10,000 Vinyasas

Complete Exercise: Running and Yoga

by on Nov.17, 2010, under Yoga, Yoga practice

I wanted to relate an experience I had last weekend, and connect it to yoga practice. If you’ve attended my Tuesday night class, you heard this already, but here goes. Last Saturday night we got together with some of my old running buddies; I used to run 10 miles on Saturday mornings with these guys, and sometimes a few more during the week. By the way, I always thought of myself as a lifetime runner; just couldn’t imagine my life without it. Funny how things change. Anyway, of course my new avocation (hah!) and passion got some interesting comments from these quite conventional fellas. They were all excited about running the half or full marathon that was being held this weekend, and were obviously puzzled that I wasn’t participating, and that I had, in the last five years since we got together, changed into something else. One guy had apparently attended a yoga class in Oklahoma where he lives and described it as being a lot of chanting and meditation. His view of yoga was “stretching,” and he demonstrated his lack of flexibility by trying to touch his toes and not getting very far, to put it charitably. This particular gentleman, I know, does weight work in addition to running, and so I had to wonder, just exactly how useful this exercise routine is, if it results in someone being incredibly rigid and inflexible? I can only contrast my own experience, since I was once in roughly the same position as my friend, and what I find is that yoga comes closest, of all the ways of moving your body, to being the complete exercise program, especially if your goal is to be able to undertake normal activities well into your advancing age. Running and weight lifting, while good, simply don’t offer that kind of completeness. My friend and wonderful yoga teacher Meg once described an early morning event in her kitchen when she reached deep into a cabinet and how good that bending over felt, and this post is my echo of that. It’s taken me quite some time to achieve real flexibility in my chest, shoulders, and hips, but oh how good it feels to have this, and to be able to use it in every day activity. It’s almost indescribable, this feeling of openness and freedom, but certainly achievable by most people, and this, I think, is really the unstated value of yoga: we all aspire to be able to continue our normal activities as we age, and yoga gives us a way to do that. People who find themselves addicted to yoga probably experience similar feelings to mine. When you think about it, it’s pretty understandable; yoga is ancient, five thousand years old or so, and you’d expect there to be some wisdom coming down from all that experience.

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The Holidays Are Here! 2010 Sierra Nevada Celebration

by on Nov.11, 2010, under Beer

Those of us in South Texas, who are little used to a marked change in seasons, have to look for other signs that we’re moving away from the staggering heat of late summer/early fall and into the cooler, more festive months. We know, for example, that the holiday season officially starts with the arrival of seasonal beers, and this one is the best. Not the best seasonal beer, but the BEST BEER ON THE PLANET. Today, I’m happy to report that the 2010 holiday season has officially started, since I picked up a few six packs of this wonderful, extremely hoppy IPA. As a bonus, I found a place that has the absolute best price in town–yay!



Best Beer on the Planet


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Rotting Spinach From Costco

by on Nov.11, 2010, under food, Kitchen

Ok, I’ve officially had enough. I shop at Costco often, mostly for the fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. (The processed foods are another story; the famous samples they give out are a horrorshow of really bad food ideas, so much so that I frequently amuse myself cruising around noting the various blandishments the food “industry” offers to overstressed, poorly exercised, overworked, unhappy people). At any rate, I’ve bought the fresh organic spinach for quite awhile now, because I like eating lots of spinach, and Costco offers the best price in town. Sure, the quantity is a big much, but up until recently I haven’t had too much trouble keeping most of it fresh. Lately, though, for some reason, the spinach has been rotting earlier and earlier. The final straw came last week, when I brought some home, and by the next day, when I opened the package, it was already rotting. Let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than trying to separate out the slimy parts of the spinach from the good. Well, that does it: I will no longer buy spinach from Costco. It is way too much trouble to track down your receipt and go all the way back to the store to obtain satisfaction. Sorry, Costco, but you’ve made your decaying green bed this time, and you’ll just have to lay in it.


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The Placement of the Back Foot

by on Nov.09, 2010, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

Recently, I’ve begun to notice how important the placement of the back foot is in many standing yoga poses. In poses like Virabhadrasana A, for instance, angling the back foot at the proper angle will allow rotation of the hips without twisting the back leg; letting the foot angle out too far will prevent squaring that hip towards the front of the mat, while rotating the foot too far inward contributes to loss of stability, because you can’t “plant” the back foot very well. This same dynamic is echoed in Parsvottanasana, as well as Parivrrta Trikonasana. I find that many beginners neglect this crucial aspect of alignment, which is why their poses look like, well, beginners’, but the good news is it’s easy to correct. In other news, we are taking a slight break from Acro, due to circumstances beyond our control (hey, aren’t they all? isn’t control just an illusion?), but this is ok since it gives us a chance to rest the shoulder, which occasionally suffers from overuse. A good week of yoga practice is what we’re looking for this week.

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Progress in Yoga Practice

by on Nov.05, 2010, under Acro Yoga, Yoga, Yoga practice

My drop-backs and stand-ups into backbend are becoming more and more consistent, to the point that Vladimir remarked the other day that I really didn’t need him to assist me anymore…yay! I’m still not as confident as I’d like to be, but the intensive practice has really made a difference. My splits are all the way to the floor, at least on my right side, and some days, on my left. How this could happen is quite beyond me, but there you go. I’m loving my yoga practice a whole lot these days. In addition, I’ve really gotten the hang of jumping forwards and back (it’s called lifting the hips up high in the air as you jump forward), and I’m working on smoothing that out as much as I can. Pursuing this further, I’m trying to bring grace and deliberateness to my practice, especially Suryanamascar. Tomorrow I’ll be practicing at San Antonio Yoga with Lisa Long, someone I’ve wanted to take more classes from, but her schedule is not conducive. Anyway, that’s all the news that’s fit to print.

(Update) Had a most enjoyable Primary Series practice with Lisa on Saturday. I suppose the temperature had something to do with it; it was warm enough to sweat, but not hot enough to cause me to start paying too much attention to it. My stress level decreases drastically when I have a more optimum temperature, something I do believe I’ve remarked about before. Oh, yes, and Lisa was wonderful…

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No More Saturday Vinyasa

by on Nov.02, 2010, under teaching, Yoga

Well, my brief tenure as the Saturday morning vinyasa teacher at Yoga Shala has come to an end. Attendance varied, but was in the low numbers most of the time, and the owner wants to start a new class at the same time, so there you are. I am trying not to bring my ego into my teaching, which of course is sometimes difficult, but it isn’t in this case, particularly. My teaching schedule is pretty full already, and I’ve been doing it long enough to feel some confidence that it wasn’t my abilities that caused this change, so on the whole, I’m not unhappy with this latest development. I also recognize that there are many things that one shouldn’t try to control, and my yoga practice and teaching fall into this category. So, I am now free to practice or do something else on Saturday mornings. Perhaps I will use this time to explore other teachers or areas of yoga, and then of course I have teacher training coming up.

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New Opportunities Bring…

by on Oct.28, 2010, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

more depth to my teaching. I’ve noticed since I took over the Saturday vinyasa class as Yoga Shala that I’ve been compelled to stretch my boundaries, including more poses and sequences which I then bring to my other classes. It feels good to expand my repertoire, and gives me more “layers” in teaching yoga. Still, in the back of my head, there’s this little voice that says, “what are you doing? how did you all of a sudden become a yoga teacher? what’s this yoga thing anyway?” I kind of laugh…because it’s so strange when I dwell on it, but there it is. I’ve recently become more aware that yoga is one of the things in my life that makes me happy, and teaching is a big part of that. Sadly, one can’t make a living teaching yoga (well, unless you’re extremely prominent, I suppose), and that’s ok, except you have to occasionally make concessions to the practical realities of life, which involves doing work for money. Being debt-free helps, though, and trying to moderate one’s desires also. It’s worth asking: what in your life makes you really happy? Figure it out, and do more of it.

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A Few More Differences…

by on Oct.18, 2010, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

between gym yoga and yoga taught at a yoga studio:

1. the rooms at the gym tend to be cold, and because they are multipurpose, they tend to have features that are not ideal for yoga, i.e., mirrors instead of walls for head and handstands, located next to really loud cardio rooms, and no facilities for mat bags and other personal items. So, gym yoga has more of a chance of injuries incurred by not being warm enough, the savasana period is likely to be interrupted by loud noise, and head and handstand practice is limited, even if the gym allows it (many discourage the practice for liability issues).

2. it’s basically hit or miss when it comes to instructors. Although I’d never be one to question the good intentions of someone who chooses to teach yoga, it’s clear that there is a statistically significant segment of instructors who teach fitness classes generally, and have taken a weekend or two of yoga teacher training (yes, YogaFit), which they then “teach” yoga. It’s been my experience that these people are not giving their students a comprehensive yoga experience, with a bias towards simply modeling the poses, and a distinct lack of adjustments, walking around the room observing, and generally providing individual help. There is no doubt that there are some extremely competent and professional yoga instructors teaching at gyms, but it’s necessary for serious yoga students to seek them out, because gyms are typically not forthcoming on their instructors’ qualifications and abilities.

That’s all that’s occurring to me at the moment…I’d like to hear from others what they think the differences are, or if there are any.

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Annoying Affectations, Habits and Flourishes

by on Oct.14, 2010, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

Having been teaching for awhile now, I’ve had the opportunity to observe many students practicing yoga, and frankly, some of the things people pick up as part of their yoga practice have become slightly irritating. Here’s an example: how many people insist on putting their feet together in downward dog, no matter how many times I repeat, “feet are hip width apart”? Where in the world does this come from? For goodness sakes, I’ve even seen yoga teachers do it. I can think of no justification for this practice, at all; in fact, it seems like it would be less solid and stable, and yet, at least a third of the people in my classes continue to do this . Here’s another one: this “swan dive” into forward bend. Here, at least, I understand that this practice originates with Yoga Fit, and their justification of it is that it’s “safer.” I do have news for Beth, though; according to Nancy Gilgoff, who I assume knows just a little bit more than Beth about yoga practice, bringing the arms out will eventually lead to shoulder issues; hence, she advocates simply raising the arms to start, and bringing them directly down to the floor to forward bend. Look, I’m all about bringing more grace to my practice, but it seems to me, at least in my current thinking, that using the least amount of effort and movement to get into the pose leaves plenty of room for a “moving meditation.” A big part of the problem, I think, is that many students are exposed to many different styles of yoga without anyone taking the time to explain why something is done differently, and here we come back to the value of Nancy Gilgoff’s workshop, in which she took pains to differentiate Ashtanga alignment and practice from Iyengar. I really appreciated that. Anyway, try eliminating some of the flourishes in your yoga practice, and see what happens.

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Reflections on Espresso and Inner Peace

by on Sep.22, 2010, under coffee, Cooking, food, Kitchen

There’s a Zen Buddhist saying about bringing presence into every part of your life, even the most mundane of activities. Viewed in that light, my morning espresso-making ritual approaches that of a religious experience, considering the care and time I take to make my three shots of espresso every day. Let’s just walk through this: one has to fill the boiler of the machine (with specially filtered water, of course), turn it on, wait for the machine to heat up, warm an espresso cup in the microwave, wait some more, grind beans, dose ground coffee into basket, lock portafilter and basket into grouphead of machine, pull lever up, wait ten seconds, pull lever down halfway, pull up again, slowly pull lever all the way down while observing the espresso coming out of the naked portafilter. Here’s the payoff: drink the espresso, savor the fullness and subtlety of the flavors and the jolt of caffeine. If I get energetic some morning, I may post a video of the whole thing. Just a little coffee action on a day when I sold my “extra” espresso machine…to celebrate, I suppose, and consider how much I do appreciate this whole process. I’ve left out the coffee bean roasting, which takes place typically about four or five days before the actual making of the espresso (since the fresh roasted beans need to rest before consumption), but is likewise filled with details, none of which I’m sure you want to hear about.

Menu for dinner tonight: Wild Sockeye Salmon,topped with pecans and raspberry chipotle sauce, accompanied by green beans, mushrooms and quinoa.

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Another Reason To Eschew Sugar

by on Sep.22, 2010, under Body Health, food

If all we know isn’t enough, here comes yet another medical/scientific study which shows that sugar is addictive in rats, and as a bonus, leads to increased sensitivity to alcohol and other drugs. It’s long been my observation that those of us who reside in the US are subtlely addicted to sugar, because it is put into so many many foods, or manufactured substances that pass as foods. These new findings would certainly help explain why so much of the population is addicted to medications of some kind, and it surely is another nail in the coffin for the “low fat” theory of obesity.

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More Teaching Stuff…And Other Reflections

by on Sep.13, 2010, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

Well, I’ve been teaching the vinyasa class now for three weeks. One of my Spectrum regulars followed me over, purchased a package, and signed up for an upcoming workshop at the studio. It’s difficult to convey the feeling I have when I contemplate this…the fact that I could have such an effect on people just by leading them through a yoga class. Also, last week’s class featured the attendance of one of the yoga teachers I greatly admire, and one whose class I regularly attend. What an honor! At any rate, I am still not completely comfortable with an improvisational vinyasa class, but I’m trying, and I do recognize that the uncomfortable feeling I’m having is me trying attempting something new. I’ve been incredibly busy in my “other” job the past week, so I’ve really tried to practice every morning, at least for a little while. I do believe my teaching schedule is as full as I’d like it to be right now; I have four classes a week, and usually one private lesson. Well, I did say that I wanted to teach yoga, right? My shoulder has pretty much ceased to trouble me, since my strenuous yoga practice has been diminished the last couple of weeks. Feeling at a point of maximum strength and flexibility, which usually in my experience precedes another injury. Should be careful. Another lesson learned or emphasized the last couple of weeks: yoga is even more important in stressful times, vital even. I feel a stillness and serenity in my yoga practice that, although it started awhile ago, has been growing, and makes me more eager to get to the mat.

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Pictures of Nancy Gilgoff Workshop

by on Sep.01, 2010, under Yoga, Yoga practice

I’ve always wondered why yoga workshops are called that, instead of “seminars.” Seminar seems to have a more intellectual connotation, while “workshop” seems more, I dunno, practical or something. Anyhow, here are some pictures of me at the event…it was a good one.

Here we all are, together.

Here's Nancy!

Adjustments...I used to hate this pose, and I'm still struggling for stability in it, but it's come a long way.

Navasana...showing my best side...repeated demonstrating this pose in class has increased my ability to hold it.

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We Really, Really Missed Acro

by on Aug.27, 2010, under Acro Yoga, Yoga

We’ve kinda taken acro-yoga off for the summer, but in the last week, we’ve been able to practice again, and I realize how much I enjoy doing this. The intensity, the physical closeness, the expertise, it’s all a very large part of my life. I have remarked before on how fragile, unique and transitory I think this particular “thing” is, and that, to me, is part of the beauty of it. We all enjoy it, and we all are enthusiastic, and yet, I can’t help thinking of how easily it would fall apart. So, for now, it’s enough to say that I had a really good practice, and love to all my friends who were there.

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Here It Comes…

by on Aug.23, 2010, under teaching, Uncategorized, Yoga

It’s official: I’m on this Saturday’s schedule for teaching the vinyasa class at Yoga Shala. Originally was supposed to start August 1, but that got put off for unexplained reasons. So, now I have my work cut out for me, I guess. I shouldn’t think it would be too difficult, to design a class that is rigorous enough to challenge the students (need I mention that I know most of them?), and one that I can vary week by week. Seems like my yoga teaching experience is all about pushing my boundaries farther; I’m pretty often finding myself undertaking something new, even if it’s only something as minor as subbing for another instructor. I’m planning on doing some “homework” this week, exploring some advanced sequences of asanas. Some of my students from my regular class seemed interested in attending, which would be nice.

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Taking Your Asana Outside…

by on Aug.09, 2010, under Uncategorized

Here’s a pic of me practicing in Olmos Park, for the Lululemon event. It was….HOT! But fun.

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Open Topic: How Can Someone Say This?

by on Jul.15, 2010, under Yoga, Yoga practice

“Yoga makes the impossible possible…”

What does this mean?

Posters, the floor is yours…

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Acceptance and Achievement

by on Jul.11, 2010, under Yoga, Yoga practice

I want to explore what I think is one of the major areas of opposition in practicing yoga: the contrast between the “first, do no harm” perspective, as exemplified by gentle/restorative/YogaFit, and the “more challenge” point of view, as propagated by such systems of thought as Ashtanga yoga and the cover and pictorial content of magazines like Yoga Journal. It seems to me that these contrasting perspectives are in conflict, or at least there’s a tension between them. I think of listening to David Williams, having done Ashtanga yoga for 40 years, expounding on his strongly held beliefs that yoga should never hurt, that injuries are worse than counterproductive, and yoga is ultimately a means to an end: meditation, while at the same time being surrounded at that particular studio by photos of extreme achievements in yoga performed by persons with, shall we say, attractive physical development. Similarly, although it devotes print space to meditation, finding inner peace, and restorative yoga poses, the underlying message of the pictorial representations in Yoga Journal might lead one to conclude that achieving these ultimate expressions is in fact, the goal of practicing yoga. As a further example, one of the posters here recently took issue with the strict Mysore practice of stopping a student when a pose could not be fully attained and sending them directly to the closing sequence, pointing out that it seemed to make the attainment of asanas the end result of practicing.

Well, I’m sure that no serious Ashtanga practitioner would concede that attaining particular asanas or sequences are the goals of the practice, and theoretically, I’m sure that’s true. It’s just that there does seem to be an effect, even if unintended, that results in students desiring to be able to attain “flashy” poses that look good (presumably for a camera), without realizing that those poses are simply expressions of the amount of work and practice undertaken, sometimes over long periods of time. It’s perfectly natural to feel positive about one’s “progress” in yoga, especially if that is expressed by ability to practice difficult asanas or sequences with more ease, but we should realize that indulging these feelings detracts from attaining the more ephemeral benefits of yoga: a calmer mind, more positive energy, greater facility in the rest of our lives, peace and serenity. Pictorial representations ought to be looked at as inspirational only; as an example of how the pose could look, nothing more. Teachers and practitioners of aggressive, athletic systems of yoga like Ashtanga should continually remind themselves and their students of the non-attachment to achieving poses.

Closely related to this, I think, is the lack of understanding among beginning students as to how wide the horizon is in yoga; in other words, some poses are so difficult or require so much opening of the body that one’s progress can only be measured, if at all, in millimeters, and over months or even years. This should not be discouraging; on the contrary, it is exactly the reason that yoga is a lifelong practice: one is never finished.

On the other hand, rarely venturing outside one’s comfort zone (which is as inaccurate in describing the gentle perspective as characterizing Ashtanga as achievement-oriented is, but still, there’s some truth in it) unduly limits one’s potential to challenge our bodies and minds, to go deeper into poses, and to find hidden abilities to attain poses previously thought impossible. In other words, if you never practice it, you’ll never do it. Worse, you may put more faith in the misleading thoughts that run through your head; you know, the ones that say you will never be able to practice this pose. In particular, yoga skill is not particularly dependent on age, even though some younger, more flexible people can more easily do some poses, many older people find themselves attaining higher levels of asanas than they ever thought possible, while others who are handcuffed by their thoughts of ageism, unnecessarily limit themselves.

With all of the above, I’m prepared to offer some conclusions:

1. Yoga is all about balance; therefore, there should be some balance between extreme physical asanas and gentle, restorative types of yoga.

2. Injuries, although they may teach us about ourselves and help us develop more empathy for other practitioners’ physical infirmities, by and large are counterproductive to yoga practice and ought to be avoided when possible. One of the ways to avoid injury is to be especially mindful of the messages the body sends to the mind. Extreme physical exertions ought to be followed by rest (see balance, above).

3. It would behoove the editors of certain publications to use less glamorous models in their visual depictions.

4. There is value is challenging one’s progress in yoga; in particular, yoga practice is an active, evolving thing, as one’s abilities change (whether through age or skill). Being satisfied and content with one’s practice is not the same as becoming complacent or static.

5. It is valuable and inspirational to view live representations of difficult poses, through one’s teacher or other practitioners. In particular, safe ways of getting into difficult poses should be pursued.

6. Since yoga is (or ought to be) a lifetime practice, a longer term view is useful when encountering poses that pose particular challenges and resist mastery. If it takes months or years, so be it.

7. Since yoga is an individual practice, every one has the responsibility of discovering ones’ strengths, weaknesses and issues, and what to do about them. Teachers can provide much guidance, but ultimately, no one knows your body and mind the way you do.

A clarification: it was not my intent in this post to take to task Ashtanga yoga, a system of asanas and ways of thought that I greatly admire. My concern here is that the rather extreme athleticism that practicing Ashtanga entails can frequently lead to injuries, and indeed, Ashtanga has an unfortunate reputation of causing physical damage, when applied in the wrong circumstances. What I mean by wrong circumstances are misunderstandings by students and teachers as to the proper attitude concerning the asanas. Because of its physically demanding nature, Ashtanga is acutely vulnerable to such misconceptions, especially among newer practitioners. The style is also particularly prone to overly aggressive teachers, who push students into poses they aren’t ready for, or adjust too roughly. Here, I do have some experience, both with injuries (knee, shoulder) and contact with overly aggressive adjustments, so I suppose I’m offering up this post as a sort of cautionary tale.

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Teaching News: Reflections on Yoga

by on Jul.02, 2010, under Acro Yoga, teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

I’ve arrived! Something that I’ve thought about for a long time, but never really aimed for, has come to me: I’ve been asked to teach the Saturday morning vinyasa class at Yoga Shala, starting in August. This is especially meaningful for me because I used to attend this class religiously when my teacher Ken led it, not to mention that I believe, with quite a bit of justification, that Yoga Shala is the premier yoga studio in San Antonio. Quite an honor. Everyone has been so nice and supportive, and although it will be a challenge, it’s something that will both fit my schedule and give me an extra dimension to my teaching. Thank you, Ana, for giving me this chance! In other news, I will be teaching yoga at Lululemon on Saturday, July 17, as part of their “Spectrum Rogers Ranch” month. I’ve always wondered what that would be like, so I guess now I’ll find out.

This causes me to reflect, again, on how I got here. It’s interesting to me that my approach to yoga (well, this implies some intention that perhaps I didn’t have) was just to do more and more, and be open to expanding my knowledge by taking whatever workshops and classes I was attracted to (and there were many). I really didn’t think much about “goals” or direction of any kind; I just did whatever I could to enhance my yoga practice. I’m still amazed at the places yoga has taken me: teaching yoga on tv, teaching yoga in general, acro-yoga, Lululemon, and everything else that has happened. It’s so different from the rest of my life (yes, I know I’ve said that before, but still); everything planned out and set in concrete. I suppose that’s what a second career should be: fun and without all the ambition and purpose (and anxiety) that drives you at the beginning of your first career. I have no idea where else yoga is going to take me, and that’s part of the mystery and fun of the practice.

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Grocery Store Woes…

by on Jun.30, 2010, under Body Health, food

I don’t trust my local grocery chain. As I’ve become more aware of the evils of the industrial food system, Big Agriculture, and the ubiquity of corn and soy products in processed foods (along with all the other harmful ingredients), I’ve also noticed that the local grocery is pretty much a cheerleader for catering to people’s ignorance and worst impulses when it comes to food. Here, we are speaking of processed meats, products containing white flour and sugar, and horrendously fatty “fresh” food offerings. Further, in contrast to, say, Whole Foods, I perceive that profit, from selling whatever, is singularly the chain’s primary motivation. Hence, they are late and reluctant to stock organic and local produce, doing this only as a sop to some of their customers. As business people, they are ruthlessly predatory, driving out almost every other major chain from San Antonio (the exception is Walmart and Target, not exactly paragons of virtue themselves). In my view, it’s not too difficult to delve beneath the superficial cheeriness and relentless “low price” propaganda and see the essential greediness sucking up the resources and health of the captive, oblivious citizenry. In addition to Whole Foods, we do happen to have a couple of smaller specialty stores which stock a lot more fresh local products (Green Fields, Sun Harvest). Not that these are perfect (nor is Costco, another place I frequent, for the fresh produce, mostly), but they are a damn sight better than the sneaky, fake grocery chain that dominates the retail landscape here.

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