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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Affordable Supermarket Treats?

Posted By on Sat, Oct 11, 2008 at 2:29 PM

By Meredith Brody

Once upon a time, in order both to enliven food shopping and expand and change my eating habits, I made a decision to buy one unfamiliar item every time I went to the supermarket. It wasn't hard to do this: "the average number of products carried by a typical supermarket has more than tripled since 1980, from 15,000 to 50,000," was a statistic supplied by Marion Nestle, Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University in 2002. But there are many more temptations available: food companies provided an estimated 320,000 different packaged foods in the same year. In one year alone, they might introduce more than 11,000 new foods, each of which struggle to find a home in the marketplace.

I stopped buying a new item as a matter of course ages ago - due to a combination of fiscal prudence, frequent disappointment with the unknown quantity, and a general sense that I was eating quite enough already, thanks. Nowadays the shock of the new occurs most frequently at Trader Joe's. Sometimes I read the Trader Joe's fan sites to see what's exciting the faithful, but recent tries of the highly-touted chocolate caramel tartlets and the frozen fried rice (what was I thinking?) were less than thrilling. (And even Trader Joe's is looking less and less than its onetime bargain paradise to me. I wandered the aisles the other day and rejected item after item, walking out with just the nonfat milk and black pepper I'd come in for. Which rarely happens.)

Yesterday, my daily guilty pleasure, The View (which I try to make less guilty and more pleasurable by reading the papers while it's on), featured new supermarket treats. Two of the hosts were on sampling duty: Whoopi Goldberg, who doesn't like fruits, vegetables, and trying new things, and Sherri Stringfield, who tastes most things with enthusiasm and will cheerfully continue eating if she likes it. (Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who's allergic to gluten, doesn't do much food duty. Joy Behar will blurt out her disapproval, a nice reality check during the obligatory low-fat, low-calorie segments. And I can't for the life of me conjure up Barbara Walters' food-tasting habits, though she is fond of demonstrating the lunching technique of her social X-Ray companions, which involves mooshing up the food on your plate, dipping the tines of your fork in gingerly, and pretending to eat the resulting microscopic results.)

Anyway, on the show, some guy who markets himself as the Supermarket Guru brought along five new products, cloaking their complete nonessentialness by saying that people can't buy a car or pay their mortgages, but here are a few affordable indulgences:

Chief's Choice Caramels, at $4 for four ounces ("approximately 10-12 pieces), looked intriguing - their slogan is "If you like caramels, you'll love Chief's," and I do love buttery caramel. But $4 for four ounces is worse than movie theater prices - even for real butter.

The mixture of Budweiser and Clamato sounds revolting, especially when pre-mixed in a can, where I'd think it would be hard to maintain the beer's essential bitey fizziness.

My Husband's Nuts, pricey flavored almonds ($6 for five ounces) from a California producer, predictably drew bleeped comments from the hosts.

Old Wisconsin Snack Bites Beef contains saturated fat, tons 'o sodium, and MSG - yum! - "the flavor of snackin'" according to them. Not my thing.

O.N.E. Cashew juice intrigued me, just because I'd like to try a nut juice, but I was less enthralled when (a) I learned it was an apple juice blend and (b) I tried to navigate O.N.E.'s irritating web site. Then I remembered a recent Thai episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, where he visited a cashew factory in Phuket to show how difficult it was to release the unprocessed nut from the fruit that encased it, which of course is the source of the juice.

Oh well. I'm heading back to Trader Joe's.

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