I’ll admit it: I’m a recovering food snob. I used to think that with food you get what you pay for. I’d agonize over not being able to afford organic produce and go out of my way to a myriad of health stores to find the latest supplements. The worst part was my self-righteous attitude as I filled my basket with Trader Joe’s organic, cane-sweetened, sea salt dusted, no gmo peanut-butter filled pretzels. No offense to Trader Joe’s – which I still love and would frequent if it weren’t a 30-minute drive away (carbon footprint, people!) – but a peanut-butter filled pretzel is junk food no matter how many fancy labels you slap on it. Are you a food snob? You might want to start rethinking that position.
My shift in attitude started last year when the largest study ever done on produce showed no marked benefit in organic fruits and veggies over their chemically-gestated kin. I edged further away from my previous hard-line stance when I discovered that the same company that owns the health-food mecca Trader Joe’s also owns the cheap-food fest Aldi. Same food, different labels, 80% cheaper.
But today took the whole-wheat pastry flour cake with two headlines:
1. Debunking the agave myth. I have long had sweetener shame. Nowhere does my cheapness come into as much conflict with my healthy desires as when it comes to sugar. The plain-jane granulated stuff is cheap and you can get it anywhere. So why would I want that, right? No, every foodie touts the wonders of honey (raw, natch) or maple syrup (real, grade A – nothing that comes in a squeeze bottle with a stereotypical 19th century black woman molded on top) or succanat, brown rice syrup, turbinado, stevia and, the current love for healthy sweet tooths (teeth?): agave syrup. It comes from a cactus! It’s low on the glycemic index! It’s realllly expensive! It has food snob written all over it.
Now don’t get me wrong – all of those sweeteners are awesome and I have enjoyed sweets with all of the above in them – but they are essentially all permutations of glucose and sucrose and fructose in varying amounts. And the one that is most harmful to your health is fructose. As in the great-perpetuator-of-childhood-obesity high fructose corn syrup. I’ll cut to the surprise ending: Agave syrup is almost 90% fructose making it one the most processed sweetener out of the bunch, even worse than HFCS. High levels of fructose are linked to all kinds of nasty diseases like diabetes and the sci-fi-sounding “fatty liver disease.”
The point isn’t to get everyone worked up about different sugars – if you want something sweet, use the one you like – but rather to show what happens when a food that is cunningly marketed as a “health food” is anything but.
2. The Great Grocery Smackdown. This hilarious article from The Atlantic, patron saint of snobs of all varieties, takes a group of self-professed foodies and sits them down in front of produce. In one corner: the holy grail of health Whole Foods. And in the other: the sultan of sprawl Wal-Mart. The difference between shoppers in Whole Foods and in Wal-Mart could be seen as representative of the greatest cultural divide in our country. Which makes it even more entertaining that the Wal-Mart produce was the clear victor. A win for rednecks everywhere? I prefer to see it as a win for price conscious consumers.
So if organic produce doesn’t provide measurable health benefits, all grocery stores regardless of their price point are owned by the same handful of international conglomerates, pricey health foods may just be pricey marketing and produce from Wal-Mart tastes better than Whole Foods, does that mean it doesn’t matter what you eat? None of this is permission to go on the deep-fried Twinkie diet. But it does mean that on our next grocery trip we should think more about whether we are purchasing food or an image.
What kinds of foods are you snobby about? Are you afraid of cheap food? Anyone else surprised by these findings?