It came to me this morning (Tuesday the 27th of August) that Americans can do one simple thing to improve their diets. It is simple in concept, that is, but it may be hard for many people to do. However, it isn't going to be hard for me. It is this: minimize your supermarket shopping, or give it up altogether if possible.
I could, in theory, do this. At this point in my life I order so many things online that I could include foodstuffs without much problem. I order heritage flour from Heartland Mills, and fine British tea from Amazon.com (although I can also find Yorkshire Gold and P. G. Tips at the Cost Plus World Market stores in Tucson).
I also order other cooking ingredients, especially for baking, from the King Arthur Flour Company online. From there I get my better-than-average ingredients such as fine vanilla and chocolate, if I have the chance to plan far enough ahead.
I will gladly drive for an hour down to Nogales, Mexico, for their pure vanilla extract that, unlike the Mexican brands that I see in Tucson, is free from chemical additives. Mexico knows that the standards for goods on the shelf are not as high north of the border as they are literally on the other side of the street in Nogales.
If you live in Tucson, then, how would you go about this minimizing of supermarket shopping? Well, first and foremost, I can't stress sufficiently how important it is to develop the habit of what we might call "target shopping." That is, do away with the idea of buying everything you anticipate that you will need for the coming week in one big store. This is as hard for me as anyone, because I shop at Walmart or Safeway or my neighborhood Fry's Supermarket at Campbell and Irvington in Tucson. But I have had a preview of target shopping in Costa Rica, and I will settle into it when I am back next week.
There are two basic places to go for organic or conventional produce in Tucson: the farmers' markets and the Food Conspiracy Co-Op in the University area. Search it online, make note of its services and specials, and join! You will be supporting many local farmers, just as we have been doing by shopping at the Puntarenas Agricultural Market on Friday nights.
The farmers' markets in Tucson are just as good, and they may be cheaper (but I have to research this). I am not going to get big red organic tomatoes for a dollar a pound in Tucson, but we'll see how close I can come.
There are some products that we can buy in the closest store that make sense--pasta and canned goods come to mind. If you can't take the time to make Chef Laura Calder's bone-simple tomato sauce, go ahead with good-tasting Hunt's or the many other brands. If you like Italian seasoning, there are a couple of lines that have already put in basil and oregano for you.
I do not refer to spaghetti sauce here--just tomato sauce. If you want that, it is available in good product lines as well. For bread and baked desserts, I make them myself. I have even made a couple of things here in Costa Rica, especially Banana Bread that I made last night. It was a revelation to my manager and his pretty wife, who had no idea that you can salvage bananas that have gotten overripe, by putting them into quick bread.
I'm sure I have a future in banana bread if I ever live in Costa Rica again, because they are about the cheapest produce you can buy. I find a certain advertisement on the Internet annoying--the one that cautions you never to eat bananas and then shows a time-lapse drawing of a banana going bad. Well, by all means don't eat overripe bananas. Make them into banana bread; it's a much better option. And when your bananas are fresh and ripe, don't believe the disparaging ads that paint them as bad food.
My trip to Costa Rica has also taught me to appreciate American standard oranges. They taste the best, are most versatile and besides that, they are good for your health! I often refer to fresh-squeezed orange juice as health in a glass, and that has proved true, for me at least, since I came down with a cyst a year ago and have almost seen it shrink entirely away once I went on the Fit For Life diet.
I will be involved in more shopping trips, more time spent parking, and more online shopping in order to adapt my stateside habits to what I have come to know as the routine in Latin America. But why would you or I do this? It is for our health. You pick up a lot of junk in supermarkets, and my habit of making and eating superior baked goods has made it possible for me to pass up the starchy, pasty sweets that I have seen here. Supermarkets also provide us with things that we absolutely ought not to eat, like sugary breakfast cereals, and my discovery of the joys of platanos has bridged that gap once and for all.
If you eat less grain and cereal, it will be good for you anyway--my habitual breakfast choices of a fruit smoothie or the egg-sandwich-and-platano will stand me in good stead as long as I live, as I deal with the after-effects of that acute pancreatitis that changed my life six years ago.