It’s completely reasonable to have a sticker requesting ‘No Junk Mail’ on your letter box these days. I am one of those, yet on a windy day supermarket catalogues are like tumbleweed and end up littering our street.
As I dutifully picked up pages from my front garden recently I couldn’t help but be appalled by the selection of non-food commanding my attention! I hadn’t made the correlation between junk mail and junk food before. They sound the same, hey? I wonder what came first? Junk mail or junk food? Maybe there is a chicken joke in there? They are a perfect union. The supermarkets must get the message out; it’s a desperate price war. Who can sell the most sugar and processed food for the best price? Wow, Fantastic! I’d better get to the shops.
Actually I did go to the shops, I drove to each nearby supermarket and surreptitiously filled my pink “green-bag” with as many catalogues as I could. There was something in these for me.
I have always loved the humble scenes depicted by Dutch Masters of the 19th century. The ‘Milkmaid’ by Vermeer would have to be one of the most celebrated. This genre of portraits and still life’s capture the home in wholesome domesticity.
Food is the central theme. It is plentiful without pretence. The fruit is ripe, the bread home-made and fresh. The milk is poured from a jug, (possibly straight from a local dairy or the family cow) No packaging, branding or artificial ingredients in sight. It’s a serene scene. An ordinary kitchen.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to have to milk a cow before breakfast. I’m not hankering for an idealised past. I’m grateful. I acknowledge I’m spoilt for choice and convenience here in this city. And thankfully, part of that choice is the enviable array of alternative places to shop that Melbourne offers.
You see, I personally find the supermarket experience stressful. As a mother, and with kids usually in tow, I enter with trepidation. I take a deep breath and brace to resist their pester power. I’m on a mission to be in and out in the shortest possible time. I almost know which aisles I’ll venture down if it is my local. I wish my kids were still small enough to go in the trolley so I could whisk them along.
The propaganda, the misinformation, the sensory overload all combine to make me frustrated and angry. There is choice of brands and price points but most have the same ingredients. Not to mention the point of sale stunts before you can get out, but don’t get me started. I’m here to write about my Vermeer collage.
Need I say more? Zoom in and see for yourself. Those catalogues have a place in my life after all; to allow me to vent some of my frustration.
My 7 year old asked so many questions about food while I worked on this. I didn’t expect to be educating my kids in the process. “We eat yoghurt mummy, so why have you put yoghurt on this? Isn’t yoghurt healthy?” Great question. The perfect opening for a little conversations about sugar for example.
My kids understand why chocolate bars and ice cream are included in the collage but queried nearly everything else. I had a lot of explaining to do. I admit, I’m hard core. I’m tough on the ‘ol supermarket. I am just naturally prone to mistrust the big guys and their packaged food.
I want my kids to understand why I buy what I buy but, more importantly, also why I don’t buy certain foods. It’s not because I’m being a mean, kill-joy, party pooper. I don’t want to deprive my kids of the many pleasures of food. Sweetness is a gift. It isn’t the basis of a diet though.
I want them to question what they eat and know where the ingredients come from. I love that my kids ask: “Are there chemicals in this mum? Do you think this colour is bad?”
My pantry isn’t stocked with packets that crackle and mass-produced factory made food, yet my kids are exposed to the desirable, big brand products at school, at friends’, and well, basically everywhere they go. It’s inescapable. So until my kids are old enough to make their own food choices, is it acceptable to send them out with a ‘No Junk Food’ sticker? How about ‘No Junk Food’ printed on a T-shirt?
At the moment the debate (as far as there is one) seems to be centred around the alarming childhood obesity figures. The supermarkets and grocery companies already have the answer to this; more shelf space for a new wave of lite or gluten free versions of everything.
To me, obesity is only one bad outcome of our consumption of processed food. These packets of food are not solving but adding to the problem. How many extra processes or chemicals (how much more junk?) need to be added to packaged food to create these “healthier” options?
Less junk and more homemade is a great start.