My Obsession With Health Food Products Is Eating Away at My Bank Account
I am 24, with no health conditions. Under fluorescent lights, my doctor, smelling like foaming antibacterial hand sanitizer, tells me that nothing is wrong. But my neck is sore, I didn’t sleep enough last night, ringing phones make me anxious, my hips are tight, and I’m always cranky. I do not like the way I look. I am not at home in my body.
I impulsively buy spirulina bars and goji berries the way some people impulsively buy nail polish at Sephora. Recently, I convinced myself that I needed to own a pound of dried nettle leaves, and a small jar of Manuka honey that cost $40. At the end of every month, I am over my food budget by at least $100.
Food is an essential. The food that I buy is not. I could go to Stop & Shop or Shaws’ and buy store brand rice, store brand beans, and conventionally grown vegetables. I would save money, and probably be no less healthy.
But the sight of those labels in my pantry (“VALU-PAK,” “NOW 25% MORE”) depresses me. Health foods are my preferred kind of luxury goods, and seeing the cute sandwich-making raccoon on the label of Once Again organic tahini makes me feel the same kind of satisfaction that some people get from the interlocked C’s on a tube of Chanel lipstick. I look at the single-serving cups of coconut milk yogurt lined up in my fridge and think, “I have bought myself something nice.”
The comforting thing about health food stores is that they are all the same, no matter where you are. They have the same scent of bulk grains, nag champa, and vitamins, the same bulletin board with flyers for “Are You An Empath, Part 2,” or “Change Your Consciousness, Change Your Life” at the Courtyard by Marriott, the same man with a ponytail and white beard telling everyone about the benefits of colloidal silver. They all have more or less the same name, some variation on “Nature’s Bounty” or “Earth’s Harvest.”
At health food stores, I can take part in the lifestyle typically reserved for the sort of affluent people who spend their money on energy work, yoga teacher trainings, and craniosacral massage rather than ski trips, vacation houses, and new cars. I buy a kombucha, and sit and browse through the ads in the Energy Times (Enhancing Your Vitality Through Nutrition, Health & Harmony,) Natural Awakenings (Healthy Living, Healthy Planet) and Wisdom Magazine (Wisdom of the Heavens, Earth, Body, Mind and Soul.)
The distinctive language of these magazines also appears on the packaging of the kale chips and raw food bars that I buy. If something isn’t vital, vibrant, or vibrational, it’s integrative, intuitive, or inspired. There is talk of alchemy, modalities, and paradigms. I am invited to enhance and embrace, awaken and attune, center and connect. I might optimize my somatic energy or clear my spirit essence through heart-centered healing.
I can’t bring myself to talk in this dialect, but there’s something very appealing about all its talk of healing. Just looking at the business cards tacked to the health food store’s crowded bulletin board, with their lotuses and mandalas and cairns, their insistence on using the Papyrus typeface, makes me feel healed already.
There are so many people ready to dedicate themselves to my well-being: integrative gynecologists, naturopathic shamans, color therapists, holistic dietitians. I can already visualize their tranquil offices, with buckwheat eye pillows, cobalt glass bottles of lavender oil, and panpipes playing in the background.
At the health food store, I buy bentonite clay, dried seaweed from the coast of Maine, kava kava in capsule form. I pull out my phone to search for “Bach flower remedies” on sciencebasedmedicine.org, read the part where it says, “This is all just too silly,” and then pick up a bottle of the crab apple essence anyway.
My belief in sprouted lentils, astragalus root, or whatever else I’ve just learned that I should be consuming wins over my natural skepticism every time. Their presence in my kitchen cures whatever vague and abstract thing is wrong.
It’s not the products themselves, but the fact that I’ve made a conscious choice to spend a ludicrous amount of money on myself. So I keep stocking the fridge with herbal tinctures, vegan probiotics, organic flax oil. Hope comes in post-consumer recycled packaging and amber glass bottles.
Photo: U.S. Dept. of Labor