by Sara Mead
Yesterday I realized that it had been over a week since I last ate a piece of fruit. In fact, eating fruit has become such a rare event in my life that I could remember exactly when I’d last done so: The previous Saturday, when Matt and I bought some strawberries to go along with the steak we were eating for dinner. And the last time I’d eaten fruit before that? The previous Sunday, when I made strawberry shortcake. So basically, I’m on a once a week fruit eating schedule. And even though I’m pretty good (when I’m not traveling–then everything goes out the window) about consuming enough vegetables to prevent my diet from becoming a total wasteland, this cannot be healthy.
To be clear, my lack of fruit consumption is in no way a reflection of dislike for fruit. I love fruit, especially berries and cantaloupe melon (or what we in the U.S. call cantaloupe). My failure to consume more of it is a combination of cheapness, laziness, general chaos of life, and the fact that decent fruit is actually pretty hard to find.
Cheapness: As Matt can attest, I do not like to spend money. And fruit is expensive, at least relative to other things I could be spending my food dollar on. At my local Safeway, and apple or orange–among the lowest cost fruit options–will run you about a dollar, roughly the cost of a pint of milk, or a half dozen eggs, or a can of tuna, and substantially more than a bag of Skittles. Melons, berries, or more exotic fruits cost a lot more. (Who are these people who are spending $3.99 for a half-pint of raspberries?) It’s no coincidence that the previous two times I consumed fruit, strawberries happened to be on sale at Safeway, for about half the normal price, because they are in season right now. Increasing my fruit consumption to daily would probably add about $10-15 to my weekly grocery budget. That’s not much money, but it would be a meaningful percentage increase in my weekly grocery spending, and if I started spending more time in the fruit section, buying what looked good, or if I shopped at the farmer’s market rather than Safeway, I could wind up spending a whole lot more.
Laziness/General Chaos of Life: I’m a busy person, both professionally and socially. This infringes on my fruit consumption in various ways. Work, social obligations, and laziness mean I eat a portion of my meals away from home–and it’s really hard to make fruit a part of those meals. Further, since I’m often not sure when I’ll be eating at home or free to eat my brought-from-home lunch, vs. eating out or having a lunch meeting, this makes me reluctant to buy fruit. Most of the fruit available at either Safeway or the farmer’s markets around D.C. goes bad pretty quickly, creating a high risk that it will go bad before I get around to it–not only wasting money but creating a gross mess in my (or even worse, my office’s!) refrigerator. Sure, I could make multiple trips to the grocery store to buy fruit when I want it, but the extra trip and long lines hardly seem worth it for an apple.
Good Fruit is Hard To Find: Not to mention that even if I go commit to going to the store, there’s no guarantee there will be decent fruit available there. The Safeway across the street from my house frequently has produce on the shelves that is unfit for human consumption. Even the fruit that is perfectly fit for consumption is often quite unappetizing. Go at certain times on the weekends, and some common fruits can be out of stock. And at least I live near a Safeway. If I lived in one of the many D.C. neighborhoods that have no grocery stores at all, I might never see another piece of fresh fruit. If I’m at work when I want to eat a piece of fruit? Well, fruit options in the downtown area are: 1) shriveled orange or mushy red delicious apple from sandwhich shop (why do they only sell these gross red delicious apples? would it be that much harder to get galas or fujis? they don’t cost more.), 2) cut fruit (melon, pineapple, etc.) from salad bar place that is slimy, has a slightly ammonia taste from sitting out too long, and costs $8 a pound, 3) a banana (which hardly counts as fruit, IMHO).
A lot of these same things could be said for vegetable consumption, too, but at least my vegetable consumption is kept afloat by the availability of good frozen vegetable options. Not so much with fruit.
I’ve realized recently that my high consumption of candy is, in large part, a substitute for fruit that I would like to be consuming but am not, due to inconvenience, lack of availability, poor planning on my part, and costs. So over the next few weeks I’m going to be trying to eat more fruit. I think I can do it, if I put a little bit more energy into planning and accept the fact that I need to spend a little bit more money on groceries (which I can afford–and frankly it would probably be a good thing for me to reallocate some of the money I currently spend “socializing” to fruit consumption). But I have a lot of advantages that should help me out: I earn a decent income, I live across the street from a grocery store, I have a car that I could use to drive to better grocery stores. If even with all those advantages I find it difficult to consume fruit, think about the difficulties for people who are struggling to make ends meet, who live in the many neighborhoods without grocery stores, who lack access to transportation. It’s not enough to tell people to eat more fruits and vegetables–those products need to be available and affordable.
btw, would appreciate any suggestions people have on ways to eat more fruit!
photo courtsey of flickr user flickrich, used under a Creative Commons license.