Guilt Taste

My strongest Jewish trait, besides my nose, is an extraordinarily large capacity for feeling guilt. I feel guilty for not walking my dog. I feel guilty for not doing yoga when I walk my dog instead. I feel guilty for eating the right things, when other people can’t, and I feel guilty for eating the wrong things, when I really ought to know better. I would feel guilty for feeling guilty, if I could just find the time.

You’d think I’d be smarter than to expect it would be any different with avoiding certain foods. Recently, though, it’s been somehow surprising that cutting out out gluten, eggs, and soy has added a huge amount of guilt to cooking and eating. I feel guilty for not taking the last bite of my son’s mangled bagel and cream cheese when he offers it, all smiles, and for not eating the eggs from our neighbors’ chickens, now delivered to our porch each week, usually nestled between my running shoes and the stroller. My eating habits are changing, which means a whole new series of daily guilts: post-polenta dishes before 8 a.m. Quesadillas for breakfast. Granola bars at 2 p.m., when my gluten-free lunch sucks so much that I decide not to eat it. Pho for dinner, because the people who brought gluten-free take-out pizza for dinner forgot to request that gluten-free crust, and now don’t they feel guilty and it’s all because of me. I’ve been trying to get over it. Really, I have. It’s just that I seem to have guilt taste.

A few weeks ago, I indulged myself in a visit to Seattle’s Burke Museum, where an exhibit called Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, modeled after the Time Magazine “What the World Eats” photo gallery and Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio’s book, Hungry Planet, features photos of what families from around the world eat in a week. Now there’s a way to feel guilty, right? Not so. As I strolled through with Jill Lightner, my editor at Edible Seattle, and Angela Murray, the magazine’s social media editor, we balked and gawked and giggled and talked and made guesses at what various packages with foreign words on them actually contained. We loved how many bread rolls the German family ate, and marveled at how beautifully packaged the Japanese strawberries were, and pondered how that Ecuadorean family who walks their own root vegetables three hours each way to sell them at the market could cook so! many! plantains in one week. More than anything, I was shaken not by images of poverty, but of wholesomeness.

Taken as a whole, the photos left me with one overarching impression, which was that first-world countries eat a lot of packaged shit. There seemed to be an indirect correlation between the wealth of the family and the freshness of their food. The American family’s weekly grocery pile had an astonishing number of boxed items, grouped with more soda than my house sees in a year and many, many stops at fast food joints. We stared, quietly, each (I think) wondering what her own guilty pleasures were. Together, the three of us schemed. Even though none of us usually shops weekly—not for everything, anyway—we gathered up our weekly foodstuffs, and took photos. (Click here for Jill’s week.)

Pawing through the photographs, I expected to be horrified by my purchases. I buy macaroni and cheese for my toddler, and before last August, I usually shared it with him. Yes, I also buy him fish sticks, only Trader Joe’s, where I shop about once a month, was out of them this week. Yes, I made it to the farmers’ market this week. No, I don’t always. I rarely buy what I define as my “favorite” milk, Fresh Breeze, more than two weeks in a row, because my shopping habits aren’t that reliable. I let my two-year-old pick out our yogurt based on the packaging, but for whatever reason, I only only only buy beets at the farmers’ market. I expected to learn from my photos, but I didn’t expect to be particularly pleased.

Here’s what gathering this big pile of food taught me immediately:

We eat a shit ton of food.

I’m not writing any books or big projects right now, which means this is probably a minimum of the food we go through in a week.

Having the luxury of buying food in tides is huge. This week, I didn’t buy spices or even any “ethnic” foods, really, but I bought a lot of snacks. Next week, I’ll need cumin and pepper and fennel and coconut milk, but because of one thing or another, we’ll be eating out much more, so the pile will be smaller. But it’s a crapshoot.

Having a two-year-old means we eat much more fruit.

I am brand-conscious, but not very brand-sensitive. I prefer cheese X but will often buy cheese Y if it’s convenient.

I stink at planning meals and following the plan, but excel at using whatever’s in the fridge.

I love how impulsive our cooking habits are. I bought Bisquick mid-week because my son spotted it at Target, but he also learned to shell peas and eat them raw. I’ll take both over neither.

But you know what? Looking at this pile of grub, I don’t feel the least bit guilty. I was thrilled to see how much produce I brought home, and now, a week later, at the fact that we’ve eaten it, and also the extra load of produce I nabbed at the market midweek.

I wondered whether I’d purchased less meat than usual, because my perception is that we eat more than I would choose to in the best of all possible worlds, but the chicken breasts are still frozen and the bacon is thawing as I type. We ate a whole chicken this week, and some sausage, and that’s it. Not bad, compared to my own assumptions.

I was also thrilled to see that as a whole, my kid’s snacks are relatively healthy. Sure, I buy kiddo Clif bars for the car, and handfuls of hippie fruit leathers, but there are no cookies or candies or boxes with cartoon characters on them. I’m pretty proud of that.

This is how we eat. If it had been a pop quiz, sure, the photo might look different. Then again, maybe it would have looked the same.

I encourage you to do the same. One Sunday, shop for the whole week. For kicks. Put everything out on your dining room table, then look at it. Take photos, and post them, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Then, open your eyes. See what you find.

Below is a list of what we eat in a week. To participate, post your link below and on Edible Seattle’s post, and we’ll include you when we compile links! Remember to include where you live (even if it’s outside Seattle), who’s in your household, and a list of what you purchase.

Jess Thomson
Phinney Ridge, Seattle
2 adults, 1 2 1/2-year-old

Meats:
1 pound bacon
1 whole chicken
1/3 pound salmon fillet
1 dozen eggs
1 pound chicken breasts
8 ounces salami
8 ounces sliced roasted chicken
1/2 pound sausage (not pictured)

Dairy:
1 pound sharp cheddar
8 ounces feta
8 oz shredded mozzarella
6 ounces goat cheese
4 ounces grated Parmesan
6 4-ounce yogurts
6 8-ounce yogurts
10 ounces sliced Havarti
Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip
Greek yogurt – quart
Tapioca pudding
2 quarts whole milk (only one pictured)
Quart 2% milk
String cheese
Butter – 1 lb

Produce:
2 Onions
3 Shallots
2 lg Fennel
1 pound Carrots
2 Beets
2 Sweet potatoes
1 l b Yukon gold potatoes
Clementines
5 grapefruit
Bunch leeks
4 bananas
1 apple
Small bunch broccoli
1 pound trimmed kale
1 pound peas
1 pound bag broccoli/cauliflower
1 english cucumber
Grape tomatoes
2 pounds shelling peas (not pictured)
1 pound lacinato kale (not pictured)

Dry goods:
Meusli
Polenta
GF flour
Garbanzo flour
Brown rice
Dried apricots
Corn pasta
Rice pasta
Quinoa
Rice cakes
2 jars olives
3 cans garbanzo beans
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
Pistachios
Hazelnuts
Chicken broth
Sugar cookie mix
3 boxes mac & cheese
Crackers
1 pound coffee
1 pound chocolate
premade polenta
4 snack bars
2 kids’ snack bars
8 fruit leathers
1 box Bisquick (not pictured)

Drinks:
Orange juice
6 pack beer
3 bottles wine

Breads:
2 bagels
Loaf seedy bread

Didn’t buy but usually buy:
Cream Cheese
Sour cream
Apple juice
Any Asian/ethnic products
Any spices
Any baking materials
Out of season fruit
Sweeteners
Tea
Eggs

Ate out:
2 lattes (usually more, weird week)
Sushi
Frozen yogurt
Dinner at Bastille
Breakfast at Portage Bay
1 matcha latte

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Guilt Taste

  1. Lo

    Interesting – would like to read that book. Peter and I literally go shopping every day. It’s a time consuming habit we need to break. And I know we eat too much meat. : ) Lent is coming though – Catholic guilt telling you to curb the meat consumption.

  2. I love reading your blog. When I see “Hogwash” in my inbox (I get the e-mail ‘entrance’ to it, otherwise I would never remember to go look for it), I think “Yay!” and I almost always go right in and read it then and there. Because rather than get me off track, it grounds me and fascinates me and often touches me. Your words, your perspective, your subjects — just right for me at that moment, always. The still life of food? Maybe. But I’d need to do fridge/pantry expo, cause I seem to shop almost every day, a little of this a little of that, testing, school-lunch essentials, out of half & half for coffee? A habit from Peace Corps Thailand days when daily market trip was standard/essential (no fridge, minimal kitchen storage); and I like it.

  3. Very satisfying accounting of food and guilt. I am not jewish but guilt figures in pretty well in my make- up too, go figya. Much to ponder in your piece and I admire your being willing to put it all out there. Once again, I must go to my book of gold stars and give you one, the maximum allowable under current law

  4. Wish I read this post before I put the groceries away this morning! I’m going to do this next week … or whenever it is that I get around to filling the fridge up again. I try to take a mental snap shot of all the items I purchase on the conveyor belt as it all moves through the cashier’s check point, but putting it all out on the table where it will eventually be consumed is probably a little prettier. And I like seeing your list (including the things that didn’t make the photos) – thanks for sharing!

  5. Wow. Really interesting post. I’m the worst kind of shopper- always at the store, so not sure if I can swing this, but definitely intrigued. Now I want to go find that book…

    Wonder if that exhibit will come to Portland.

  6. What a great idea! The Hungry Planet exhibit sounds interesting. I would love to see it come to DC. I think you have the right to feel proud of your food choices, just by the variety of color on your table. Nice work!

  7. Pingback: List Of Gluten Free Foods – What To Look For, And What To Avoid | Histamine Intolerance

  8. I live with tremendous guilt too for every little thing as well and can so relate to ‘..feeling guilty while walking the dog for not doing yoga and guilty when doing yoga for not walking the dog’. I too would assume that I would feel guilty about a weeks spread of food irregardless of the fact that my family’s shopping habits sound similar to what yours. Perhaps I will have to do it and see, some guilt free pictures sound great.

  9. Pingback: Gluten Free Foods

  10. Thanks, all, for your great comments. I love that I’ve done this, but I’ve gone right back to 3x/week shopping. Still. If you have a chance, do it.

  11. What an amazing, amazing post. Unfortunately guilt is not my issue, but perhaps my lack of it. I’m going to spend next week thinking hard about my family’s food consumption versus waste, and what I can do to improve upon it—thanks for sparking the flame!

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