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October 12, 1999

Health Food Homilies

By ALLISON ADATO
My husband and I recently moved to a new apartment with an excellent health food market nearby. The convenience has improved our eating habits (more soy milk, less Coca-Cola), as well as the way we keep house (recycled-plastic garbage bags and 80 percent post-consumer-waste paper towels).

But now when I open a cupboard or the refrigerator, on every package I find snippets of philosophy, aphorisms and quotations attributed to people who lived long before the advent of Tofutti.

For instance, a box of echinacea tea bags offers this thought from Elizabeth Cady Stanton: "Nature never repeats herself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another."

Our trash bags come in boxes carrying the following message: "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations -- From the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy."

One side of a chocolate soy milk carton has this slightly mangled quotation from Harry Truman: "I've found that the best way to give advice to my children is to find out what they want to do and then advise them to do it."

Another panel on the same carton features a seven-paragraph screed imploring soy milk drinkers to help save not the harp seal or the rain forest, but, of all things, the caboose: "The caboose has been replaced by little metal shoe boxes stuck to the butt-end of every train." Running vertically up the same panel in tiny type is this claim: "Remember the Monkees? Stephen Stills, Paul Williams, Harry Nilsson and Charles Manson all auditioned and were turned down."

Finally, under the nutrition facts box is the image of an AIDS ribbon with this appeal: "Please Be Safe." Safe soy. Safe sex. It's a logical continuum, I guess. Nice of them to care.

And that's what all of this is: An effort, either sincere or calculated, to show that these companies care about me. It's a harsh world out there, they seem to say, full of pesticides and virgin plastic and bovine growth hormone. But we, your groceries, will take care of you! Buy us and we will comfort you with quotations from early feminists when you're getting a cold. (Really? No soul like mine? They must be missing me at the office today!) And ex-Presidents will help you raise your children.

When I think about it I do feel better buying recycled products and more healthful foods. But as for their recycled wisdom, the sagest words in my kitchen are to be found on container of plain old (nonorganic) cottage cheese: "Discard after date on bottom."

Allison Adato writes occasionally about food and culture.




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