What Grocery Shopping Really Does to Your Brain

I’m convinced the American food supply is determining our body weight as much as caloric intake, genetics, metabolism, exercise and self-control.

I stand at the end of a well-lit grocery aisle searching for the food my great-grandparents would recognize. As I retreat to the aisle on my right, I find another line of colorful, plastic wrapped “goodies”. The vast majority of my nourishment options have become food decoys. Make no mistake, while my mind may not recognize the majority of these products as food, my brain adores this crap: salt, sugar, chocolate, oils, fats, and the extensive list of exotic chemicals I can’t pronounce. It’s a regular Disney Land of taste intoxicators!

It’s Cellular Crack

Venture with me down the chip aisle.

Let’s be honest, real food doesn’t have a six month shelf life or come in an easy open bag. Not only has our food supply ventured away from “farm fresh”, this stuff is fully lab modified. Most of these chips have been sweet-n-salty-n-spicy-n-limed beyond taste recognition. They’re extremified. Why? As Michael Moss said in his article The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food, “What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.”  Forget selling you a bag of chips, the industry’s new goal is to drive you to scarf the entire bag . . . in your car . . . parked outside the grocery store lot.

Consider Takis, the recent craze at our elementary school. My son talked me into buying a single serving bag for him and offered me one. I hate spicy food so I quickly refused but he persisted until I agreed to have a single Spicy Chili & Lime curled chip. The first thing I noted was the lime flavor. OMG! Pepperidge Farms has created a black hole that compacts a truck load of limes into a yellow sprinkle. As my saliva ducts began to shrivel, they were quickly rescued by the secondary “flavor” of fire. That’s when something went terribly wrong because I wanted another chip. Turns out, Takis are surprisingly “Give me the bag!” addictive. My poor body hasn’t evolved enough to fend off flavor overexposure.  Suddenly, I’m downing Takis like grapes and within two days our entire family had graduated to “X-treme” Takis. My daughter’s lips are numb, my son has chemically burned off the top layer of his tongue and the sharp corners in my intestinal track have become rounded.

Like I Said, Cellular Crack

And it’s not limited to the chips. When’s the last time you had a regular, nature made and nature stayed nut? No salt, habanero flavor, smokehouse, honey, pepper, salt, or honey-pepper-salt. Just an off the plant, boring shelled walnut. Can you even buy a bag of plain, mixed shelled nuts anymore?

Even candy has gone extreme. It isn’t sour enough unless your taste buds bleed and your lips blister. It’s not sweet enough unless it’s a caramel cooked in a brownie, wrapped in a cookie, dipped in chocolate with sprinkles on top.

Forget battling the food in my cupboard, I’m battling the neurological fireworks that are being set off in my head. I’m up against the world’s large food conglomerates whose employees carry hefty science degrees. While I’m vacuuming they’re concocting legally addictive additives (funny how similar those too words are). It’s their job to hook, line and sink my pleasure receptors. So prepare yourself for next month’s “NEW” yogurt: Chocolate Bacon Coffee Cheesecake? One bite and we’ll be asking, “Do you sell this as a flour?”

Our weight is determined with the sliding of the grocery store doors. That’s where the 35 minute battle begins. Are you going to grab the plain mushrooms over the marinated, lime spiced, bacon stuffed, portabella mushrooms. Will you surpass the jellybean frosted cinnamon rolls for some squash? Do you have it within you to totally bypass the juice, cola, cracker, candy, chip, packaged lunch and frozen dinner aisles?

And the battle doesn’t end when the bags are loaded in your trunk. That was only round one.  We’ve still got to drive past the five fast food joints on our way home, order the green tea over the drink you really want (soy chai latte), ignore the snack machines at the train station and Mrs. Coworker’s homemade Death By Chocolate cake sitting in the break room.

It’s An All Day, Everyday, Fight

A big piece of our national obesity issue is the chemical manipulation of these products combined with the restrictive healthy choices we face every time we eat. The truth is kale is never going to light up our brains the way a donut does. There is more food for us to avoid at the grocery than we can consider and that, my fellow shoppers, is a serious problem.

I sure hope those same junk food manufacturers aren’t judging my self-control. Don’t hand me a flavor-laced chip and then light into me while I’m licking the bloody bag in the dark corner of my closet. Before we beat ourselves with an empty Pringles can, let’s admit this food fight is not the same one our great-grandparents faced. This is neurological warfare. Self-control is our choice to eat a handful of popcorn over a gallon sized tub. Self-preservation is knowing the X-treme Chocolate-Spiced-Limon Popcorn can never bypass our lips.

Article by Monica Wilcox

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Angela Malafouris

Food in America never cease to amaze me. This is why I would never be able to live in America! All of the fore-mentioned food I never heard before, I am lucky these aren't being imported in my country!

Past Member 3 years ago

I had never heard of Takis.

Magdalena J.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Kath P.
Kath P3 years ago

Fun, well written article exposing the darker side of "new" flavours.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage s3 years ago


John S.
Past Member 3 years ago

More dribble. Maybe Care2 should relax the target of 50 articles a day and enforce some standards.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago


Luna starr
luna starr3 years ago

I think of it as a challenge

Barbara M3 years ago

It helps to take a list with you -- that way, you can skip some aisles entirely. For me, this is just as true at the health-food store (which carries the organic version of all this stuff) as at the regular grocery. Also, erase convenience stores and fast-food places from your mental map -- it actually works!

Karen Gee3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.