Getting to Know the Grocery Store
“Make no mistake about it; though it appears you are exercising personal choice and freedom when you choose one product over another, massive efforts and huge amounts of money go into influencing – i.e. manipulating – your decisions. … Every day, every moment, whether it’s through radio and television commercials; magazine, newspaper, and Internet advertisements; supermarket product placements; billboards or celebrity endorsements we are told what to eat, especially when it comes to animal products … no one is immune to theses messages, which are so powerful, so prevalent, and so effective that any recommendations against consuming meat, dairy and eggs are called biased.”
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge
Day 6 is about food shopping. We, as consumers are situated within a well-oiled corporate marketing machine, so slick and polished that until you consciously decide to try and execrate yourself from the machine, you are oblivious to just how pervasive and manipulative it actually is.
We are completely saturated by corporate messaging telling us what to eat. The only stronger messaging is what we were taught and was modelled to us as children, by adults equally influenced by the same social conditioning and commercial marketing strategies.
Now, I see it everywhere, this constant barrage of commands to “EAT, EAT, EAT” – is it any wonder we have such an alarming obesity problem. What do they keep pushing us to eat? Most of the time it is animal products and highly processed junk food – usually in the same food items. Fortunes have been spent figuring out how our human physiology and psychology can be best manipulated to extract money from us. What lies will we want to believe? How much salt, sugar and fat will it take to get us craving? What are our emotional weak points – the ones that make us use food (or whatever) to compensate for love, sex and happiness, or to ward off fear and insecurity? What colours, sounds, smells, shapes or temperatures are we most attracted to?
Underlying all of this is the cultural assumption that it is ‘natural’ to eat animals, and to eat them constantly at almost every meal. This assumption was supported by our parents who fed us as children, by our teachers who told us meat and milk would make us healthy, by the commercial cartoons who told us fried chicken was special and fun. So strong is this assumption that choosing not to eat animals is now viewed as ‘unnatural’ or ‘extreme’. Most people are shocked by the idea that someone doesn’t eat meat, eggs, dairy or fish. How do you even live? What on earth do you eat? It can’t possibly be good for you, can it?
Walking into a supermarket as a vegan, is an eye opening experience. I thought that just because I avoided the chips and soft drink my diet was reasonably healthy. I was barely conscious of how the culturally dominant messages had burrowed into my brain and were manipulating my food choices. “Yoghurt is healthy.” “You need lots of protein.” “The best source of iron is red meat.” “Free-range eggs are an ethical choice.” “I need to eat dairy to get calcium to protect against osteoporosis.” I was walking around the supermarket in a hypnotic daze with the illusion of personal choice. It’s not just product choices, but where we shop, how much we shop, the way food and money shape our lives. You don’t realise how strong or ubiquitous a social norm is until you decide to do something different.
Colleen provides advice on how to shop vegan in a supermarket. In my opinion, her top three tips are:
- Ask shops to get in products you want. I did this, and Village Organics now stocks vital wheat glutton. If retailers believe you will buy it, they will want to sell it.
- Shop international. Many parts of the world have traditionally lived on far less meat and animal product than we traditionally eat. I have started doing more shopping at Asian grocery stores.
- Pick up a new food. Get out of the rut. Explore new foods; you never know what you might find. Some will disappoint – vegan cheese – no thanks, or soy yoghurt – okay, but don’t think I’ll bother again; some will be awesome – Little Island Chocolate Coconut dairy-free ice cream – died and went to heaven on best ice cream ever, or liquid smoke – how did I even cook all these years without this in my pantry!