I'm off supermarkets (and all farmers market) (13 pics)

Two years ago (Sep, 09) I took an insane leap of faith and went completely off supermarkets. I was on a quest to find the healthiest food available and farmers markets were increasingly fitting the bill. My supermarket at the time, Whole Foods, was considered to offer superior food but was mostly overcharging me for inferior food.

The food at the farmers market was cheaper and tasted better, but I was only buying select items. It wasn’t accounting for my main meals everyday. So I cut the cord and said goodbye to processed, packaged foods, and refrigerated produce.

I figured I would last a week and run starving back to Whole Foods.

The world I encountered was so different from what I expected. Peaches that were so filling I could skip a meal. Desserts that I couldn’t over-eat and had to save for later. Items called “seconds” that cost pennies to the dollar only because they needed to be eaten right away.

I was hooked. My worries quickly faded away and the weeks turned into months. Now, here I am years later and still enthralled. The food varies each week but is always filling and tasty.

Below is a photo-sample of this weeks purchases. Enjoy!

And, if you are thinking of trying out farmers markets, or even getting off supermarkets, I give you a virtual high-five. It will be the best decision you ever make.

Jalapeños, super hot. They use to be green, but turn red as they dry. When dry they flake and can be used for spicing it up.


Staggered avocado bag. Each one ripens at a different time in the week.
Country White and Cheese.
Watermelon is almost gone and super cheap ($3)
Bean sprouts.
Easy to cook (3 mins) and doesn't need sauce, just a few cut-up vegetables, cheese.
Concord grapes.
3 for $10
BBQ the corn. Dip the broccoli in the hummus.
Perfect for quesadillas and pasta
For meatball sandwiches.
The honey is for making ice cream.
The old-school italian farmer said three of these (dried Jujubes) every morning keeps you regular.

Do young Americans want to work?

As in, get a job?

Despite all the haranguing on our economy and jobs market, why aren’t we talking more about the massive labor imbalance in our country?

A recent Rutgers University survey of 571 Americans who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010 found that only 53% held full-time jobs. And yet, it’s not hard to understand why. In 2009, of the 1,601,000 bachelor’s degrees conferred, the greatest numbers fell into the fields of business (348,000); social sciences and history (169,000) and health sciences (120,000).

I had to look up health science and found this description:

The health sciences are concerned with the development of knowledge and programs related to health and well being. Health science is also concerned with the study of leisure and cultural phenomena.

And just so we’re all on the same page, social sciences include: anthropology, archaeology, communication, criminology, political science, sociology and psychology.

I’m going to refrain from commenting on the social and health science and history majors and instead take a moment to focus on business majors. You would think having a prevalence of business majors would be a positive for our economy, but we first need people who can actually make something before we need the people to market, sell and manage it.

We are missing the makers (engineers and scientists), the people who have the skills and knowledge to create something.

The fact is, there are jobs in this country. According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over three million job opportunities are unfilled in the United States right now, the highest level in three years. And yet, in that same period we have produced the highest unemployment rate we’ve seen in over two decades.

I was at my alma mater (James Madison University) a few months ago and caught up with a former professor in the college of Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT) ; she told me that enrollment numbers in ISAT were the lowest they’ve ever been, even though these students are the most desirable and in demand by employers. Given the current economy and jobs market, I was a little shocked.

I’ll be honest here and say that when I was 17, college and majors didn’t consume my thoughts nearly as much as boys and field hockey. I went to JMU because it had the best field hockey program in the country. And my parents essentially chose my major for me. I was pretty ambivalent about what I wanted to do. There was lots that interested me (minus Accounting). At one point it was Law, another time English, I even considered Business. But my parents reasoned that I was good at math and science and the world needed more women in STEM, so I said sure, why not.

When I graduated, I had 15 job offers. Looking back, I’m certain my collegiate experience would have been a lot easier if I majored in something that didn’t require me to spend so much time in computer and science labs, but in this tech-centric day and age, I’m glad I left knowing how to program and build a website, amongst other things.

How many young Americans today think about employability? If you look at the degrees that are most likely to land a person a job, there seems to be a disconnect with the majors students are pursuing the most. Case in point,  in 2009, degrees in “parks, recreation, and leisure studies” saw a 43 percent increase. Yep, the things with budgets first to get cut in a recession are what students are flocking to.

I’m not saying people should neglect their true callings in life. In fact, I think the world benefits the most from the people who vigorously pursue their passions, including social psychology majors (who have the highest unemployability rate). But for those who aren’t so sure what path to pursue, wouldn’t it make sense to take a look around, at the state of the country, and consider majoring in something employable?

Incidentally, it seems the United States isn’t alone in its labor gap. A recent report from the British Chambers of Commerce reveals small businesses are frustrated at the quality of applicants, who they say can barely concentrate or add up. The report warns: ‘Too many people [are] coming out with fairly useless degrees in non-serious subjects.’

I Too Was Raised On Processed Foods…

The following is a response to an email asking me about food, health, and nutrition.  The initial email is included at bottom and the person’s name has been excised.


Hey #### – thanks for reaching out to me.

I too was raised on processed foods and so a lot of this was new to me as well. The best piece of advice I can give you is to give it some time. I have helped a lot of people make the change and they are always shocked and surprised by where this path takes them.

For instance, the food sold in supermarkets is the worst kind you can buy. The only thing worse than them is something like hot dogs from 7-Eleven, but in terms of nutritional value they’re not much worse. This includes the produce as well.

There are a whole lot of reasons why this is true like they have a monopoly on the food supply and a need to make profits, so quality is forgotten in favor of quantity. Thankfully the folks behind our food system are rallying together. There is a resurgence in quality seeds, quality farming, and improving distribution systems to get us this food.

The difference between a quality food product and a supermarket one is dramatic. This study which delves deeply into the details found a 1:3 difference. Meaning that a high-quality seed can be 3x more nutritional than a low-quality seed.

Personally, I find it greater than that. The food that I buy is so high quality that I eat very little and have so much more energy. I would say it’s more like a 1:6 or something. I often joke that I buy so little food nowadays that I often splurge on things just because.

This quality food has yet to break into the supermarkets, not even Whole Foods is carrying it yet. We are still stuck in the race to offer the cheapest food we can, though some stores are focusing on improving quality. Which means the only “safe” place to find quality is at farmers markets or food co-operatives.

I can say that I shop twice a week at a farmers market and never shop at supermarkets (tho I do occasionally buy beans/rice from the open bulk bins at Whole Foods). It does take some time to learn a whole new set of routines but that is the ideal if you want to really improve your health, here is why.

The food industry spends a lot of money trying to include nutritional information about food. The trouble is that no two apples are alike. One picked when ripe will be much different than one picked weeks after that. To account for this they just make it up (i.e. educated guesses). More and more studies are coming out showing just how wrong these nutrition labels are. Here is one that shows how vitamins are more marketing than science.

The truth about nutrition is different than what most people think. Every food item has a ton of vitamins/minerals/carbs/fat/etc. For example, Broccoli contains varying amounts of the following:

Protein, Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Selenium, Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.

The question is how much of each does it have. Well, for plant based foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts) that depends on the starting seed (high, low quality stock) how it is grown (to produce maximum nutrition or to be picked quickly) and when/how it is harvested (at peak times or a few days/weeks early).

With all this variability in farming a single item of broccoli could either contain all you need or nothing at all. This holds true for every single food item out there.

So back to the beginning. Supermarkets sell the lowest quality food they can find (to offer the lowest prices). Farmers markets offer the highest quality they can find (often at higher prices).

The question then for most people is what happens if they switch from low quality to high quality food? Will they spend more or eat less? Are supermarkets just too convenient or is my health worth the trip to a farmers markets?


Hi Steve,
You commented on a post here back in April

The 10 Cheapest, Healthiest Foods Money Can Buy

I’m new to healthy eating and haven’t really got a clue what I’m doing, I’ve been pretty much raised on processed foods but have recently decided to learn to cook and educate myself about nutrition. Though I’m in the early stages of transforming my diet and way of life I’ve noticed that a lot of foods that are purportedly healthy, turn out to be not so great. I want to gather as much info on nutrition as possible in order to make the right dietary choices so any info you could send my way would be greatly, greatly appreciated. You also mentioned studies into supermarket food quality which I would be very interested in reading. Thanks for your time Steve, hope you can help.

Kindest regards,

[photo: denn]

Capitalism 4.0

I try to live my life like an old college professor waiting out the vagaries of youth in favor of the bigger picture. Which means I am just now getting around to pondering our “Great Recession” and the state of our economy.

My thoughts neatly fit into two parts from two authors. The first, discussed here, is from London macro-economist Anatole Kaletsky in his book Capitalism 4.0. The second, discussed in a follow-up piece is from financial journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin in his micro-economic tale, Too Big To Fail.

At first I felt silly to present my deepest thoughts as a book report. Then I realized that the world of economics is in disarray. Many of our leaders, for example Alan Greenspan, are left muttering oopsies while the rest of them are callously hiding, ashamed of their inability to “see this coming.”

It leaves just a few left standing and Anatole is one of them. As a writer for The Times, he has long predicted these troubles. His book shows a broad understanding of the context, reasons for occurrence, and even presents a blueprint for what will happen next:

“The world did not end. Despite all the forebodings of disaster in the 2007-09 financial crisis, the first decade of the twenty-first century passed rather uneventfully into the second. The riots, soup kitchens, and bankruptcies predicted…did not materialize – and no one any longer expects the global capitalist system to collapse.

That “does not mean that the system will ever again be what is was before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008. A return to decent economic growth is likely by the middle of 2010…but the traumatic effects of 2007-09 will not be quickly forgotten. And the economic costs will linger for decades.”

“For what collapsed was not just a bank or a financial system. What fell apart was an entire political philosophy and economic system, a way of thinking about and living in the world.”

That text pulled from the introduction neatly elucidates what I have been thinking for a while. It’s not that anyone was wrong, indeed everyone was an independent market actor working on behalf of their own interests. He continues:

“Rather than blaming the meltdown of the global financial system on greedy bankers, incompetent regulators, gullible homeowners, or foolish Chinese bureaucrats, this book puts what happened into historical and ideological perspective. It reinterprets the crisis in the context of the…upheavals that have repeatedly transformed the nature of capitalism since the late 18th century.”

It is comforting that amidst the chaos of now we can look back to history to make sense out of all this. Anatole breaks up our past into four distinct periods:

  1. The beginning of the industrial revolution coincided with “social and economic upheaval that started with political revolutions in America and France and the industrial revolution in England.” They created the first era of modern capitalism running from 1815 to the First World War.
  2. A new era began with World War I, the Russian Revolution, and most importantly the Great Depression. A time when “unprecedented political and economic traumas destroyed the classical laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th century and created a different version of the capitalist system, embracing FDR’s New Deal, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, and the British and European welfare states.”
  3. The next period came about not through vast societal problems as before, but instead through an acute problem in our financial system. “The global inflation of the late 1960s and 1970s – inspired the free-market revolution of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.”
  4. This leads us to the crisis of today and a new tomorrow.

If we view our problems in this context it may be possible to see a pattern:

  1. “From the early 19th century until 1930, politics and economics were distinct spheres.”
  2. “Then, from 1932 onward, came an almost romantic faith in benign, all-knowing governments and an instinctive distrust of markets, especially financial markets.”
  3. “The political revolution of 1979-80, took the opposite view. This version romanticized markets and distrusted government.”

This means our great capitalist experiment is embarking on Capitalism 4.0, where we will no longer focus on keeping markets and government separate, or even favoring one over the other. We will instead try to blend them together smartly. Such is our next great hope, but, first a little more on our present:

“The Thatcher-Reagan revolution of the early 1980s was widely proclaimed as a rediscovery of true capitalism, and this worldview is still held by most conservative politicians and business leaders. In the great scheme of things, however, the dominance of free market fundamentalism from 1980 until 2009 was just one thirty-year phase in the long history of modern capitalism.

“Many politicians and business leaders consider, for example, that any government interference with free market forces is inimical to the free-market system. They oppose all such interventions on principle as the thin end of a socialist wedge. Given the long and triumphant history of capitalism before anyone heard of Reagan and Thatcher, this is an absurdly narrow-minded view. The changing relationship between government and private enterprise, between political and economic forces, has been the clear feature of capitalism.

A simple lesson from history that seems lost in today’s leaders, a group whose focus on the now ignores the lessons of our past. I hope a few more people read this book, even the introduction where all this is pulled from.

In doing so it may teach the lesson that:

“Capitalism has never been a static system..it is an adaptive social system that mutates and evolves…(and when) threatened by a systemic crisis, a new version emerges that is better suited to the changing environment and replaces the previously dominant form.”