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My day begins and ends with food. At breakfast, I plan lunch. At lunch, I plan

dinner. After dinner, I think about the next day and all the delicious menus I can create.

As you know, menu planning doesn’t just happen. If you like to eat and cook, as I do, planning a meal always begins with a day at the supermarket.

Let’s begin at the dairy case of a local supermarket. They call it the “incredible edible egg” ― nature's perfect package. Americans consume more than 98 billion eggs every year. That’s a lot of eggs!

Eggs range in size from peewee to jumbo. The size of an egg depends on the age of the hen. As the hen ages, her eggs increase in size. Sounds somewhat scary to me. I'm sorry for the poor hen that will some day lay the colossal egg. Ouch!

After studying a carton of extra-large eggs, I found that eight were extra-large, two were large, and two were medium. It’s obvious the chicken that laid that particular carton—or the person who packed it—had a problem. It was at that precise moment that the long unanswered question (which came first, the chicken or the egg?) became clear to me: the chicken had to come first! She had to decide which size egg to lay.

Let's not forget that eggs, like almost everything else, have grades to live by. There's Grade AA, where the egg stands tall with a firm yolk; Grade A with a round, tall, and upstanding yolk; and Grade B—like a bad movie—has a flattened yolk. Let's be honest: do you want to dip your toast into flattened yolks? I think not! And I’m not ‘yoking’ about that.

Although the salmonella scare is still real, it's the on-off battle over high cholesterol that once ruined the once good reputation of the egg, which has left many a shopper scrambling for egg substitutes.

The whole egg lesson left me shell shocked, so I proceeded to something simple like canned vegetables. Too many to write about so I did a "one potato, two potato, three potato, four" and came up with carrots.

We know that carrots are a good source of beta-carotene. Zero fat and cholesterol are part of the carrot’s excellent reputation. One carrot a day is purported to cut down the risk of certain cancers and even lower blood cholesterol. Imagine if we ate two!

According to Bugs Bunny, the distinguished expert and insatiable eater of the orange root, carrots are good for the eyes. To prove that point, I will illustrate by showing what I read on the label of two different brands of canned carrots and a package of fresh carrots. One medium fresh carrot has 40 calories, 290mg potassium, 8g carbohydrates, and 1g protein. With two servings per can of sliced carrots, the Del Monte brand was 35 calories per serving, 5 calories more than the generic brand.

The big carrot difference was in the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances. A fresh carrot offers 330 percent of vitamin A, Del Monte brand lists 300 percent, and the generic brand is 100 percent. I’m confused. What happens to a fresh carrot when it’s processed? Could one brand of carrot give you better eyesight than the other? Would a fresh carrot with a higher caloric count make you fatter than canned carrots?

I made a sharp turn and proceeded down the snack food aisle where buzzwords like “all-natural” and “no preservatives” caught my attention. Bags and bags of a chips, pretzels, and nuts tempt me. Of all the offerings, however, only the potato chip stood out as the king of the snack food empire. From parties to picnics, banquets to buffets, whether high in fat and sodium, baked or laced with Olestra (a fat substitute), potato chips are one snack food that you can never get enough of. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering why this huge swollen bag is only half-full when you open it. Why make such a big bag if only half is going to be used? Then it came to me. The preservatives, taken out to protect us from those awful diseases we read about, must have occupied the other half. Now, another interesting question: is a bag of potato chips half-full or half-empty?

As I pondered this thought, I moved on to the poultry section. This section produced instant hunger as I envisioned an herb and lemon roasted chicken surrounded by a platter of grilled vegetables. But wait, as a conscientious consumer in training, I’m obliged to tell you that the scary chicken contamination stories are real. Darn that skinny chicken farmer!

Not to worry, I'll prepare a healthful fish dinner. After all, fish is high in iron, low in calories and just plain good, except for certain seafood reported to be contaminated with pollutants and hydrocarbons that include PCBs, DDT and dioxins, all of which accumulate in the fatty tissue of fish. And what about fish that's dipped in preservative solution? Can't tell one good flounder from another.

A big, juicy hamburger with all the trimmings came to mind when I passed the butcher’s display case exhibiting neat rows of perfectly cut samples of bright red beef. I lovingly gazed at the ground sirloin, trying to forget that beef needs to be fully cooked. That’s when memories of the once popular juicy, rare hamburger faded, and the ugly bacteria head surfaced.

I left the supermarket feeling a bit overwhelmed, but a little smarter. See you next time when we’ll look at the wide variety of organic products.

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