Saturday, May 28, 2011

Adventures in Health Food

A story from my job at a health food store in a yuppie area of Los Angeles.

I had seen the white paper bag full of goodies tucked away in the corner of the counter in the vitamins department. Clara finally brought it up.

"Do you want these?" she asked.

I looked inside. They looked like cool Bavarian Old World crackers, chock full of whole grains and nutrients. Maybe I did want them.

"Andrew asked me if I wanted them yesterday, but they just look dead to me. I don't even know what they are. I told him I didn't want them, but for some reason, he left them there."

I looked again. Three of the crackers were a sickly gray color, and three were a more normal brown. Different flavors, evidently. On second look, they looked like a cross between an old sheet of dryer lint and cat food. I don't think they were moldy--I think this was just one of those cases where the food was so healthy that it becomes horrifyingly disgusting.

"Oh, wow," I said. "You're right. I don't know if I want that. What is it?"

Clara soon left and I had the rest of the night to contemplate whether or not I wanted these crackers. I looked at them a third time, and touched one of the grey ones--it bent like a fruit leather. So it obviously had some sort of fruit in it, but why was it grey? This time it reminded me more of one of those plastic barf circles you can buy at a gag store.

I have lower standards for health food than Clara does--she is one of these rare people who eats for health and pleasure at the same time, which I think is hard to do. She makes most of her food, and a lunch for her might consist of an avocado sandwich with sprouts, potatoes sauteed with turmeric, and a protein shake loaded with blueberries. Not only does her food have to be healthy--it has to be delicious.

As I was saying--most people lean more towards one of two camps, eating for pleasure or eating for health. I think most people just eat for pleasure or convenience. Now that I've been at this job I eat more for health, strategically building my diet throughout the day. For example, inside my head it looks like this:

"Hmm, I'm low on minerals and I also haven't eaten any greens today. I think I'm going to have a seaweed salad."

The problem with eating this way is that you can forget a lot of the joy of eating. Many people who work in the health industry eat this way. At Whole Foods, I ran into a highly respected nutritionist I used to work with, and he was eating an organic salad topped with raw grass-fed beef. "They know me here, and so they let me just buy a little for my salad," he said. This guy shines like Krishna himself, and he looks a lot younger than he is, but I wonder if he ever lets loose and eats hot dogs when he goes to a barbecue. I don't get the impression he does.

I had another coworker who I was teasing one day. He would just eat straight bee pollen or spirulina from the jar. "When was the last time you had fast food?" I asked him. He really had to think about it. "I think I had Taco Bell about six months ago," he said, with concentration on his face. On the upside, he never got sick.

You will see some of the most beautiful people in this industry, but their diets are very restrictive, and they end up sacrificing flavor and pleasure in food for nutrition.

There was a woman who regularly used to do demos for an organic green powder. She looked like she stepped out of a Boticcelli painting, and the powder she was selling was also lovely--a wide mix of organic greens and herbs. The problem was, she would mix it with only water when she gave samples, and she thought it tasted good, but nobody else did. It didn't have any flavoring. There was another woman who demoed a similar product, but mixed it with apple juice, and she would sell much more, because the apple juice masked the taste.

After the Boticcelli woman was done each day, she would divide up the rest of the mix into cups for the people in our department to have. She didn't want to throw it away, and in a way I don't blame her--it's such a nutritious product. But I would feign enthusiasm, and say, "oh, thanks," and then that green drink would sit there and stare at me all day. We'd have a showdown like in an Old Western. I would try and conquer it--about once an hour I would take a sip, but then I'd just say "ugh." The green drink always won.

About twice a week I go next door to the juice bar and get either a wheatgrass shot or an E3Live shot (a special type of algae that's chock full of nutrients and prevents Alzheimer's). The first tastes like eating a lawn and the second tastes like licking the side of a dirty fishtank. I know that they are so good for me, which is why I get them, but they're torture to drink. I make a face like I've been shot when I drink it, to the entertainment of a couple of the people who work there.

And I guess this is what I'm telling you. That eating this way kind of sucks. A lot of health food proponents will tell you that eating this way is delicious. Some of it is--when you're craving greens, there's nothing better than a salad with extra virgin olive oil, raw apple cider vinegar, and sea salt. But some of it is not, especially when you're doing it day in and day out. This is the big dirty secret.

I know why Andrew didn't throw out those "crackers." He is in the strategic eating camp, and like the green drink lady, he probably thought it was a pity to throw away something so good-for-you.

I really hope the "crackers" are still there when I go to work today. I hope we can leave them there, on the counter, like they do with the McDonald's fries in "Supersize Me." In a week, will they still be bendy? Will they shrink in size? What will happen? Maybe we can put them in a time capsule, so in the future, they will think, "Wow, they must've had it bad."