A couple of years I was on my way home from a hot yoga class. I had one thing on my mind: Honey Nut Cheerios. During class I had tried to stay in the moment, be mindful, and fill my heart with Namaste goodwill for my fellow classmates and all of humanity. But my mind raced to the future – a future that included a big bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. Or as I lovingly refer to them, HNC.
So, on the way home I stopped at my neighborhood Pig. As an urban southerner, when I say “the Pig” it does not refer to the hog in the backyard destined to become bacon. The Pig is the Piggly Wiggly - our quintessentially southern grocery store chain. If you hear a southerner say, “I carried Meemaw to the Pig” it means they drove their grandmother to the grocery store.
Hot yoga is hot. Really hot. The room was heated to above 100 degrees so after class I looked bad. My sweat-drenched hair was matted to my head. I was too lazy to take off my eye makeup before class so by the end I looked like a sad clown mime. I didn’t even look cute in my yoga clothes because I’m too cheap to buy Lululemon. I wear a mishmash of old shorts with bleach stains and bathing suit tops that no longer have matching bottoms. After class I put on a pair of pale green velour sweatpants. And no, they’re not cuter than they sound. For these reasons, I typically avoided being seen in public after class.
But I really needed those Cheerios. I headed up the cereal aisle, my goal in sight when I heard a woman yell: “I cannot believe you’re going up the aisle”. I immediately knew what this was about. She recognized me as the local D list celebrity nutritionist from the local morning show. She thought that I was breaking the law that all nutritionists espoused of “shop the perimeter and avoid the center aisles”. This was a popular piece of dietary advice that some nutritionists still advise. Why? Because fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish are on the perimeter of most grocery stores while more processed foods like cookies, chips, sodas, and Honey Nut Cheerios are on the center aisles. The thing is, I’ve never given anyone this advice. I’ve never said it on TV. I’ve never recommended it to a patient. I’ve never written it in a blog. Why? Because I think it’s kind of dumb.
1. If I only shopped the perimeter, I would have bacon, beer, and frozen pizza for breakfast. It’s true that fresh produce is on the perimeter. But so are cured meats, alcohol, and frozen pizza - at least at the Pig.
2. A lot of people can’t afford to feed their families on all fresh fruits, vegetables, and fresh fish.
3. There are healthy, affordable foods on the center aisles: whole wheat bread, brown rice, nuts, peanut butter, dried fruit, oatmeal, frozen vegetables and fruits. Canned fruits and vegetables can be healthy too depending on your choices. These healthy foods coexist with their less healthy counterparts so it’s tough to avoid them.
4. Not everything we eat has to be healthy. These rigid nutrition rules ignore that we eat some foods just because they taste good. That’s what humans do.
5. Toilet paper is on a middle aisle. If you need toilet paper, all it takes is one wrong turn and you’re face to face with Pringles and Milano cookies.
6. Honey Nut Cheerios are on the middle aisle.
As my assailant moved in on me questioning my validity as a nutrition expert entrusted with a three-and-a-half-minute weekly local TV spot, I did the only thing I knew to be right and honorable. I ran. I ran up the aisle dipping down to grab a box of HNC as though it were a dropped baton in an Olympic relay race for the gold medal. Luckily the “Ten Items or Less” aisle I always disdained because it should read “Ten Items or Fewer” was empty. I crossed the finish line, got in my car, and sped home where I tore open the HNC, poured on the milk, and reveled in the golden lightly sweet crunchiness of my prize. I didn’t even bother to take a shower first.
So if you see me in the aisles of the grocery store please trust that I know what I’m doing. I play a nutritionist on TV. And I love Honey Nut Cheerios.