What About Food:  Oct. 2013


By Dianne Shenk


While working at the East End Food Cooperative, much of my time is spent out on the grocery store floor restocking fresh fruits and vegetables while the store is open.  Meeting and talking to customers while I’m working is a large part of my job, and I enjoy these interactions.


I love when little kids come in with their parents and dance around the aisles calling out vegetables by name.  “Broccoli, can we get some broccoli?” and “Bananas, bananas!” are favorites.  I remember one little boy in the cart seat who kept saying “Apple? Apple?” while his mother looked through a pile of something else, hearing him but kind of ignoring what he was saying.  He kept it up and when the cart got close enough to the apple display he leaned right out and picked one up!  This little boy was maybe 2 years old and already knew what he wanted to eat.  A teenage girl brought her mother in one day to buy 60 mangos when they were on sale.  Her mother confirmed that the girl would eat all of them in the next week before they spoiled – “She eats five or six at a sitting” she said, shaking her head but also glad her daughter was eating mangos instead of chips or candy.


Children learn what to eat from their parents and family, but also from the popular culture around them.  The founder of McDonald’s was one of the first businessmen in the US to understand the value of marketing to children.  He organized advertising that targeted children, and developed Happy Meals to get kids to beg their parents to come eat at his fast food restaurants.  This marketing was so successful that most food companies have copied it and kids learn from TV that eating all kinds of junk food is what makes them “cool” and helps them fit in with their friends.


As adults, we still eat what our friends and family say is the right or cool thing to eat.  I was stocking kale one day when a well-built African-American man reached in to pick out several bunches.  “This is good food!” he said.  I agreed and complimented him on his choice.  He replied that some of his friends kept telling him to eat meat to build muscle, while he kept informing them that he had the great body he has from being vegan and eating right.  Vegans don’t eat any animal products at all, so get their protein from vegetable proteins or combinations of grain and dry beans that provide a balanced, healthier protein for their bodies.  I mentioned to this young man that it was nice to see people like Dr. Oz on TV promoting better eating habits and he responded, “My friends should listen to ME – I’m walking proof of what healthy eating can do for you!”  He was right – I wish everyone could talk to this beautiful young man and learn how to eat well.


An older man asked me about the dandelion greens we sell in bunches, and we talked for a few minutes about the juicing diet he recently started.  He was so excited by his experience, detailing his three weeks of juicing so far, the exercise regimen he had started, how much better he felt emotionally, and how his clothes were already loosening up.  As he left, I thought how lucky his wife and children were to have such a happy, healthy man in their lives!


Another man was shopping one day with his son and also picking out dandelion greens.  These greens are popular in juicing recipes and the son, who was maybe 10 years old, asked what they were.  “They’re the same dandelions that grow in your yard,” I told him, “just farmed in an organized way by a farmer and put together in bunches for people to buy here.”  He looked really surprised, but many of the common weeds you find in your yard – dandelion and purslane for instance – are nutritious greens for people to eat.  The dandelion greens we sell are 18-inch-long, slender green leaves, gathered into bunches of 50 or so, and held together with a rubber band or paper-covered wire.


Other customers are new to healthy eating and ask for advice.  One man wondered how to get started and I suggested cooking things he liked in simple ways, like chopping some onion and sautéing it with any kind of greens, tomatoes and green pepper.  An older woman asked how to cook with turmeric – she had heard it was a healthy spice but didn’t know how to use it.  As we talked I learned that her husband had a health scare a few years ago and they were trying to change their diet, but were bored with frozen vegetables.  I recommended buying a few teaspoons of several spices like curry, cumin, and turmeric from the bulk spice containers, and adding them to stir-fried vegetables to see what they might like.  I told both these customers that it’s hard to change your diet, and it takes a few years to get used to eating differently.  Talking with customers about food choices is always the best part of my work day!

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