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Grocery Stores

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Grocery stores have always both weirded me out and fascinated me.

The sheer volume of products, the amount of time retailers spend vying for prime shelf placements for their products, misleading packaging, corn, sugar. The average grocery store carries around 40,000 products. The average consumer over the course of a year buys something like less than 1% of those products. It’s overwhelming and mind-numbing how much there is, while there being simultaneously so little to choose from.

I recently (finally) read In Cold Blood and one of the things that stuck out to me the most (and this is probably damning on a number of levels) was that the adults in the book were described as drinking milk at most meals. Granted this was in Kansas, but I don’t think things were necessarily all that different in other parts of the US in 1959.

I can’t think of any adult I know that has milk with lunch or dinner now. Water. Wine. Beer. For a lot of people probably soda. But not milk.

I’m guessing milk’s replacement by other beverages – which have less or no fat but usually much more sugar – is linked to fat being labeled as the initial culprit in the US’ obesity problem. One of the results of blaming fat was the dairy industry taking a huge hit. Milk purchases plummeted, and retailers responded by pushing skim milk over fuller fat options. Then with the rise of skim milk there was, naturally, an excess of milk fat. What to do with it? The answer seems to have been to make a whole lot of cheese and start putting it on every meal, and so whereas in 1959 cheese was a luxury, an indulgence, you’re a lot more likely to find cheese in your dinner now than a glass of milk next to it. Not to say milk now doesn’t have its problems. If you look at the milk that’s being given to kids in school (along with soda) it’s got tons of added sugar.

Anyway, this is all to say that I find food culture fascinating. And grocery stores incredibly unnatural. So, what better place to put my next dinosaur?

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