try not to be irritated by the internet. I already have a (somewhat unearned) reputation for being curmudgeonly, just because I can’t bring myself to post out of the mouth of Little Mary Sunshine. I know it will shock my fans, but I am not able to fart rainbows. Call me what you want: opinionated, passionate, cranky, a bitch on wheels. At least I try to speak with one true voice. Whether that voice is kind, or supportive, or outraged, at least you know you’re getting the real deal.

Given my recent little bout with blood poisoning, I have been hospital or house-bound for the last 25 days. Yes, I’m counting. That we’ve had the coldest winter since God-knows-when with ten times the usual snowfall has not done anything to alleviate one serious case of cabin fever. The Olympics are fine for awhile, but have you seen the rest of what America watches on television? Yikes.

So I’ve been on Facebook more, visiting with friends and reading what people post and trying very hard to count to ten or ten-thousand before I respond. Often I just hide the post so I don’t see it. Their politics, their beliefs, their spirituality is their own deal and not for me to comment. I’ve given up trying to educate people. Only recently, mind you, but I’ve given it up.

So who would think that something as milquetoast as “27 Foods You Should Never Buy at the Grocery Store” would set me off? A good friend of mine posted this with high praise (which I didn’t notice or I would have tempered my response) and I’m not linking it because a) the link is corrupted and only links to the comments and b) why would I want to drive more traffic to this awful piece?

It was so badly-written and ill-conceived that I assumed it must have been the product of a content farm. Content farms are those companies that pay you pennies per word to generate text blocks to fill their pages. They don’t care if you know anything about your topic, and they don’t care how well you write. They see text as a commodity and that’s how they buy it. Thus, the internet is full of stupid articles on how to wash your car, how to wash your dog, how to wash your hair and 27 Foods Never to Buy at the Grocery Store. Real writers have a lot of anguish over content farms, as you might imagine. Just as real painters are not thrilled with “painting farms” in China.

So, imagine my consternation when the author turned out to be a food writer of some limited renown. Yep, she’s written about food for O Magazine and Reader’s Digest (and it’s new spin-off, Dollar Savvy) and she’s even written book about how ten people turned their passion for food into careers and you can too. (And if you’re getting married, she and her husband can make a droll little magazine all about your coupledom to hand out at your wedding. ) Is this what writing has come to?

Every special interest group has a list of things you should Never buy at the grocery store. Those at work in the fight against GMOs have a much longer list of brands to avoid. People who are concerned about the locavore movement or organic gardening have bushels of advice for you. I have a personal list of things I Never buy at the grocery store.  For instance, I don’t buy Cheez Whiz. Or Velveeta. Or stuff with high fructose corn syrup. Or Wonder Bread.  I don’t buy weight loss products, I never buy anything that is billed as “low-fat.” I don’t buy anything with artificial sweeteners. I try to do most of my shopping around the perimeter of the store, and buy as few things from the processed food section as possible. But I would Never tell you what to buy. Or what not to buy. That’s your prerogative.

There’s no reason to go through the whole list of 27 Things, but I will tell you that the number one thing on the list was Parmesan-Reggiano cheese. You know the reason she thinks you should Never buy Parmesan cheese? Because good Parmesan cheese cost $22 a pound. And any other cheese will work just as well. (That’s a quote.) Well, first of all a pound of Parmesan cheese will last you a very long time. Secondly, it’s quite different than the stuff in the kelly green Kraft can. Thirdly, anyone who knows anything about food will tell you that “any other cheese will not work just as well”. Suggesting that you not buy good parmesan cheese is like suggesting that you not buy a good red wine, because Gallo “works just as well”, or never mind bothering with good chocolate, because you know, the other stuff is somehow equal.

Which is fine if that’s what you believe, and if you are just as happy drinking carboardeaux, and eating Baby Ruths, and using “cheese product” — then I’m happy for you. We should all do what makes us content. But to suggest that someone, anyone, should NEVER buy good cheese is ridiculous.

She also is hell on anyone who buys prepared vegetables in the frozen aisle. Now, I like to cook fresh vegetables. I love to cook fresh vegetables from someone’s garden. But you know how much work it is to do this when you’re sick? Or elderly? Or cooking for one? Or can’t afford to buy all the different vegetables? Since I have been sick (25 days and counting) I have lived on vegetables: roasted sweet potatoes, steamed spinach, and box after box of the frozen variety. And I am grateful for them. And while I will be glad to go back to cooking from scratch, this is what I am able to do now. This is all some people are ever able to do.

Another food item that earned her scorn were the 100-calorie packets of cookies. Okay, those people are paying a lot for extra packaging, neither earth-friendly nor wallet-cozy. But some people find that once they open a whole package of something they have to finish it. In one sitting. They can’t manage portion control and need someone to do it for them. Some people find that those little packets are handy to toss in school lunches or brown-bagging it to the office. For some people time is money and they are willing to pay for the convenience. Who is Rachel Hofstetter to say they shouldn’t?

No doubt she thinks Mrs. Butterworth’s is a much better buy than real maple syrup too.

So when I read this list of 27 Foods You Should Never Buy at the Grocery Store, I was peeved. And feeling peevish, I wrote the first thing that came to mind (sorry, I couldn’t even count to ten) “My suggestion would be to stop reading articles from Reader’s Digest. Talk about bottom feeding! That was the most ignorant and condescending list I’ve seen in awhile.”

(Oh right, she thinks tuna and swordfish should come off your list because they’re “bottom-feeders”. Apparently she has confused them with catfish.)

To which a friend of ours commented “Oh, Larkin… why you always so cranky?” and though she included a winky face and I know she is a bright spirit of a person; it only made me all the more cranky. People should be cranky when they read that list. I only regret that I may have hurt my friend Martha’s feelings, since she found something in the list that resonates with her.

In answer, I made my observation about content farms. When I realized later that the person who wrote this actually gets paid as an actual writer (which is somehow even worse), then it was clear to me that my answer was somewhat more lengthy and that the source of my irritation was manifold.

Earlier this week I responded to an ignorant blog post as “a load of codswallop” which earned me both praise and derision. Over the holidays when I posted on a WordPress blog of “Awkward Holiday Photos” that the post was mean-spirited and ugly, people accessed this blog and used it to make fun of me mercilessly in the comments. Ho Ho Ho. I don’t care. It was mean-spirited and ugly.

Sometimes you just have to call it like you see it. I am trying hard to be more tactful and more sensitive and more patient and to learn to simply pass over those things that irritate the hell out of me. Life is short, I don’t want to spend anymore of it irritated than I have to. But if I can’t stop myself, what you are going to see is cranky. At least you know it’s genuine.