Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Something Interesting I Noticed Yesterday

For the past two or three years I have been making an effort to eat more cleanly. I want to cut way back on sugar and as many forms of processed food as possible. I haven't always been successful. (If I were more successful, I would likely be thinner.)

Even if I'm not always following the plan, one habit that has stuck is that I am a compulsive label reader. If I'm not eating something fresh, I will check the ingredients. If they don't meet certain criteria, I will put that product back on the shelf (well, usually I will).

Before my Connecticut office moved to its current location, the closest supermarkets to my office were Stew Leonards and Whole Foods. I often like to shop on my lunch hour to free up my evenings for other activities. Having convenient shopping near my office was important. I tended to shop at the Whole Foods because they had a greater variety of products. It also meant spending large amounts of money. Whole Foods - or Whole Paycheck as I like to call it - isn't cheap.

My office moved to a busier location and there is a Shop Rite nearby. It's a really large Shop Rite with a bountiful selection of products. They have a "natural" section where I can find many of the products I used to buy at Whole Foods but for less money. There are still certain things I like to buy at Whole Foods (like free-range meats) but I'm saving much more money not buying everything there.

This week I learned there is more than one way to comparison shop - and it's really bizarre.

My regular breakfast on weekdays is a homemade smoothie. I used to use protein powders in them, but I started worrying that they were too full of chemicals and flavorings. I decided to replace them with natural nut butters. Sometimes I used peanut, but Kevin recently found out he was allergic to peanuts (he's never had a symptom, but an allergist's test confirmed a peanut allergy). Almond butter is the only other completely natural nut butter on the market. Most other nut butters contain some other type of processed oil. Almond butter is the only nut butter that you can get unadulterated and unprocessed.

While searching for almond butter at Shop Rite I never found much of a selection. They had a few different types of peanut butter, but only two kinds of almond butter. The first kind was a national brand and was sweetened and homogenized. I also saw they carried a smaller "hippie" brand, Maranatha. It was unhomogenized, but the ingredient list said, "evaporated cane juice." In other words, a fancy name for sugar. I knew I had two choices if I wanted sugar-free almond butter. I could either suck it up and go to Whole Foods, or wait until the next time I could make it to the farmer's market where they have a vendor who sells homemade nut butters. Either way I could be paying ten bucks a jar.

Yesterday I want to Whole Foods in search of some free range chicken and some almond butter. Whole Foods has a much better nut butter selection and includes unsweetened almond butter. I was quickly able to find a jar. I think the store brand was sugar free. On a lower shelf I saw the Maranatha brand.

Curious, I picked up the jar of Maranatha almond butter and checked out the ingredients. I don't know why I thought this jar would be different from the ones in Shop Rite, but I decided to check anyway. Isn't Whole Foods supposed to be about being healthy and natural? Why would Whole Foods be selling a brand that pretends to be natural but is full of sugar?

The ingredient list on this jar of almond butter did not include any sugar.

So why is it that two different stores sell jars of an almost identical product but one has sugar and one doesn't? It's not as if the jar of almond butter without sugar is advertised as sugar free. The buyer has no idea if the product contains sugar or not unless she picks up the jar and reads the ingredient list. Clearly this company sells one type of product to one store and one to the other, or else the buyers for the respective stores feel the need to present a certain version of the product to the customers.

Is the assumption that Whole Foods is for the elite and Shop Rite is for the unwashed masses and the unwashed masses are a bunch of fat, sugar, grubbing cretins?

Is it assumed that if you care about the sugar content of your food, you will automatically shop at Whole Foods?

I surely can't be the only shopper out there who is concerned about her finances as well as her health.

Maybe the assumption is that if you are that concerned about your health, you will be willing to pay the extra money for the privilege. In a sense, that is what I just did.

Who is making these assumptions and why?

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