Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lost in the Supermarket

Cooking has been sporadic at best, chez Cookiecrumb, this summer. I don't know why.
Nourishing still happens, but even grubbing for grub at the farmers market has dropped off noticeably. The larder is not as full as usual.
So yesterday I needed to eat. I processed my primitive cravings through the mental menu-o-meter and came up with "Vegetables." But all we had in the house was some local apples, local onions, and some super-super local foraged pickleweed (more on that later).
I think there are a few carrots in the crisper drawer too, and some rapidly aging figs... but I was not in the mood to concoct a meal, however clever (I mean insane) a compote I might have been able to come up with.
So I did something I have never tried before. I went to the salad bar of a nearby grocery store.
I didn't even know how to "work" the salad bar. I stood back and watched the patrons for a few minutes. Seems you just grab one of those clear plastic "clamshell" containers and start filling it with the ingredients of your choice. Help yourself to a napkin and plastic fork. Take it all to the checkout, where it is weighed, and you pay.
This grocery store even has tables and chairs out front, where other patrons were enjoying salads out of plastic clamshells.
How many people, I wonder, believe that "salad" is something you eat out of plastic clamshells?
I made a few rookie mistakes filling my clamshell. Well, I didn't try to completely fill it, which was a smart move. Also, I resisted the heaps of spinach and lettuce, which although they weigh less, bulk-wise, are just green fluff. I was hungry.
In fact, I'm mostly pleased with my choices: Fresh sliced raw mushrooms, chopped hard-cooked eggs, shredded raw carrots, cucumber slices... But the sliced canned beets were so pretty! OK, oops. And that little pile of chopped peperoncini, mmm! Uh-oh, too many. Final boo-boo: The salad dressing.
Dressings at salad bars come in "White" and "Italian." White includes Ranch, blue cheese, and... uh, I think there was a third "white" but I didn't read the label on the ladle. Italian, in this case, was a sweetish, gummy, semi-translucent fluid, and by golly, that's the one I picked.
I'm not saying my choice of dressing was a mistake (although it was). The mistake I'm copping to is slopping too much of it onto the vegetables. That ladle holds too much goop, and I merrily scooped it up and splashed it on. This not only makes for a wet, overdressed salad, but it adds to the weight at the checkout stand. Hell, I could have saved eleven cents and had a better meal if I'd been thinking.
But even though I drowned my salad in — well, I don't know, let's not guess what it was made of — I could still taste the raw vegetables.
They tasted manufactured.
I could taste the flavor of factory farm in my mouth: chemicals.
Eating locally grown food almost exclusively for the past year has so reconditioned my taste buds that there's apparently not enough hideous salad-bar dressing in the world to blot out the flavor of industrial agriculture.
I can no longer shop happily... at the supermarket salad bar.


plentyo'moxie said...

B and I are nearing the end of our August Eat Local challenge, in addition to more local than not eating year round. But we've both been craving starches, and chocolate. A weekend trip provided the opportunity to cheat. A (later found to be fake) farm stand at the thruway pit stop provided further enticement.

But the "home-made" chocolate chip cookies were sawdust in our mouths. The ingredients all soooo inferiour.

So yeah, we know where you are coming from. And it has us a little worried - we love crappy food! Or should I say - loved.

farmgirl said...

You go, girl! Supermarket salad bars are scary. (Actually, for that matter, most aisles in the supermarket are scary. But maybe it's just the flourescent lights.) : )

cookiecrumb said...

OMG! I love hearing from two long-lost correspondents.

P o' M: I am cheering you on through your August endeavor. Cheating is fine! Ha ha, until you discover you've outgrown it. Blessings.

Farmgirl: It was Scotty's!! I wouldn't tell this to just anybody. Thanks for dropping by.

Kalyn said...

Yeah, I'm suspicious of veggies which have been chopped up and sitting around for a long time. Having a garden spoils me. In the winter I'll have to lower my standards.

kudzu said...

It's amazing how salad bars differ across the country. When they appeared at NYC's Korean greengrocers I waa overwhelmed by the great Asian choices to make up a whole meal, and in the South you could fine things like blackeyed peas and other local foods a-waiting. I find it esp. deadly that in California, where we have access to fresh foods all year long, we come across vegetables processed in some warehouse and delivered pre-sliced and already losing life. Of course the natural foods stores have better choices but a good idea has turned into an unhappy situation where low-rate produce is foisted off on consumers.

And it's not just in salad bars. Recently in a popular Mill Valley Italian bistro the sliced red peppers in my friend's salad were old enough to have become slightly fermented and spritzy. That's just plain unacceptable.

jen's mom said...

Har! What a GREAT visual...you standing back and observing-noticing-studying- planning. Har!

anni said...


Ripe-off-the-vine tomatoes are among us!!!
Let's meet soon! You have some reserved in your name. (Cranky too!) They aren't gonna last much longer!

Watch for an email!

Anni :-)

Passionate Eater said...

I love your story Cookie Crumb! I was reading a web article about food fads, and they had things like: the liquid diet, fondue, Atkins/low-carb, and the salad bar! They had "salad bar" in the 80s era, and of all the decades ever, I'd say the 80's were the best. You gotta be careful about the weight. Sometimes, I can end up spending $15 whoppers for lettuce and dressing.

Dagny said...

I only do the olive bar in grocery stores. Mmmmm. Olives.

cookiecrumb said...

Kalyn: I wasn't even thinking of how old or mistreated the vegetables might have been. But tasting them... that's when I realized I was so far removed from industrial produce.

Kudzu: I LOVE your description of "fermented, spritzy." Have you considered taking up writing? :D

Jen's Mom: Oh, I was a regular anthropologist.

Anni: XXX!

PE: Huh. Salad bar as fad food? Boy. Wow.

Dagny: There were loads of olives too, but I wanted "fresh." Meh.

Jamie said...

Ah, you're completely "ruint," as we like to say around here. The s.o. and I are ruint too; things that used to taste good to us are now revealed to be artificial and crappy.

If this is wrong, though, I don't wanna be right.

cookiecrumb said...

Yeah, Jamie, it's a good "ruint," but Cranky and I are facing a roadtrip in a couple of weeks, and I'm so afraid we'll be thrown back into that factory farm briar patch. (We already have plans to make a lot of meals in advance and bring them with us. Spoiled!!!!)