Monday, March 1, 2021

Reading the Research: Positive Personality Changes

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article describes how treating anxiety can change a person's personality positively, making them able to be more warm, friendly, and open to new experiences.  Kind of exactly what many autistic people struggle with, at least stereotypically.  

In some ways, this is a "no, duh" research study.  Kind of like how people say "oh, my child's autism was cured when we started treating their chronic pain!"  Did the child actually stop being autistic?  Doubtful.  Did their ability to empathize, communicate, and express themselves emotionally increase?  Absolutely, because now all the energy they were spending on suffering through the chronic pain can be put toward doing those things.  

In broadest brush strokes, this is more or less what's happened to me over the course of the last six years.  I had to look it up, and yeah, it's been six years.  Prior to therapy (LENS, a form of neurofeedback, as well as talk therapy), I would describe my past self as "focused, pragmatic, non-emotive, and a little cold."  Also definitely more depressed.  I was always interested in others to some extent, but it wasn't well-expressed.  Typically I'd simply observe, rather than interact directly.  

Over the six years, I've been able to begin working on my body language more.  I have more brainpower and energy to devote to reading others' body language.  I've learned (mostly) how to smile on command, which is an important social skill in the US (especially if you appear to be female).  And I've been able to use some of my energy to invest in being emotionally supportive and kind to others.  Outwardly and inwardly.  

I've also been able to be kinder to myself, which is just as important in some ways.  If the inside of your skull is a horrible, toxic, judgmental, negative place, it's going to be harder for you to be kind to others.  

The study suggests a pair of methods to treat anxiety.  One is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, which is pretty standard at this point.  It gives you tools to identify negative and unhelpful thought processes, change them, and embrace relaxation.  The other is new to me, metacognitive therapy, which seems to aim to change your thinking about worry rather than the actual worries.  

These may be promising therapies to look into for any sufferer of anxiety.  I'm glad to see work continues to be done to improve the lives of people with mental illness, such as myself and many other autistic people.  

(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)

Friday, February 26, 2021

Grocery Shopping On a Special Diet: Fruits and Veggies

Welcome back to my autism-aware shopping trip through the grocery store.  Week by week, I'm showing you what the store sells, prune down the selection to what's safe for me (because autistic people can have very sensitive systems) and point out various gotchas the store tries to make you buy stuff you didn't come for. 

As a reminder, I shop with the following conditions in mind:

  • dairy-free
  • low sugar
  • avoid ultraprocessed junk
  • avoid artificial food coloring
  • conditional vegetarianism
  • avoid high histamine foods
  • awareness of gluten-free options and sugar-free options
Last time we explored the meat and deli section, where basically nothing is humane and snacks are abundant.  I also mentioned a pair of humane and sustainable alternative delivery services: ButcherBox and VitalChoice.  Ideally, you'd buy your meat and eggs locally, from a family farm with standards you can rely on.  In practice, it can be hard to find those places, make time to drive to them, or even afford them. So Butcherbox and VitalChoice can give you an alternative.

This week we'll tackle the most important part of the grocery store: the fresh produce section. 


Like the meat and deli sections, the produce section is divided into long islands of products, rather than proper aisles.  The back half is more or less vegetables and root vegetables, and the front half is fruit.  And there's one long aisle that's the other side of the refrigerated section from a few weeks ago.  Also off to the side is a peanuts and tree nuts/snacks section, kind of between the produce and the bakery.  It really fits nowhere in particular, so I tossed it in here.  

While many parts of the grocery store stay more or less the same over time, the produce section does not.  About the only constant is what I mentioned above: it goes fruit, then vegetables, then root vegetables.  The specifics of what's in season and available varies.  


This flexibility is especially true with these square islands, which host the weekly deals.  "Let the buyer beware" is always relevant advice when buying produce.  Even with modern shipping and refrigeration, it's hard to keep perishables from perishing.  Past the islands, you can see the array of self-select apples.  There's about 9 kinds of apples.  Which sounds like a lot, and it kind of is for what time of year it is.  (It is, at this moment, late February, which is late winter.)

There are actually hundreds, even thousands, of apple varieties.  Some of them don't look like what the consumer expects.  Some of them are tiny (but taste amazing).  Some of them simply don't ship well.  


The other side of the apple aisle: bagged bulk apples.  They're almost entirely 3 pound bags.  These bagged apples tend to be on the smaller size compared to their "choose your own" counterparts, and because they're pre-bagged, imperfections may escape your notice.  Imperfect fruit is hardly the end of the world, but as an incredibly privileged USian used to nearly perfect fruit all the time, it's something I'd notice.  


Grapes and berries.  This aisle was long enough that I had to stand pretty far back to get it all in frame.  There's strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and more strawberries.  Followed by dessert shells and dessert breads to serve those berries in, because there is no escape from the temptation to buy desserts or snacks.  And then several varieties of grapes: green, red, and black.  

In other seasons there would be at least two kinds of red grapes, and I've also run across a white grape called Carnival in the organic section.  It's worth noting that the majority of the grapes for sale here are seedless.


Citrus and melons.  Mostly citrus.  The bagged tiny citruses near the front are a particularly popular brand of clementine that's almost entirely seedless as well as being extremely sweet.  The US has a sweet tooth (by which I mean a sugar addiction) and even the fruit has to accommodate it.  

There's also bagged lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits.  After which there's the "choose your own" for if you really only need one lime for your recipe.  Which is me, often.  And then the melons, which include watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.  Or it might be honeyrock.  There's been some interesting experiments in crossing melons and I haven't kept up with what's most popular.  


We now move onto the pears and assorted other fruit.  You can count four kinds of pears (Bartlett, D'Anjou, Bosc, and Red), as well as mangoes, pineapples, dragonfruit, kiwis, peaches, plums, coconuts, and nectarines.  

Something I should point out, and which you'll notice next photo if you know anything about bananas... This great and mighty variety of fruit is available for purchase, but don't think for a moment it's at its very best or tastes anything like a fresh-picked version.  To survive being transported long distances, most fruit is picked long before it's ripe, shipped specially to keep it from ripening, and then ripened once it's arrived.  

This results in a significantly stunted flavor and texture.  I've had fresh mango in a place that grows it.  The mangos you can buy here are definitely mangos, but the flavor is deeply disappointing by comparison.  


As promised, the bananas.  I'm not sure why, but the US really loves these.  Note that most of them are green, rather than bright yellow the way the organic ones at the end are.  That's not just because people mainly opt to buy the ripe ones.  It's because the bananas are brought it very very underripe, and ripen as they sit.  

Another interesting fact about these is that they're Cavendish bananas.  They taste significantly different than the variety that was exported prior to the 1950s, the Gros Michel.  The Gros Michel variety fell prey to a fungal disease and was nearly wiped out.  If you've ever wondered why artificial banana flavor tastes nothing like bananas, it's because it's based on the flavor of the Gros Michel, not the Cavendish.  Also, at some point, the Cavendish will likely fall prey to a similar disease, and we'll all start consuming some other variety of banana instead.  Perhaps Manzanos


Before we leave the fruit section, we stop by the organic section.  Like the weekly deals, these sections rotate their contents frequently.  You can never be sure what they'll have available, though because it was grown without pesticides and herbicides, you can expect it to be more expensive than the general offerings.  

In some cases this is a very important section to be aware of.  Pesticides and herbicides can get stuck in the crevices of the fruit, and then be consumed with the fruit.  As a result, autistic and other sensitive folks' systems can get slowly poisoned.  Strawberries are a prime example of this.  All those little nubbly seeds make it impossible to get the chemical residue off without damaging or destroying the fruit.  As such, it's better to buy strawberries organic.  For more information about the Dirty Dozen (buy these organic) and the Clean 15 (no need), follow this link.


Oh, and for a huge markup, you can buy pre-cut fruit.  Let's look at a less extreme example.  Kind of near the end of the middle, there's pineapple cores.  They're basically cylinders of pineapple, with the very center bored out, likely put through a machine designed to generate that shape, and heedless of the exact size of the pineapple.  They cost $5.  Looking back over the photo with the whole pineapples, you could buy one for $2.70.  So for a bit less than twice the price, you don't have to deal with the pineapple skin and greens and center.  

We'll get a bit more absurd now.  There are also chopped strawberries for sale.  $6 for a half pound.  We could buy those.  Ooor we could buy 2 pounds of strawberries with the greens attached, for $4.70.  

Convenience is stunningly expensive.  It also comes with non-recyclable plastic.  


It's time for the long aisle!  Starting at the back, we have the mushrooms (bella, shitake, enoki, portobella and several dried varieties.  We also have the salad dressings, which is a category I flat out ignore.  Salad dressings can hide sugar bombs and can contain so many calories that they singlehanded make your salad into junk food.  I typically don't season my leaves, but if I do, it's with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  It's cheap and easy and tastes good.  What more could you ask?


Premade salads.  Some versions come with greens, some are "mix this with the greens and it's a more complete meal!" boxes.  Either way it's a lot of extraneous plastic.  


Pre-processed greens.  There's actually bagged varieties just to the left, but there was a stocker working there and I didn't want to ask her to move just so I could take my picture.  Anyway, you mainly have spinach and lettuce varieties, but you also have your choice of kale and arugula.  


A brief pause for herbs and flavorful roots, like ginger.  In less interesting times there would be more fresh/live herb options, but in lieu of those you could make do with those tubes of herb paste.  I've never bought one, but it probably works fine as long as you're not using the herbs for appearances.


The "select your own" vegetable section.  I won't list every single thing available here, but suffice it to say there's a lot.  I mostly only stop by this section for lettuce, sugar snap peas, or snow peas.  But if you need just one of something (or a small amount of something), this is where you can go.  The bagged versions will be coming up shortly.

Part of why I rarely use this section is that it's routinely sprayed with water.  This is ostensibly to keep the produce fresher, but it also makes it wet to touch and accelerates the rot process once you get it home.  I'm really not a fan.  


Onward to the main vegetable section.  The tomatoes, peppers, and for some reason, asparagus.  There's a few options for tomatoes, though mainly of the medium and large varieties.  Cherry and grape tomatoes are available, they're just behind the human I was trying to cut out of the picture.  Bell peppers in four colors: yellow, red, orange, and green.  There's actually even a stripey orange and yellow variety that shows up from time to time.  Green peppers are almost always the cheapest.  


I took this to give you a better idea of the variety available here.  Again, there is literally snow on the ground and temperatures are at or below freezing, so these have been shipped from a significant distance away.   It's honestly a very small sample of all the types of peppers that exist, but the fact that it's just flatly available 100% out of local growing season speaks to how absurdly well people in the US live.  Kings and emperors in centuries past didn't have this kind of selection.  


This is a weighing and labeling machine.  Produce doesn't always come in convenient plastic packages.  Sometimes you choose and bag your own using the bags there on the left.  This machine will weigh your produce.  It will also print you a custom bar code so that the bag can be scanned quickly at checkout.  I'm old enough to remember when non-electronic scales were a common thing in grocery stores, but those days seem very long ago when I look at this machine...


Avocados.  Yep.  This is an endcap that's just entirely avocados.  Apparently my generation popularized consumption of them, in part due to their healthiness.  In my memory of decades past, this would have been a small segment of the broader vegetable section, not an entire endcap (plus the weekly sale island at the start).  


Plastic-wrapped broccoli, bulk bags of lettuce heads, bagged baby carrots, and bagged celery.  With salad fixings perched on top of the displays, because God forbid you simply eat salad without extra carbs.  


Organic options of the previous aisle, in an endcap.  Organic does not always mean "better for the environment" unfortunately, but as mentioned in the organic fruit section, it can be your best bet health-wise.  


The other side of the previous long island.  Plastic wrapped cabbage heads, large carrots, broccoli crowns (smaller than the other broccoli option, and with less stem), and cauliflower.  Absolutely everything you see here is sealed in plastic.  It helps preserve the freshness, but the plastic just ends up in a landfill.  


The other endcap on this island-aisle.  I'm honestly not sure why, precisely, this is here, but it is.  These are non-meat, non-dairy options.  Seitan, tofu, pseudocheese, and veganaise.  Please note that even here, there is no escape from the barrage of snacks.  See the dumplings?  


This is a standalone island on the back edge of the area.  It's basically salad fixings.  This side has even more tomatoes, in the smaller varieties.  


And the other side, even more peppers and cucumbers great and small for all your salad needs. I've found the tiny cucumbers nice for personal salads.  


This longer island is the last one in the line.  It's mainly onions and potatoes, though there's yams and some squash for good measure as well.  The endcap has bags of teensy tiny potatoes in up to three colors for a really staggering markup.  Then there are three colors of onions (red, white, and yellow), in both bulk bags and "select your own." 


The other side of the onions/potatoes island-aisle.  Organic varieties of both on the end cap, and bulk bags of russet, yellow, and redskin potatoes.   Potatoes are a very solid food choice when they're not heavily processed or soaked in as much grease as they'll hold.  The problem, of course, is that most potato products fall into at least one of those categories...  

Moving on to the last part of the produce section, which is oddly not fresh at all...


I couldn't get a decent shot of this due to the stocking cart on the right hand side there, but this is basically just a bunch of plastic bags of dried fruit.  The variety here includes cherries, apricots, mango, and prunes.  Dried fruit is great in theory, but in practicality it's typically just more like candy with fiber.  It's usually laced with sugar to make the fruit extra appealing.  Read your nutrition facts and ingredients carefully. 


This is the other side of that display, and it includes seeds and vegetable snacks as well as raisins and dates.  I don't really know what one does to a pea pod to make it into a crispy salted snack, but I'm a little afraid to find out.  


Moving on, we arrive at the bagged dried nuts.  This, like everything else in the store, is a demonstration in absurd variety.  We don't simply have peanuts.  We have blanched peanuts, red skin peanuts, Spanish peanuts, kettle cooked peanuts, raw Spanish peanuts (roast it yourself, I guess?), and mixed nuts with peanuts.  There's also pecans, and a bit further in, there'll be even more types of tree nuts.  As a reminder, this is the second section of snack nuts, the first being around the candy aisle.  


One end of the previous display.  These aren't cooking ingredients, they're snacks.  They're specifically packaged to go in a bowl or be eaten right out of the bag.  Mixed nuts and trail mix (with dried fruit) varieties.  


The other broad side of the display, where we can mainly find almonds and cashews.  You can have them roasted or raw, pre-sliced, salted or not, and blanched.  


Last but not least, the other end of the display, which is entirely pistachios.  All from a single company, but you can get sweet chili, salt and pepper, honey-roasted, and basic pre-shelled varieties.  

And that finishes the produce section!  It's been a surprisingly long trip through the grocery store.  I started this series in early September and never expected it to take a half year to finish, even with doing posts every two weeks.  It's been very educational for me, and I hope, for you as well.  It turned up some interesting (and horrifying) information about grocery store practices.  

In the course of this project, I went from shopping almost entirely at this grocery store (Meijer) to starting at Target (where the employees seem happier and more like people, anyway) and then only buying what I couldn't find there.  The sheer amount of manipulative marketing in terms of alcoholism and snacks in every corner of Meijer is more than I can morally tolerate.  I hope to transition to not shopping at this store at all in the coming year.

I'll do a bonus post in a couple weeks to show you the checkout aisles, because they've changed somewhat in the last few years and I think it's worth knowing why.  Beyond that, thank you for joining me on this adventure!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Reading the Research: Predicting Personalized Brain Stimulation

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article strikes me as overly optimistic, but presents interesting possibilities for depression and anxiety neurofeedback, TMS, and other brain stimulation treatments of the future.  

Brain stimulation seems like a fairly promising technology for things like traumatic brain injury, mental illness, and sleep issues.  These are pretty new ideas, especially to the public eye, which means there hasn't been a ton by way of large scale testing.  This is also due to the fact that the medical industry tends to throw pills at things first and shrug helplessly if that doesn't work.  

Because we don't have that large scale testing, and because peoples' brains differ so much, brain stimulation is a "we'll try this and maybe it'll help!" situation.  Which, it can and has.  But we don't really know why something helps or doesn't, for the most part.  And like any therapy, doing it incorrectly can hurt as well as heal.  

When I began receiving LENS (Low Energy Neurofeedback System) from my doctor, she was very careful and methodical about it.  We had no map, but she's an experienced practitioner.  We tried various types of signal styles, and varying numbers of modifications.  In the end, we settled on a particular style, and 1-2 modifications every two weeks.  We also skip over the spots that would modify my motor strip, because the last time we tried that it put me into road rage.  Fortunately, the modifications can be countered via the same process they're induced.  

Even with my doctor's expertise, it was still a process to find what worked.  These researchers, it seems, are aiming to remove the guesswork from brain stimulation.  They've developed the keys to making a computer able to predict what changes will occur in the brain when a particular type of stimulation is applied.  

Basically, they're trying to make it so a doctor could scan a patient's brain, then take that scan, give it to the computer, and have the computer virtually simulate what would happen if various brain stimulation techniques were applied.  The doctor can then return to the patient and administer the one that's most likely to work best.  

At present, it looks like they're focused on only one kind of brain stimulation, rather than the broad spectrum that includes TMS, LENS, and active neurofeedback.  Still, it's a step in the right direction.  Someday, I hope to live in a world where the medication roulette game is only played when other, better options have failed.  If more of this kind of research is funded and published, that day may not be that far in the future.  

(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)

Friday, February 19, 2021

Book Review: The Charisma Myth

The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, by Olivia Fox Cabane, is a self-help style book on increasing your personal charisma.  This isn't a typical autism-related book, but since charisma factors into communication skills, I thought it might be an interesting read.  I wondered if there were tips that might help parents advocate for their children more effectively, and ideas that might help autistic people make ourselves heard and be truly listened to.  

As it turns out, this book does contain some things like that.  There is, in fact, a whole section just on body language.  Including a trick called mirroring, where you match your body language to the other person's, and then gradually shift towards more positive, open body language.  I'm less than fond of this particular trick, as it feels coercive.  But this wouldn't be the first place I've heard of it working.  

The book also helped explain some things about me, personally, though.  Like why I went through most of my childhood without much by way of friends or peer inclusion, but still received some kind of begrudging respect, even sometimes admiration and very thoroughly unwanted attention from some of the boys.  

There are, according to this book, three major pieces of charisma.  They are presence (which includes actively listening to and focusing on the conversation/person at hand), power (how wealthy, influential, intelligent, or socially important you seem), and warmth (how much goodwill and caring you seem to project).  

Now, most of my life has not gifted me with a whole lot of power.  Nor was I a terribly warm person when I was younger.  But presence?  I learned how to listen relatively young, from my mother.  A skilled listener herself, she counseled me that good listening included a genuine interest in the other person and what they had to say.  You don't merely wait until it's your turn to talk, but focus your attention entirely on the conversation and the other person.  And, as this book also mentioned, that people absolutely adore talking about themselves.  

It helps, I suspect, that I'm not really very good at managing two streams of words at once.  When words are being spoken near me, that's where my brain is stuck.  So while most people might be able to listen halfheartedly to someone talk about sports, and still be thinking about this new video game they're wanting to try, I'm pretty much just stuck hearing about sports.  

My personal oddness aside, much of this book involves a significant amount of mental reframing.  That is, changing how you view a situation, a person, or even yourself, using imagery or other techniques.  You do this so that your body language unconsciously changes to be more present, warm, and powerful.  

Maybe it's a bit cynical of me, but the emphasis on using your imagination to wave goodbye to your cares and feelings of responsibility so you can be your warmest, most present self... kind of worries me.  Really, any form of actively setting aside your view of reality so you can choose a magical dream world where people are grateful to you for being late to an important meeting (an actual example from the book) weirds me the heck out.  

The author works with a significant number of CEOs on this subject of charisma, as well as other upper management types, and in all honesty, I feel like those kinds of people need more reality, not less.  The author might say that such people should be getting the viewpoints of others by doing the listening portion of things... but in all honesty, this book is pretty much geared towards an egocentric viewpoint.  "Do this so you can be better, more successful, etc."

Maybe it's because I'm kind of leftist, but the constant "me me me" focus kind of wore on me over time.  I'm aware that everyone, myself included, thinks they're the most important human in the world most, if not all, of the time.  But I also have concerns for those around me, and most of this book only engages with other humans as obstacles or people to be influenced and wowed (because you're so awesome). There's no particular acknowledgment of other people as... well, other living humans, with dimensions and value beyond the superficial "what they can do for me."  The self-centered focus of the book just kind of left a bad taste in my mouth over time.

The book also has only mild concern for the ethics of using charisma to get your way.  There's a short section near the end, and that's about it.  It's framed more as "here's some pitfalls that might make your life harder, so keep this in mind," rather than, I don't know, doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do?  So I wasn't much impressed with that either.


Read This Book If

You want a guidebook to the subject of charisma, or have an interest in increasing your effectiveness as a communicator.  Fellow autistic people, parents, professionals, random others, pretty much anyone could potentially benefit from this book.  The writing is approachable and fairly clear and to the point.  I found some of the mental techniques suggested rather ethically questionable, and the book itself was stunningly egocentric.  But the information is overall good, and can give you a starting point to increasing your communication success rate after you've gotten past the basics of conversation.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Reading the Research: Stifling Persistence

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article reaches far beyond the researcher-stated implications.  It, in fact, strongly supports what I find myself telling autism parents frequently: you have to let your kid try, struggle, and even fail.  

The researchers here were interested in finding out how it affected a child's motivation to try challenging tasks when a parent swoops in and does it for them.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, if the parents took the task away from the child and finished it for them, the kid mostly stopped trying to finish the puzzle themself.  The motivation and persistence was quashed.  

This is a common tendency I find in parents of autistic people, to be honest.  It's not just the tying of shoelaces, which is the example they use in the article.  Or even challenging math problems in this or that class.  

No, what I tend to see is that, because autistic people struggle harder for more basic skills, that there's this tendency to do things for us.  Either, as the article opines, because it's really hard to watch us struggle with simple tasks.  Or, because our skills develop at different rates than neurotypical people, it's not as simple for our parents to recognize that "maybe they can do this themself now."  

In the traditional developmental trajectory, there seems to be a sort of accepted "now this child is 5, so they can begin to help around the house with simple chores" mentality.  Certain expectations of certain ages.  Obviously every person is different, even in typically developing folks.  But by age 16, it's usually more than reasonable to expect the person to know how to do their own laundry, for example.  

But when your autistic 16 year old struggles hard with executive functions and doesn't remember they need to do the laundry at the best time in everyone's schedule, it can be easy to fall into the habit of just doing it for them.  And then, because inertia is a mighty force, it stays like that.  

The thing about shielding autistic people from struggles is that it also shields us from learning opportunities, and erodes our tolerance for trying new and difficult things.  

Adult life, as I've frustratingly discovered, is just chocked full of new and difficult things.  And while those things can be frustrating and scary, one of the things my parents did right was letting me try them.  I have no doubt that's a large part of why I was able to learn to live independently.  I wish it didn't seem to be such a rare experience.  

(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)

Friday, February 12, 2021

Grocery Shopping On a Special Diet: Meat and Deli

Welcome back to my autism-aware shopping trip through the grocery store.  Week by week, I'm showing you what the store sells, prune down the selection to what's safe for me (because autistic people can have very sensitive systems) and point out various gotchas the store tries to make you buy stuff you didn't come for. 

As a reminder, I shop with the following conditions in mind:

  • dairy-free
  • low sugar
  • avoid ultraprocessed junk
  • avoid food coloring
  • conditional vegetarianism
  • avoid high histamine foods
  • awareness of gluten-free options and sugar-free options
Last time we finished off the numbered aisles.  We also saw a truly staggering number of TV dinners, and learned why, nutritionally and cost-wise, they're a trap.  This week we'll look into the meat and deli sections.

It's worth noting that there will be almost nothing for me in this section, because of the conditional vegetarianism mentioned above.  The US meat industry is, on the whole, supremely uninterested in matters of ethics and morality.  Meat animals are treated like objects, not living creatures, and given as little freedom as possible while still producing an edible product.  Maybe not a very healthy product, for you or for the environment, but that's irrelevant in the face of greed.

I'll pause here for a moment to note something very important:  there are a lot of things in life to care about.  One of my personal causes is the meat industry,  because I think that animals deserve to have lives beyond simply being my food.  If that is not high priority for you, or you don't have the money to afford more humane options, that is okay.  If your passion is ending human slavery, or starvation, or homelessness, or racial inequality, or just surviving this year because you're struggling hard and there seems to be no respite from the insanity, and you don't have time or energy to spend looking at the food on your plate right now... that is understandable.  This is something I care about, so I'll talk about it.  

However.  In no way am I saying, "animal welfare is more important than any of those other things." It is important to me, and I'll be giving you information in regards to it.  I hope you'll look at it and keep it in mind, but if you don't, I am not somehow "better than you" or whatever it is self-righteous jerks are saying these days.  

Skipping past the very disturbing pictures of what the meat industry considers appropriate treatment for living creatures, I'll simply link you to Certified Humane's factsheets page.  Some of the common practices are described therein.  You can also check the FAQs page for a lot of very specific questions about their standards.  

I consume Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved products due to their transparency and independent verification processes.  This grocery store typically carries very little of either of those, but I'll point out the exception. 


I figured we could start with the fresh meat counter.  I had to wait a good bit to get a shot without anyone in it, but I think it was worth it.  The counter is almost always staffed by at least one person, waiting to weigh and custom-chop whatever you care to buy from their selection.  



A reasonable selection.  And all of it seems nice and fresh.  Did you know red dye goes into most beef products to make it seem fresher than it is?  They also tinker with the air balance in the cases and packages to keep that red color as long as possible.  The meat isn't super fresh, it's just been made to look like it is.


Same with that salmon, by the way.  That dark color is unlikely to be natural.  Farmed fish doesn't have the type of diet to produce that color, so the farms feed them the processed color.  Otherwise the resulting filets would be grey. 


Before we dive into the rest of the meat section, let's have a look at the lunch meats.  As you can see, they are legion, and roughly organized by brand. Ham, turkey, chicken, salami, roast beef, bologna, it's all here.  You can also snag hot dogs on the far end there. And, though it's hard to see, meat-and-cheese snacks just after the hot dogs.  

 

Past the the lunchmeat and the meat counter proper is a set of floating refrigerator islands that serve as aisles.  They're roughly organized by meat type.  For example, here's the beef cuts and lamb sections.  (Lamb is all the way at the end, basically a nubbin of a section due to the lower demand.)  Also, lest you be worried... that's not all the beef available.  It's just certain cuts.  There's still ground beef and such elsewhere, even aside from the butcher's counter above.  We'll get there, but first, we have to cross an ocean of pig products.  


Your basic chops and cuts for main dishes, plus a few rib racks for your barbecue-in-the-winter desires.  


There's also a whole section for sausage  It's mostly the ground variety, but don't worry, bratwurst and smoked sausage have their own sections.  Also, in case you were wondering if there were going to be snacks in this section... fear not!  Here they are, on the near end of the main aisle.  They're prepackaged meat and cheese snacks, in case you didn't get enough of those in the cheese section.  


And here's the rest of the sausage.  And also more snacks.  As you can see, the impulse buy endcaps may or may not be entirely related to the aisle they're connected to, because that's Lunchables, hot dogs, and lunch meat.  None of which has much to do with sausage.  


You know, prior to 2020 I think I would have said more of these aisles were devoted to beef products, rather than pork products.  I'm honestly unsure if there's a supply issue with beef, or if this is just how it's been for the last dozen years and I just didn't notice.  At any rate, ham and ground turkey share an aisle here.  I'm told ground turkey is a lot leaner than ground beef, but since I typically buy my beef locally, I haven't had much occasion to try it.  It is definitely more environmentally friendly than beef.  


Did you wonder where the bacon was?  Worry no more, there's a whole aisle for it.  Sunday, Canadian, and streaky, it's all here.  Various brands and price points, and varying levels of fattiness.  


Despite most of the meat section being for pork products, there is still some room for chicken... so here it is.  We're mostly looking at chicken breasts here, but there are also thighs and ground chicken.  

Please note the sign here: "Due to high demand Limit 2 on all fresh chicken products."  I've never actually found out if this is enforced, or if it's merely a suggestion.  I've also basically never seen a sign like this prior to 2020.  (Now that 2020 is over, I've seen dozens like it and barely notice except when it affects my immediate shopping trip.)

Mostly hidden in the near side of the aisle is the "we're fancy and humane" section.  Katie's Best is a GAP Step 2 option.  I prefer mine Step 4 and above, which is why I opt for the other available brand there: Smart Chicken.  


You have your option of boneless breast meat or boneless thigh meat.  It's a sign of how astonishingly sheltered I am that I honestly prefer just eating breast meat and will skip chicken entirely if it's not that.  It's a texture and flavor thing.  Also a "good Lord that's some serious privilege" thing.  


It's hard to see on the package, but on the right hand side label, at the bottom left, there's the Certified Humane label.  Weirdly, only the organic Smart Chicken has that label.  The regular (blue packaging) version doesn't.  


Two of the specials for this week.  This isn't the cheapest I've ever seen ground beef (I've seen it for 99 cents a pound a few times), but it's pretty inexpensive.  It's a pity the cows involved suffered horribly and likely never tasted grass in their lives, because that's the only way you can afford to offer meat that cheaply.  


This just makes me wonder how many kinds of pepperoni a person really needs.  For those counting, that's four brands, in standard, low fat, tiny, and "cup shaped" varieties.  Why?  I really don't know.  


And last in the meat section, the only section I regularly visit.  Ground beef is fine and all, but this section also sometimes contains ground bison.  It also, as you can see, contains the growing share of plant-based protein products.  When Impossible ground "meat" showed up next to my ground bison, I was dubious (and bought some anyway, because why not?).  There seems to be a significant demand, though, because now it's not just Impossible products, it's Lightlife and Pure and Beyond Meat.  I have yet to try most of these, because I'm pretty happy with ground bison and my locally raised beef.  But I really should, because some of these might be delicious. Variety is the spice of life, after all.


On to the deli section.  The store actually goes Meat Section, Bakery Section, Deli Section, in an L shape, but that would have made no thematic sense and also been a very lengthy post, so I decided to cluster meat and deli in one and get to the bakery later.

Once again, you can go up to the counter and have exact ounces and pounds of meat and cheese portioned out for you for the price of that meat/cheese and a smidgen of human contact.  

Because meat is still meat, and dairy is not my friend, I also don't use this counter.  This is a bonus, because I prefer to avoid talking to strangers as a rule.  Too many factors in communicating for (usually) very little reward.  


A shot of the offerings at the counter.  Note the naan and various sandwich breads below the case, ready to immediately pair with whatever you ordered.  


Just past the cheeses, there's a great pile of hummus and guacamole.  And of course, the chips to go with it.  


Meat and cheese sandwich not sufficient for your immediate snacking pleasure?  Or perhaps you wanted something on the side.  Either way, here's various pasta salads (a food I never learned to enjoy) as well as potato salad (same) and coleslaw (also same).  They come in sweet and savory varieties.  And naturally, more bread to eat it with.  


We're still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, so this section 100% makes sense... but I can safely tell you this existed before the pandemic and will almost inevitably exist afterwards.  If you can't muster the energy for human contact but still want fresh sliced meats and cheeses, here's an option.  These are always meats and cheeses available at the counter, but pre-sliced and bagged.  


"But where are the snacks?" you might be asking.  We've barely had any snacks, but that's because, well...  basically the rest of this post will be snacks and convenience food.  Here we have chicken pieces, preportioned pasta salad, miniature Thanksgiving dinner in eco-hostile plastic trays, and more.  


If you can't see, that display says, "Let us do the cooking tonight" and calls this concept "All Together Meals."  You can get one of those small chickens, plus a 2 liter of Coke, for $7.  That's supposed to be dinner.  I suppose you could make it worse by adding a big pile of pasta salad on top of this... which would be very easy to do simply by turning around.  

So for anyone who's counting, this grocery store thinks "dinner" is a roast chicken and a 2 liter of Coke.  That only works if you split that chicken and pop 10 ways, according to the sign.  And of course it's still missing a giant pile of vegetables and a small portion of healthy grains to actually be a real meal.  


The rest of the deli section is a series of floating island-aisles, about half the length of the meat section ones.  They're stubby rectangles with shelves on all four sides. This particular one is the closest to the deli counter, as you can perhaps tell by looking at the packaged-meat contents.  Do note the snack packages of beef jerky and meat/cheese snacks right next to it.  Those are awfully small, though, don't you think?


The grocery store agrees!  Here's some bigger ones.  Meat and cheese trays, cubed snack cheeses, spreadable cheese balls... and just above it, pretzel crisps to round it out.  

Here's some more snack cheeses and meat/cheese snack combos.  Please remember this is the second round of cheese, because we had a regular cheese section in the dairy aisle already.  All of this is just bonus... or in case you couldn't be convinced to buy cheese the first time around.  


Additional cheese blocks/chunks.  These are the "fancy" compared to the regular cheese section.  This is also your spot to pick up feta cheese.  


More snack cheeses and party cheese options.  Of particular note, the miniature cheese wheels in nine different flavors.  Even with several of those being types of cheddar, it's an absurdity.  And again, more crackers to go with your cheese.  In case you don't feel like walking all the way to the cracker aisle.  


Even more cheese.  Presumably these are the imported cheeses, but I honestly didn't inspect it very carefully.  I can't safely consume any of this.  


This is the last "it's just cheese!" picture, I promise.  But you get the idea.  If you want cheese, you will be buried in cheese.  Choice paralysis has never been so convenient!  And crackers and crisps standing by once you make your choice.  


This was a particularly long aisle, so I split it into two pictures to show you all the options.  There are various premade cold sandwiches and subs (with a high markup) available for hungry shoppers, as well as prepackaged soups, ramen, mac'n'cheese, fruit cups, and, inexplicably, hard boiled eggs.  

For the low low price of at least four eggs (possibly as many as eight, depending on the chickens' treatment), you may acquire one plastic-encrusted hard boiled egg.  Hooray?


Fish filets, prepackaged crabcakes, etc.  I mostly don't do seafood but it's here if you want it.  


I don't even know what to say to this one.  I guess I'm in the minority for not liking potato salad?  There's a few varieties, of course, but really.  It's all potato salad.  


If you thought this place didn't have enough convenience food, you were right.  Meet the take and bake pizzas, as well as more party trays and ready-made cheese fondu... ish... stuff.  Have I mentioned this is all right near the vegetable and fruit section and wandering too far in any direction will land you into all this?


Yep.  Before we kiss this section goodbye... if you can be tempted by convenience food but insist it be hot... well, for a nice markup, you may buy a pizza right here and save yourself the trouble of having to wait until you get home, or use the oven.  

So yeah.  That's the meat and deli sections of this grocery store.  We're almost done with my trip through the grocery store.

By the way, you can eat meat and seafood more sustainably without having to resort to store-hopping the way I do.  There's delivery services (pandemic-friendly!) that will ship you a box of clean, sustainably produced meat once a month (or more, if you want).  

Butcher Box is the everything option.  They'll do chicken, beef, pork, and seafood.  You can let them send you a mix of what's available, or customize your own box. This is a really simple way of ensuring you eat better, fresher, and kinder.  All it takes is some freezer space.  As a bonus, they actually mention Temple Grandin's more humane butchering and slaughtering practices as part of their process.  

For folks specifically interested in seafood, please consider VitalChoice, which has a monthly box option but also lets you do regular online orders from their thoroughly-traced and -certified offerings.  Mercury and other heavy metals are a serious problem in seafood, and they're particularly detrimental to autistic people, whose bodies may be unable to purge those toxic substances from our systems effectively.  VitalChoice is one of the very few autism-safe seafood options.