Guest post: Bloom’s (not-so) “healthy foods” tour

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This is a guest post, written by my wife, Huyen. Several grocery stores in our area are actively advertising “healthy food tours” of their store for children to, supposedly, show them how easy and fun it is to eat good-for-you foods. Sadly, that’s not at all how this tour went.

I had a bad feeling as I committed to attending a mom’s group local grocery store “healthy choices” tour at Bloom. But I wanted to support the moms who organized the outing and I was curious how “healthy” this tour was going to be. So we met up with a few other moms and a frazzled store manager who had had a surprise visit from a health inspector prior to our group.

The manager/tour guide began in the bakery aisle (which is right next to the health food section at this particular store). I knew this was a bad sign especially as there are never any baked goods (besides some French or Italian breads) that are vegan in most grocery stores. We got a frosting demo from a bakery person and then they gave out chocolate chip cookies. The tour guide prefaced by saying, “I know this is a healthy choices tour but…” Chocolate chip cookies at 9:45 in the morning. Good, healthy, breakfast food… Not! And definitely not vegan nor allergy friendly but at least it wasn’t donuts, right? They could have easily offered up bagels or some other healthy whole grain goodness but instead we got a dessert for the breakfast hour because preschool aged, high-energy kids need a good sugar kick to start off the day right. Needless to say, my daughter and I were not a happy campers albeit for different reasons (had to quickly grab a Zbar from the health food aisles that I paid for after the tour). They supplied a sugar cookie to the one girl who had peanut allergies- thank goodness the mom asked if they were made with or near peanuts. Of course they had no alternates for vegan children. And forget gluten-free (the mom who is doing gluten-free for her family opted not to join us for this outing and I began to see the wisdom in her decision).

At least the produce was next to the bakery section so we followed along and they opened a bag of organic baby carrots for the kids. Back on the healthy track! Then they opened up a bag of non-organic carrots for the kids to compare and several kids (including mine) decided the non-organic tasted better. Sigh. But not all variables were the same- the non-organic carrots were smaller, thinner and the organic were quite fat- and I know for certain that my daughter prefers her carrots on the cute, petite side. I ate the remainder of her baby carrots and the non-organic definitely had a slightly older taste to them, even if they were cuter.

We then got a tour of a backroom where a worker was cutting up watermelon and mango slices. The kids were given both to sample but most refused the mango. I commented to a fellow Asian mom that ironically we had the Asian kids who didn’t want mango, a sweet tropical fruit that is frequently seen in Asian kitchens and dishes. The kids got a glimpse of the first of several walk-in coolers and we left the work room shivering.

From produce, we visited the seafood area and the worker at that station pulled a live lobster from the tank to show everyone. The kids were scared but slowly gathered courage to touch the lobster. He pointed out how the big claws are tightly rubber-banded together so they don’t snap or fight with each other and there are little claws that can pinch you if you are not careful. He pointed out the gender of the lobster. The worker shared facts like lobsters can live up to 6 months in his tank without any food and the lobsters are not fed because it keeps their insides clean. I think he may have also shared some details about how to prepare and cook them but I kind of zoned out at this point. Then he told an anecdote about working at a different grocery store where a woman complained about animal abuse in regards to the lobsters but she didn’t get far because there are no laws protecting against mistreatment of food-animals. He clearly did not understand why the woman was upset and felt the law supported his own belief that the lobster were not mistreated in any way. He spoke of banging on the glass to make sure the lobsters were still alive and not fighting and how he makes sure to return the lobster right-side up because they can drown in the tank if they return to the water upside-down. Interesting bit of trivia but my daughter didn’t think it was too nice that the lobster was tied up and stuck in a tank with no food. She was shocked to hear people would buy them to eat them.

From there we moved to the meat section where my daughter and I purposely got distracted in another area as they discussed meats and demonstrated some ground beef going through a mill. Of course there were no mentions of healthy, cholesterol-free, sat fat-free, tasty meat alternates like tofu, tempeh, seitan, Gardein, Boca, Yves, etc. I kept thinking, maybe they’ll talk about these items when we come to the health food section since it is a healthy choices tour and the store was beginning to label items with a special symbol to note that it is a good choice, two symbols for a “better” choice, and three symbols for the “best” choice in terms of healthiness. I was attempting to figure out what their requirements were for each symbol designation but did not quite grasp it. I should hope that with this system, the entire produce section should be labeled/rated with three healthy symbols! I have a strong suspicion it was not.

We rejoined the group to briefly peek in the dairy and ice cream cooler (by this time all the adults and children were shivering as we were dressed for 90 degree weather) and walk down the dairy aisles. Unfortunately this particular store did not have any cheese alternatives like Daiya or Follow Your Heart on display and the manager/tour guide did not mention any dairy-free options for those who are vegan or lactose intolerant. So I tried to distract my daughter from the string-cheese giveaway (when is someone going to make a vegan string cheese?!) by perusing the frozen food aisles in search of our Tofutti, So Delicious, and Amy’s.

Finally the tour group came back to the front of the store and I thought, “At last, they are going to do the healthfood section as the grand finale to this healthy eating tour!” Nope. They gave out goodie bags to the kids which had another item in it I had to find a sub for and the manager went to the health food section to point out a single product that had a coupon special to a mom who had requested it. What?!?! The mom who organized said the store was planning to reorganize to incorporate the healthfood section in with the other foods but still, they could have said that to all the moms and shown us the items in that department anyway since it was still grouped together. I cannot imagine why in the world they would skip a section that would bring in some money and promote the healthy eating image they are attempting. Clearly the manager and the store were ignorant of healthy eating options, allergy and special diet options, and we had wasted our morning on this un-veg-friendly tour that made my child feel left out and me feel angry. Needless to say, we will not be shopping at Bloom.

For more of Huyen’s writings, see her book reviews at vegbooks.org.