Fresh off the plane from your jaunt abroad, feet barely brushed the ground in the good old US of A and you feel it tingling up inside you – anticipation. First signs at passport control – fellow countrymen patiently form a queue. Then the customs agent offers a “Welcome Back.” At baggage claim you stretch because the flight was long, and hey – no one is shoving you aside to grab their bags because everyone has plenty of space. Maybe someone even gives you a hand.
You’re jet-lagged but you don’t want to waste a single minute. You’ve got to do it all. Now. This very second.
A mere 24 hours after you bid the Old Country a sweet “Auf Wiedersehen” and you are moseying on out of the Arctic cooled all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant hauling a stomach that’s consumed twice its capacity in a regrettable stint of frenzied, “Gotta get my money’s worth.” You make your way to your monster-sized vehicle, parked in a space generous enough for two, then sink yourself into your Lazy-Boy recliner driver seat, and ease the automatic gear shift to drive position. Wide roads, no traffic and amiable drivers.
You’re on your way.
And soon. Very soon, you’ll arrive at the most highly anticipated destination – the one place so sorely missed after one too many European encounters of a different kind. You don’t have to drive far. There’s plenty. One in every shopping center. And the time? The day? No worries. It’s open 24/7.
Well, hello again, airport-hanger-sized neighborhood grocery store! Have I missed you!
Have the carts expanded? Should I have brought a down jacket and mittens (in July?)?
In aisle one, the juice section, local high school student, Joe, stocks some shelves in his crisp corporate blue uniform with a spiffy white and red starched collar. His name tag inquires, “How can I help?” and Joe doesn’t disappoint. “Something I can help you with, Ma’am?”
Ma’am? Not miss, but ma’am? Seriously, Joe?
But you’ve elbowed your way through too many grocery stores abroad to be fooled by Joe’s overly enthusiastic willingness to please. He’s no different. Behind that pimpled-faced darling exterior is a cynic waiting to emerge, too young, wide-eyed and hormone stricken to realize that maybe the fun might already be over. For good. Come on, Joe, admit it. You were thinking: Gaping mouth, bulging eyes, this broad looks like she’s never seen a grocery store before. Why do all the crazies shop at midnight on my shift? There must be a better way to earn gas money. This must be what Dad meant when he said, ‘It’ll be good for you, son. Make you work harder in college.’
But who has time for Joe when there’s so many bright happy labels to ponder. Pulp. Extra pulp. Vitamin C fortified. Florida. Sun-kissed. Trendy French labeled. 100 %. Fat free. Sugar free. Diet. Vegan.
I give up.
Zombie mode onwards to aisle 2. Breads. Longer, deeper, wider.
A voice from deep within whispers. What is it saying? Something about a list. Get the list! Yes! A list. You made a list! A guide to lead you through the perilous passages of Giant Eagle to the Undying shelves of peace and pancake mix.
The list. You made a list. Thank you, common sense, me.
See, Joe? Not a case for Bellevue.
And there in various shades of ink, scribbled in the weeks leading up to departure, are all the things Austria just doesn’t got: Doritoes, canned pumpkin, pancake mix, baking soda, liquid vanilla, lifesavers, yellow mustard, hot dog relish, grape jelly, steak sauce. I mean, friends with access to the commissary are high status best buddies – but how often can one request Lays Barbecue Potato Chips before they start playing the avoidance game? (Ricarda, Diana – what’s the answer?)
But there was something else. Another nagging detail important to remember. What was it? Something you have to do when grocery shopping in America that you don’t need to do in Austria. What was it?
Even the whispering subconscious is growing annoyed. The labels. Read the labels. Ahh yes. The labels. And why? Because there’s one big thing that America has that Austria doesn’t. And it’s in everything from bread to juice to granola bars —
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-corn. I’m pro corn. Fresh corn on the cob probably makes my top 10 favorite foods list. And on my last trip back to PA this past month I was served the world’s very best sweet corn, no question – Schramms freshly picked and shucked that day.
High Fructose Corn Syrup might come from corn but it is not corn. And since I don’t believe the world has gotten slothier and stupider, I do believe something in our food is contributing to the current epidemic facing us. So I happen to believe the serious warnings about the health dangers of HFC.
I miss a lot about America when I’m abroad. But I do not miss the omnipresence of High Fructose Corn Syrup and the effort it takesto find food without it.
The amazing selection in US grocery stores is enough to hold me captive for hours. Add to that the arduous task of scanning the .025 font of ingredient lists in an attempt to weed out the HFC culprits, and my vacation is half over before I ever make my way to the self-check out – where poor Joe really does have to help out this ma’am if he ever wants to be rid of her.
Some Videos to give you food for thought:
On the evils of High Fructose Corn Syrup and our obsession with sweetness: Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology:
Corn shucking 101 with Ken: Ken shows you how to shuck corn “clean as a whistle” – I’ve never tried his method. I suspect there must be some valuable vitamins getting nuked in the process but I will give Ken this – he was quicker than I ever was when shucking corn. He also did not make a mess of the front porch while doing so and his cobs are indeed “clean as a whistle.” Besides, I like the corny music and Ken is hoot.
Culture shock, grocery store style from the movie Hurt Locker: