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.







Hunting and Gathering

The Challenges of Bringing Food to the House.

If the whole diet and exercise thing comes crashing down in flames, it will be because I can’t get a grip on grocery shopping. For awhile I lived in Tuscany, and shopping for food in Italy was a real challenge. There were a few places that were like little grocery stores, but mostly you had to stop at market stalls in the street or at the butchers, the cheese shop, the bakery  to get what you needed. I didn’t have a car, and rarely enough money for grocery and taxi ride both, so I could only buy stuff that I could carry home in my arms, up the hill out of the city.

English isn’t widely spoken in Italy and though I had a little German and a lot of French, I found it very difficult to translate. So each morning, I would figure what was needed for the day and I would make a list. Then I would look up the translations for the foods I needed and write them next to their counterparts on the list. Sometimes I would write out the pronunciation key too. If I really got stuck I could point to the word on the list.  Bringing home the food was a lot of work and it took hours.

In 1972, when we moved from suburban Connecticut (with its bright and modern supermarkets) to a mill village in the north of England, my mother was horrified at the shopping dilemma. The nearest town with any sort of large market was Huddersfield. It was only about ten miles away, but there were innumerable obstacles. The local shops were merely out the door and 100 feet up Peel Street. It was just the everyday chore of having to go out for bread and vegetables and a bit of meat and chocolate– none of which were in the same shop, of course.

We’ve recreated this situation in this country to an extent and made a trendy entertainment of shopping in specialty stores and farmer’s markets. I can hardly stand it. Maybe it’s the echo of my experience in Europe, but more likely it’s the sense of self-consciousness that drapes over me like a cloak. I hate to ask for things. I don’t want to be helped. All the other shoppers seem so weirdly pleased with themselves about being there.  We will go in occasionally to buy bread. Our friend is the baker and the bread is truly worthwhile, but I hate going to get it.

There are ethnic markets of course, but not for routine shopping. There is a small local chain of upscale groceries called “Dorothy Lane Market,” whose ethnicity is rich and white. I went there the other night for a wine and cheese sampling with my friend Rita. It was divine. They offer to help you there, but you can be utterly anonymous too. Just don’t forget your wallet, and I hope it’s fat if you’re shopping there much. There’s a Trader Joe’s too, but it seems kind of flat after DLM.

But the regular routine staples– the milk and oranges and butter and eggs and cereal, that generally comes from a grocery store here. My husband’s parents ran a neighborhood grocery in L.A.and in between stints at railroads, my husband worked at numerous grocery stores. I think he clocked in at about 50 Ralph’s in Southern California. When we still lived in Montana, people would stop him in the store and ask for help years after he’d stopped working there.

He is a great shopper of sales. He fiddles with coupons, but finally doesn’t use them for anything except tormenting me. If I should happen to buy something different or shampoo or something he will invariably  say “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to buy that? I have a coupon for it at home.”  Always. But his style of shopping is entirely different from mine. He’s the man at the checkout with 16 cans of green beans and four cases of soda pop, a tower of canned tuna fish, a big box of ramen and three bags of cat food balanced over the top of the cart. He always walks back to the back of the store just before we leave, to get the milk. If he buys fresh produce it’s one or more of these three things: lettuce, onions or bananas.

Then he wrestles with the self check-out. Those machines, they’ve got it in for Elmer. They’re holding a grudge.

There’s nothing particularly odious about grocery shopping here, it’s just so boring. I try hard to adhere to the advice of diet and money gurus to stay out of the middle of the store and just shop along the edges, as the edges are where they keep the fresh food. If money weren’t a consideration, the shopping would be easier. (Hell, if money weren’t a consideration, I’d have a personal chef and they could do the shopping.) But it is, so I’m on the lookout for less-expensive proteins to build a meal around. Before I was so food conscious, this was a bit easier. Kielbasa and noodles are a tasty and inexpensive supper, but really, you know, not all that healthy. Prowling the aisles, I try to find stuff that will help me continue on the right path, and still provide sustenance for the rest of the family.

On good days the cart is brimming with the potential of great meals ahead: tortillas and tilapia, ginger and Bok choy, cilantro, raw shrimp, peppers, chicken, some lean beef, brown cow yogurt, granola, fruit, spinach, avocado, oranges. But then there’s the check-out ahead and hauling it all out to the car and then carrying all the bags up to the house and finding some place to put everything and chucking out all the things that have wilted and rotted and gotten covered in gray fuzz in the refrigerator. The wastefulness of it all really bothers me. I resolve to do better, and use up the ingredients I’d bought in preparing wonderful meals.

But the days go by. We go out to eat. We have a “fend” night, where everyone is on their own to feed themselves. Things age, they wilt, the bloom goes off. And suddenly there you are with nothing in the house to eat again and it’s time to go grocery shopping.  Planning would help, of course. If we could only stick to the plan. Somehow, there’s got to be a better way.

Target today 70  Steps 611

Yogurt with granola. Slice of birthday cake. Six crackers with Monterey Jack cheese. Small slice of pizza. One chicken nugget. 

Eat Well, Be Happy

Do you sometimes feel self-conscious when you’re eating a banana?

Once again, I’m going to try to flip this around so that I am writing in the morning or in the afternoon or some time other than in the wee small hours of the morning. So tomorrow, I’m going to have a little love fest here about my favorite thing in the world: maple. It used to be chocolate, but this fine, delicate silky flavor . . . well, that’s tomorrow.

Tonight, so as not to leave you empty-handed, I’m giving you charts. Oh good, Larkin, we love charts! These are interesting though. One is a list of benefits derived from eating fruits and vegetables. The other is “12X happy”, a look at a dozen things– foods and behaviors– that increase the body’s production of serotonin. Now, some people argue that even though some foods contain serotonin , that serotonin can’t cross the blood barrier, so they are of no effect; be a good girl and take your prozac.

But I don’t know. We really do have a very imperfect understanding of body chemistry, particularly where the brain is concerned. And here’s the thing– eating these foods is not going to have a deleterious effect. It will not increase suicidal thinking. Unlike Prozac.

Since I started keeping track of what I’m eating, and posting it, I have in general been more thoughtful about what I’m eating. Well, today I had a cheeseburger, but it was an excellent, first-rate cheeseburger and it’s not like I’m eating cheeseburgers every day. I’ve been reading a lot of ingredient panels, and mostly shopping for things that are “ingredients” themselves and fewer processed foods. Someone advised once to do most of your shopping from the edges of the store– fresh produce, meat, fish, dairy, cheese– all of that is along the edge. You hardly need anything at all from the center of the labyrinth. (And weirdly, all coupons seem to be for processed foods.)

I know that people will suggest that I get out of the supermarket altogether and instead join a vegetable co-op, or shop at the 2nd Street Farmer’s market, or in ethnic groceries. Well, I do go to Dorothy Lane Market sometimes, does “rich and white” count as an ethnic group? (Actually, to give DLM their props, they have fantastic selections of many interesting fresh foods, including excellent filet that is five bucks less per pound than Kroger.) My days are so crazy that I am often grocery shopping at midnight. The Farmer’s market just isn’t open then. (Though honest to goodness real produce markets certainly are, there are none of those in our fair city.)

Anyway, since I’ve been more thoughtful about this, I’ve noticed that I feel better. I have less digestive upset. I have more energy. I feel strong, even when- like yesterday – even when I’m in the doldrums. Good fuel in seems to equal better energy output. And it tastes good. And you don’t have to deal with the self-loathing that comes from a regular diet of Con Agra, Tyson Foods and Kraft.

I can’t help but wonder if we won’t find that many of the health woes that we endure– certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis– if they don’t have a direct link to forty years of consuming boatloads of chemicals, additives, preservatives, GMOs, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors at every meal. But really, that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother column. Or several.

So do yourself a favor: eat well, be happy.


Target today 7o Steps 4061 (an undercount– turns out that when the clip on my pedometer broke and I tucked the pedometer into my bra, the “girls” hold it too securely, and far from every step is counted. Working on getting that fixed. ) 

Breakfast: yogurt with granola. Lunch: cheeseburger Dinner: one cup beef stroganoff, salad without lettuce, half-serving yogurt with granola.