National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 9, 2003

High stakes gambling in the grocery aisles

Each item in the cart can add and subtract years from my life


It’s tax day. I should be worrying about what I reported or failed to report. Instead I’m consumed by thoughts of leafy greens as I head toward the produce department at Smith’s supermarket.

Shopping used to be shopping. Now it’s high stakes gambling. Every item you place in the cart either adds to or subtracts years from the rest of your life, depending upon which scientific study you believe.

I bag kale, collard and mustard greens. These are smart bombs in the preemptive war against cancer. That’s not all. I read recently of a man with macular degeneration who changed his diet to include “pails of kale;” within two years, he was removed from the “legally blind” list and passed the test for a driver’s license. Macular regeneration. I throw in more kale for good measure.

On now to Dairy.

Non-organic milk is said to possess everything, from hormones to antibiotics to pus. I grab a gallon, subtract six months from my life then add two because strong bones must count for something. One shelf down is the organic milk. To be sure it tastes twice as good, but it costs twice as much. But look! A Smith’s special: Forty cents off each half-gallon.

We must all do our part to support farmers who produce the stuff, I think, charity getting the better of me. I put the other milk back and stack three organics in the cart, one for this week and two to freeze. Come to think of it, we must all do our part to support the poor maligned French; I add Brie to the pile, checking to make sure it was indeed produced in France.

Next stop, Liquor.

I love my Merlot. It’s my afternoon delight, with olives, cheese and the “Frida” movie soundtrack. This ritual (I don’t know if the soundtrack counts) greatly lowers my risk of a heart attack. One glass of red and my stress ebbs away, so much so that I forget that, according to other studies, I have just raised my risk of breast cancer.

Remembering this fact, I set the Chilean Merlot in the cart, then circle back, quickly, to Produce. Here I stuff plastic bags with broccoli and cabbage to hedge my bets. Susun S. Weed’s great book Breast Cancer? Breast Health! comes to mind. Eating should be a pleasure, something we do to be well, get well, stay well.

In other words, grocery shopping should not feel like preparing for a possible terrorist attack.

But it does. I’m exhausted. And feeling guilty that I’m not buying organic produce at Wild Oats, although last week I did buy supplements there. So help me God, I’ll never do it again. For one thing there are too many to choose from. People stand there for hours. The way they examine each bottle, you’d think they were deciding on diamonds, except diamonds are cheaper. They take their pick then look to the next aisle: blue green algae, mega B. They move one step, then another, like chess pieces. Death is the opponent.

The difference between the people in Albuquerque, N.M., who shop at Wild Oats in the Northeast Heights and those who shop at La Familia in the South Valley is that the latter know they’re going to die anyway. They grab the $6.99 “A-Zinc” and throw it in with bags of beans and rice, tomatoes, squash, sugary cereal, chile, eggs and tortillas. Oh yes, and pigs’ feet, and a Sacred Heart holy candle. Then they move on. It’s almost Cinco de Mayo. They’re planning the meal to end all meals, a family picnic.

I read somewhere that a close family -- garden-variety dysfunctions and all -- can add years to a Latino’s life. I hope so. It’s fun. It’s free. And besides, I like my eggs fried.

Demetria Martinez is the author of three collections of poetry and a novel, Mother Tongue.

National Catholic Reporter, May 9, 2003

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