What to eat by Marion Nestle

On my first visit to the US, about five years ago, my hostess took me on a trip to the local supermarket. I was overwhelmed and fascinated by the displays , the long isles and the number of product choices . I spent most of my grad school days trying to navigate and interpret these, because i cooked my food at home. The first challenge was the produce section - the supermarket had huge tomatoes, i was excited , but they only looked and felt like tomatoes, alas they did not taste like one. Shouldve been charged for impersonating a tomato. Vegetables, the mainstay of indian cooking were really really expensive. A pound of Eggplant was almost 3$, around 150 rupees. I couldve bought one in india for as little as 10 rupees. This situation lasted until i discovered the local farmers market for a wider variety of cheap veggies.

Bread was another challenge.With no guidance, i took to subjecting the brands of bread i bought to what i called the soaked in milk test. Back home i would soak a slice of bread in milk sprinkle a little sugar and voila - dessert. The bread soaked up the milk and retained its shape, and gave a good bite. I soon discovered that breads which were very light, more air than dough did not pass this test. Going through all the brands in the supermarket, including the wonderbread i had read so much about , i discovered bakery bread and artisan bread, finally getting into baking my own bread.

With time supermarkets in the US have become less intimidating places for me. But with marion nestles book i feel like i have been handed the key to navigating american supermarkets, a tourist guide and a pretty comprehensive one at that. The first real clue that i got to the aggressiveness with which supermarkets are planned are their layouts. Stick to the periphery and dont got towards the centers. Only 5% ( or some small figure like that) of customers manage to stick to their shopping lists. She then proceeds on a walk through the supermarket, through produce, bread, milk, eggs, meat, fish, the center aisles*, beverages*, and special sections*. Along the way she interprets labels and nutrition information for us along with juicy tidbits on the amount of political fighting it took to reach these.

The main issues she focuses are on are both dietary( eat less, portion size, nutrients and what they do to you) environmental ( organic, fair trade, humane treatment cows and birds) and political( the sordid marketing practices of multinationals, the price of a potato to potato chip, selling to children). She points out how ownership of these corporations, Altria specifically with its ownership of phillip morris and krafts results in marketing practices being 'imported' from 'hazardous' industries into food marketing.

Supermarkets back home are getting bigger( with ice berg lettuces being sold in a hot AZ Phoenix like Indian city for 600 rupees - about 12$ a head :)) . Marion nestles book gives me insights into the ways these will evolve too. With this guide to American supermarkets and their products, i need to look at the indian food scenario under a similiar framework.

*Center Aisles: Processed foods, Sugars, Cereals, Packaged foods, Snack foods, Foods just for kids, Oils
*Beverage Aisles : Water, "Healthy" Drinks, Teas and Coffees
*Special Sections: Infant formula, Supplements, Bakery

What to Eat - Marion Nestle Review of the book at NYT


Shilpa said...

Your site looks very informative. I came to US 6 months back and still I get lost in the supermarkets here. For ex, I wanted to by 'soy sauce' and when I went to supermaket I could find atleast 20 types of them!!!. I guess it will take sometime to adjust here...Keep posting :).

renuramanath said...

hi, came across your site right now. found it really interesting, being quite interested in the politics and history of food. waiting to see more.