Ever since I read Michael Pollan’s books The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules, and In Defense of Food, I’ve taken much of his advice to heart. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants: sounds very sound to me. Another bit of wisdom involves the grocery store: stay away from the center aisles, because that’s where the processed food is. The stuff that isn’t really food anymore. The stuff that has an ingredient list that rivals War and Peace in length, and comes inside plastic sleeves stuffed inside cardboard boxes impregnated with BHT (for freshness). The stuff that has ingredients you can’t pronounce but remind you of chemistry class.
When I was first readjusting my brain to Paleo, changing my shopping habits was hard. So hard! O Sugar! The cereal aisle beckoned to me; the baked goods wept as I passed; the cookies wailed out that I no longer wrote or called. I won’t lie and say I was always able to ignore the call of the carb; many times I went home with a box of Chocolate Pop’ems from Entenmann’s. And ate the whole thing. And felt physically wretched afterwards.
I developed a mantra to help me get past the temptation: Not Food. As I walked the aisles, I’d say to myself, ‘Not Food, Not Food’ to each item that had ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, or a ridiculous amount of added sugar, or which had so much packaging I could build a house from the materials. Eventually this pushed me out to the edges of the store, where the fresh food lives: Produce and Meat.
There’s something I can wrap my head around. Real Food. How much easier shopping became. A whirl around the perimeter and I was out of there. And, even better, my cooking improved as I started using better, healthier, whole-food ingredients, leaving out the sugar, the wheat, the junk.
Now I’m in and out of the grocery store in fifteen minutes. Veggies and fruit and herbs and fish and meat. The only reason I venture into the center of the store these days — and I feel intrepid doing so, for there be dragons — is to get toilet paper, the one center-supermarket item I’d feel a little awkward doing without.