Friday, July 8, 2011

Quantity versus Quality

I read yesterday that 30% of Americans in nine states are now obese. Not just overweight but obese. This and other facts about how and what we eat really make me think about serving sizes and the quality of food the average person eats. Just take a walk down the grocery store aisle (especially those inner aisles filled with processed foods) and you’ll see what I mean: not only are they filled with calories but the amount of food you buy in each package can be simply ridiculous. The way I see it, we have a two-prong problem: we buy too much food because of the way it’s packaged and the food we buy in bulk is low in quality.

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t have children and live with just my boyfriend who travels a lot so, on average, I only cook for 1.5 people every day. This means that I have little need for stores like Sam’s Club where you can buy a gallon of peanut butter. But consider for a moment what those stores are telling us: here is a gallon of peanut butter which you should be able to consume before the expiration date. In a way, these stores and the food packaging industry dictate our serving sizes by implying how much of something you should use within a certain amount of time. I think many nutritionists would agree with me that the “servings” that so many foods are sold in are not healthy for the average eater.

Some stores are combating the serving size issue. Whole Foods provides recyclable containers where you can buy certain items by volume instead of by unit and a new company in Austin, TX, In.gredients, is attempting to go completely packaging-free. Then there are those courageous consumers that are attempting to go without plastic packaging altogether all on their own. These efforts are aimed at reducing waste in addition to modifying the amount of food we buy.

So what about the quality of that food? Peanut butter is a great example of a food that is easily bought in bulk but the brands and types you buy in large amounts tend to be very high in calories and artificial ingredients because these ingredients are far cheaper than, well, peanuts. However, you can buy real peanut butter from Simply Local at Atherton Market that has far fewer ingredients and is, crazy I realize, pretty much just peanuts. Tomatoes are my favorite example. Right now tomatoes are in high supply at the farmers markets which means you have plenty of opportunity to turn these into sauce instead of buying jars of Prego or Ragu (each containing large amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup). By making your own sauce or buying local peanut butter, you can know exactly what is going into your food.

In addition to eliminating the packaging of our food, buying at a farmers market or growing your own food also naturally limits the quantity you buy and thus consume. If you don’t have to buy a gallon of peanut butter but only a cup or two of it, you’re not going to eat as much peanut butter. Couple this with the fact that, on average, local food will be slightly more expensive than that from a grocery store and you have an easy way to reduce the food that you buy, the food that you waste and the unused byproducts of what you consume. And, of course, that food will be much better for you and fill you up more than artificial foods.

So, as always, my conclusion is that buying from a local farmers market or growing your own food provides you with higher quality food but also naturally lowers the amount you buy. As if we all needed more reasons to get to our local markets!

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