Simple Self-Control

Food companies sicken us with junk food, but we buy it

At 9:00 on Saturday morning, cars are not jammed in the parking lot and only a few customers cruise the aisles of employee-owned WinCo’s supermarket. At that early hour, it takes me about 30 minutes to finish my usual shopping list, with an average bill of $50 a week for one person. I figure the store saves me about 15%, maybe $325 a year. Only debit card or cash are allowed, to avoid 3% credit-card bank charges getting passed on to customers.

Here a liter bottle of extra virgin olive oil, the good stuff, labeled organically grown in only one country of origin, production-dated, is $6 versus $10 or more at other stores. At WinCo’s, bananas are 48 cents per pound versus nearly 76 cents per pound (19 cents each) at another budget store. It’s a penny-pincher’s dream and hybrid capitalism in action, where workers show detailed pride of ownership.

I do not buy packaged TV dinners, sugar-laden pies, cookies, or canned veggies. I am a strict lacto-vegetarian ― only fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and dairy. My customer checkout conveyor contains no liquor or meat products. But since I almost became a Trappist monk, no surprise there. The clerks take notice, amazed that I buy so much for so little, compared to the typical customer.

Clerks and customers often chat about personal stuff, even if they be strangers to each other. An older clerk once wore a humongous diving watch, and when I asked to study it up close, he told of his deep-sea adventures off Vietnam’s shores. A young clerk commented on my food choices, “You make us all look bad.”

WinCo’s’ checkout stands run two parallel conveyors side by side, so that customers bag their groceries facing each another. Grocery selections can reveal a lot about a customer’s lifestyle. The shopper opposite me converses with a lady friend. It must be obvious to both women that I am into healthful eating. Hard not to notice, compared to the typical array of sales-taxed package foodstuffs that pass through. Fruits and vegetables are not taxed in California.

“It’s so hard avoiding sugar,” she says to her friend. “It’s in everything these days.” I think she means for me to hear her excuse loud and clear. She studies my array of produce and remarks, “I can see you’re doing the right thing. You must be healthy. But it’s so hard to be good during the holidays,” she says while bagging whipped cream, pumpkin pies, and bottles of sparkling cider and red wine.

I pause a moment, assessing whether the woman would be receptive to what I was prompted to say. She seemed sincere enough, so I braved it.

“Food companies are sickening us with their addictive junk,” I say.

She looks at me and smiles, maybe in agreement or just to be friendly.

I add, “If we all ate wholesome food and exercised enough, the fast food giants ― as well as the health insurance industry and medical services ― would go broke.”

“You know, I never thought of that,” she says, hesitating to lift pork sausages into her shopping cart. “I think maybe you’re right, but life goes on.”

“Until it doesn’t,” her friend quips from behind her.

Smiling I say, “Think of it as a subtle economic conspiracy to keep the economy running at the expense of public health. Doctors need us to stay sick, or they go out of business. The fast food industries would have to lay off millions of assembly workers, which would depress the economy. If we didn’t eat all their worthless, toxic products, America wouldn’t have to consider universal Medicare. If the truth were known, a lot of political heads would roll.”

She freezes in place as if movement might disturb the delicacy of a new realization.

I finish bagging my stuff and say, “Maybe the problem isn’t them, but us, needing to be supermarket saints.”

I suppose it was politically insensitive of me, voicing religion in a secular setting. She looked stunned, then exasperated, and rolled her eyes as if to say ‘How crazy is that!’

As I pushed my cart to the supermarket exit, I heard her friend say, “He may be right.”


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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