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The Skinny on Supermarkets

by Marissa on July 1, 2009

I admit it. I was that girl. The skinny girl who “indulged” in McDonald’s and Taco Bell. The vegetarian who sustained myself on macaroni and cheese for dinner and an occasional chocolate croissant after the gym or special K with Red Berries and Fat-free milk if I was being “good”. That’s right. I ate a lot of crap in my harried life and rarely cooked a meal aside from pasta and Ragu. If you call that “cooking.” A typical lunch was a medium McDonald’s french fry and a large Diet Coke. Sometimes, that was my only meal of the day. Maybe I’d grab a slice of pizza for dinner. I snacked on baked Lay’s and fat free cookies. Until one day I realized my diet needed to change.

I was among the many Americans who are confused by nutrition and health. I believed that fewer meals meant a slimmer figure and fat-free meant healthy. I was falling victim to the games advertisers play and the tricks supermarkets deploy to sell the excess of food available.

Here’s some background: Overt the past thirty or so years, farm policy has caused a vast increase in the amount of corn and soybean crops grown in the US. The number of calories in our food supply has increased by up to 700 calories per day. The pressure to increase profit in an environment where too much food is available has created a bullish food industry.

This week, Marion Nestle, a researcher in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU and from my take something of a food anthropologist, explained the five basic rules by which supermarkets operate.

1. Produce and flowers first: To entice the shopper into the store

2. Long aisles pack more product: And fuller shopping carts

3. Investment in product placement: High profit items at eye level and at cash registers, junk food is assigned to easily-accessible center aisles

4. Sugar adds value: One supermarket placed soda in 13 different locations throughout the store and priced it to sell in bulk

5. Nutrition sells: Nutrition labeling on products is self-invested by manufacturers and rarely if ever of any merit

Nestle says that supermarkets are a place where anxieties around food are played out. Her book, What to Eat (, aims to help the consumer make sense of the food choices in a store.

Personally, when I started consuming more whole foods, the supermarket became much easier to navigate — and my grocery bill more manageable! I eliminated a lot of the anxiety around what to buy and stuck with the basics – more fruit and veggies, fewer boxed items, whole grains and lean protein fill my shopping cart now. And no soda!

Next time you’re grocery shopping, take stock of what’s going on around you. How have you been fooled by supermarkets? What habits can you change?

Today, I’m maintaining my one-junk-food-meal-per-day weight, I have more energy to exercise and I’m healthier and happier than ever!

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Awesome Marissa! I didn't have your same eating habits, but I did experience similar changes in my "health values" the more I learned about some of the same things you're writing about. If you haven't yet seen "Food, Inc." you HAVE to! It's playing right now in select theaters. -Carly (from XO)

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