Life was simple in my early childhood. My retired grandparents’ small farm, east of Berlin, was my home in the turbulent years of 1932 to the 1940s. The village was surrounded by verdant farmland, managed forests of deciduous and coniferous trees, and crystal clear lakes teeming with fish.

On our small piece of land my grandparents grew fruit trees, berry bushes and a garden with a variety of vegetables and herbs. Flowerbeds surrounded the house. Our friends, the chickens, roamed freely, vigilantly protected by a colorful rooster. My job was to collect the eggs.

The fruits were preserved in mason jars to last through the winter. Potatoes and some tuberous vegetables rested in the dark of the basement waiting to be used in organic meals. Water needed to be fetched in buckets from a pump on the street.

To a great extent we lived off the land, except for these providers: a grocer provided foods like flour, sugar, condiments and other necessities. From the butcher shop we got fresh meats and the all important German sausages. The baker had crispy, dark bread, rolls, cookies and cake.

There were no supermarkets – a real blessing.

Fast forward to today: The population increased, with people living in the bigger cities. Food must be grown and distributed in large quantities. The consumer  demanded greater variety and convenience. For better or worse, supermarkets were the result of this trend. Supermarket chains are large corporations managed to increase convenience, sales and profits. For the better, they provide greater variety, more convenience and the possible price advantage due to quantity buying power, but “buyer beware!”

This new distribution model required increased sales. The consumer had to be  persuaded that product A was better than product B. The method needed was soon labeled “marketing” – naming, advertising, promoting, packaging, and controlling shelf space of the product –adding cost to the product on top of the cost of manufacturing. It is a balancing act to add these intrinsic costs to the end cost to the consumer.

The bottom line is, the consumer pays at least a portion of the marketing expenses not directly related to the basic value of the item itself.

How can we lessen the price effect of these many add-ons?

Grandmother only paid for the basic product. So can we, to some extent.

When selecting fresh food, shop the periphery of display areas. Avoid shopping the rows of aisles with the overabundance of packaged goods which have questionable nutritional value. Study the labels to avoid unhealthy ingredients. Assess the size of the package in relation to the weight of its content.

Or better yet, emulate how your grandparents lived and visit your local farmers’ market.

George can be reached at [email protected].

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