White Flour

I don’t put much time in at the regular supermarket. I end up there on occasion when I need aluminum foil or dried chilies, but most of the time I’m living in my little specialty foods retailer cocoon.

Before we moved to California in 2003, I went to Meijer every week in Michigan, along with the health food store and oftentimes the bakery and, in season, the farmers’ market.

Before we moved to Michigan in 2000, I had been working for Whole Foods for five years, and with a 20% discount, there was no reason to go anywhere else.

I’m fascinated by the regular grocery store whenever I’m there. I grew up with regular supermarkets – the red and orange A&P logo on the front of the market my family shopped at in New England is one of my earliest memories.

I remember the logo’s shape-commonality with pills my father took while he was battling Hodgkin’s disease and the coated licorice Good & Plenty candies that I ate, mimicking his daily pill-swallowing routine and offering them to him with childhood-magical-thinking-surety that they would make him not sick any more.

In Virginia, we shopped at Safeway store #0002 and then the Giant when it opened down the street, plus the dreaded weekend-afternoon eating trips to the commissary that fill the childhood memories of lots of military dependents. When you started filling the second cart, you knew the end was in sight.

But I’ve been away from the supermarket so long, and away from the standard American diet even longer, that I’m sort of amazed by what I find there and what’s happening. I’ve always been a casual grocery cart anthropologist – I roped a date using this habit when I was working at Whole Foods by saying Hey, that’s great tofu, isn’t it? – but looking at people’s carts at Whole Foods is of limited interest. There’s the person who clearly buys all her produce elsewhere and the couple who buy six bottles of wine at a time and the family who ring up a gargantuan bill with meat and prepared foods.

At the regular supermarket, though, I get to see what most people are really buying. To tell the truth, I mostly find this depressing.

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Kinds of Vegetarians

I was reading The Vegan Lunch Box the other day and feeling grouchier and grouchier the more I read. I suppose I was thinking if I didn’t work outside the home I could make time for that level of lunch-involvement for my offspring, if I had any, but then I realized that it wasn’t just the fussiness of the food and the fact that she calls her kid “Little Schmoo” that was getting to me. It was that she was showing behavior that I think of as typical of a Compensating Vegetarian – actually a Compensating Vegan – and I’m not that type.

There are a lot of different kinds of vegetarians. Sure, there are those who eat eggs and those who think eggs are somehow not really vegetarian but have never been able to say exactly why. Beyond the what-do-you-put-in delineations of ovo-lacto, lacto, and vegan and the why-do-you-do-it categories of health, ecology, animal rights and plain old distaste for flesh, there are further distinctions.

Before we go any further, please note that the following type descriptions are intended in a spirit of humor and fun, and that I have immense respect for other vegetarians, no matter how they go at their diets. We can all get A Bit Serious about it sometimes – so if you recognize yourself below (I am here in several guises) please don’t get too bent out of shape. We’re all doing something good for the planet and the animals, folks, and we have to laugh among ourselves at our perceived neuroticisms a little bit because goodness knows the rest of the world thinks we’re nuts.

Compensating Vegetarians are the ones who feel compelled to make food that is as similar to meat-containing food as possible. These people keep the food scientists that work on meat and cheese analogues in business, and have no fear of the sodium level in packaged foods and no discomfort with putting an enormous amount of their food budget and caloric consumption toward plastic-wrapped substances that have TVP as the primary ingredient. They love technology…food technology.

A Compensating Vegan might make a ham and cheese croissant (note homemade croissant made with trans-fat free margarine, ye gods, if I had the time and energy…) with fake cheese and fake ham and maybe even fake mayonnaise (at least the pickle you might have on the side can be real).

It’s just like the real stuff! they’ll insist. They feel they can’t have it look as if they’re missing out on the meat-eating experience because if so, meat-eaters will mock their food. They have a need to conform that battles mightily with their dietary preference. A fake-everything sandwich helps them avoid sticking out and having their food or themselves labeled as different or – heaven forbid – weird.

Is it weird to want to eat a sandwich in which all of the ingredients are ersatz? I sort of think so. Why not enjoy the natural vegetable foods available for what they are and close to the forms they take? Why do they need to be like something else?

There are other vegetarian subtypes.

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