Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Groceries in Clear Lake: More ugly pictorial truth

I think I found a way to document conditions inside Clear Lake grocery stores without getting arrested for trespassing and/or dragged into litigation:  I simply have to purchase what is not fit for human consumption and document it within my own home instead of on site.  Not naming individual stores in the process, of course. 

I wanted to do this to book-end my Whole Foods-related posts of August 6 and September 15, among numerous others.  In those posts, I lamented the lack of accessible reasonable-quality groceries in our area and extolled the virtues of stores where such dietary resources can, indeed, be procured. 

Here is my concern after writing those posts:  I'm afraid that some folks are going to read my opinions and criticisms and simply discount the allegations with something along the lines of, "Oh, you spoiled elitist pansy - complaining about groceries while living in one of the richest bedroom communities in the richest nation on earth."

The situation is not entirely what it seems, though, and that's my ultimate point.  True, we are the richest nation on earth - but where food is concerned, we are in a genuine state of nutritional poverty which only seems to be getting worse.  Even if our individual subdivisions are not situated in formally-defined food deserts, the problem is that much of the fresh food to which we do technically have access is simply not edible.
It's difficult to read this because of all the overlapping colors, but it's a screengrab from the USDA's food desert atlas.  Centerpointe is roughly in the middle. 
So here's the methodology I chose to substantiate this bad groceries claim of mine: 
  • I examined fresh produce in 4 of the reputationally-best grocery stores in Clear Lake, all within the same 24 hour period. 
  • From the g-store that many Clear Lakers declare to be THE best, I purchased three fresh vegetables with which I desired to prepare a recipe: 
    • baby bok choy
    • Swiss chard
    • Snow peas. 
  • Furthermore, I selected the best available representative of each vegetable type.  I didn't want to simply pick the first selection I saw and then have people respond, "Oh, you just picked expired produce that the staff hadn't had time to clear from the shelves and discard."  To avoid this, I pawed through each display pile and picked the best of each lot, as if I were actually planning to (gulp) eat the stuff. 
Here are my very telling results:
This is the baby bok choy.  It was in such poor condition and the sky was so pretty this afternoon that I decided to offer it up to God, because God knows that this isn't fit for human consumption.  Maybe He could figure out what to do with it instead. 

That overall wilting you see was just the beginning of this story:
Here is a close-up.  If it looks yellowish and slimy, that's because it was yellowish and slimy.
This is me pressing my thumbnail into the bok choy, but the bok choy is so old and rubbery that it just depresses rather than yielding with a skin-snap to the fingernail the way a fresh vegetable would. 
OK, let's move on to the Swiss chard.
This is green Swiss chard, the best I could locate. 
That's some of my home-grown red Swiss chard from last year on the left, and the store-bought stuff on the right, just for comparison.  Red, white, or yellow, that pic on the left shows what Swiss chard is supposed to look like. 
Cut ends of the store-bought Swiss chard.  How many weeks ago was this stuff harvested?!?!  It's *ancient*!!!
Last but not least, the snow peas:
A single badly-wilted snow pea.  It's so degraded that it had the consistency of rubber. 
A snow pea is much like any other pea cultivar - if you bend it, it should respond with an enthusiastic fresh-sounding SNAP.  But this one was so old and rubbery that I could curl it into a ringlet without it splitting. 
I wouldn't feed any of those vegetables to my family.  Hell, I'm not sure that I'd feed those vegetables to a horse.  All of them went straight onto my compost pile where they belong.  Chalk up the expenditure to public service of a sort.

You might at this point wonder what obsessionary neurological condition inspired me to visit four local grocery stores inside 24 hours. 

Well, you see, I got a wild hair.  I enjoy fresh Gulf shrimp very much, and I decided I wanted to make shrimp and snow peas for my family, a dish I hadn't made in many years.  But I wanted to make it the healthy way - not smothered in grease and calorie-rich gob the way you'd find it in most Americanized Chinese restaurants.  And the healthy way necessitates quality ingredients. 
Garlic, garden-fresh chopped green onion, sesame oil, olive oil, Marukan rice vinegar and/or sherry, soy sauce, plus a lime and seafood seasoning marinade (I used Old Bay because I had nothing else on hand)... that's really all this dish needs if the macro-ingredients are good quality and tasty.  Serve with fresh steamed white or brown rice and fresh fruit as a completion.

I had hoped to find a bit of bok choy to throw in here as well to bulk it up a bit, but there was none to be bought. 

Is this really the dinner of a spoiled elitist pansy food snob??  Or is it closer to being pretty basic no-frills healthy fare? 
I went to all four of those grocery stores because I needed edible snow peas.  I actually found some that were acceptable, but only in the fourth store I visited:
They were not perfect but I was able to use them successfully in the dish shown above.  Expensive, though - on a per-pound basis, they were on par with grass-fed beef. 
If you count the fact that I had to go to Rose's Seafood in Seabrook to get the shrimp, this whole exercise is clearly elevated to the level of the absurd:  I had to go to five stores to get two ingredients for one dish which is not all that exotic.  I'm not talking about making fresh paella or anything - I'm just talking about Stir Fry 101.  Stir Fry For Dummies.

Clearly elevated to the level of the absurd: An unsustainable time-sink that no working parents could ever find the time to indulge on a routine basis.  Parse this example and you start to understand better why so many Americans are obese. 

But wait - it gets even better.  If the content above didn't hit a home run with you, this ought to put your deeper comprehension of this fundamental edible food shortage issue right over the top.  I clearly can't buy decent vegetables in Clear Lake, but I can buy this:
O.. M...G...  when I saw this, I literally heard the Twilight Zone theme in my head. 

DING DING DING!!! HELLO!!!  Do we have any neurons firing among the readership??  Do you see how one of these items might influence the development of the other??
The epic struggle to eat healthy in the bustling Houston Texas suburb of Clear Lake continues.  Stay tuned. 


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