Shopping for health

By Joe Torok

Local stores offer a diversity of choices, from meat to makeup

Part One of A Two- Part Series

It’s the New Year, and resolutions are as fresh as the snow on your car in the morning. Let’s just hope they last a little longer and we’re not quite so eager to rid ourselves of them. Eating better tops the list of many optimists, and that means shopping better.

The Lansing area has two full-size supermarkets devoted entirely to healthy, environmentally friendly lifestyles. Foods for Living is local, employee-owned and situated at the corner of Park Lake Road and Grand River in East Lansing. The Better Health Store has two locations in Lansing (and a dozen or so more throughout southeast Michigan): one larger supermarket on Clippert near the Frandor Shopping Center and a much smaller store half the size at 6235 W. Saginaw Highway.

The Better Health Store at 305 N. Clippert feels like a supermarket. Brightly lit with wide aisles, it offers a full array of products. The produce selection is somewhat limited, though you’ll find plenty of organic apples, oranges, bananas, potatoes, onions, carrots, lettuce and a few other common fruits and vegetables.

An enormous vat of honey — from local producer Morton Apiaries — allows customers to serve themselves as much of the sweet stuff as they desire ($2.99 lb.) Likewise, a nearby peanut grinder can produce fresh peanut butter ($3.49 lb.) for shoppers.

Teas and coffees, dry and canned goods, baking ingredients, juices, snacks and sweets line over a half dozen aisles. Nearly everything is organic, hormonefree or preservative-free. A long row of freezer cases lines one wall of the store with boxed meals, meats, veggies and most of the products one might find at mainstream supermarkets, primarily organic and natural here, of course. A few cases with milk, cheese and other dairy products run along the back wall and, in one corner, is something Foods for Living does not have: a deli case.

Along with sliced meats and cheeses from the deli, Better Health operates an in-store café offering made-to-order sandwiches and wraps, soups, a fruit juice and smoothie bar and an organic salad bar ($7.49 lb.) With plenty of tables for seating, you can shop for the week then relax to enjoy a meal, all in one trip. Also unique to The Better Health Store is a makeup counter offering natural foundation, lipstick, eyeliner and more.

At Foods for Living, the atmosphere is less retail, with carpeted floors and dimmer lighting. On the same afternoon as a visit to Better Health, it was also much busier. Tighter aisles make navigating the store a slight bit trickier, but the selections along the shelves more than make up for it.

For instance, the produce section is roughly the same size as Better Health, but at Foods for Living you’ll find more variety. The staples are there, but you’ll also find organic berries, cherries, melons, coconuts and mangoes. The veggies are more diverse as well, with parsnips, orange peppers, rutabaga, radishes, eggplant and jalapeños, among additional organic greens.

While Better Health had some bulk food, Foods for Living offers a bit more. Everything from candy and snacks to flours and assorted grains can be precisely portioned. In addition, a small table with small plastic baggies sits in front of a few dozen glass jars containing unique bulk items: wild mushrooms; dozens of herbs and seasonings such as oregano, turmeric, anise and cumin; and even a few offbeat items like uva ursi leaf (a tea reported to have medicinal properties) or fenugreck seed (used to fight high cholesterol and diabetes.) Peanut butter ($2.19 lb.), honey ($3.35 lb) and olive oil ($10.99 lb.) are available in bulk, too, along with serveyourself detergent ($2.30 lb.) and soap ($4.99 lb.)

While Better Health’s deli has no equivalent at Foods for Living, where non-frozen meat is pretty scarce, Foods does offer a surprising variety of gourmet and hard-to-find cheeses. Grocery stores in the area might also carry Manchego or Gruyere, but at Foods for Living you’ll also find Comte from France, Kaltbach from Switzerland and Zamorano from Spain. The deli case contains prepackaged dinners and items from local Middle Eastern restaurants: Aladdin’s, delivered fresh on Monday and Thursday, and Woody’s Oasis on Tuesday and Friday.

Foods for Living also carries organic cotton, hemp and fair-trade clothing. And while both carry some literature, Foods offers an entire section of health books. Foods also offers many more kitchen gadgets, such as juicers, cooking utensils and water dispensers.

If the goal is to eat healthier and shop more ethically, both Foods for Living and the Better Health Store will help fulfill New Year’s resolutions as complete grocery stores. For meats and a quick bite, The Better Health Store is the way to go. But for a wider selection of produce, dry and bulk goods, Foods for Living is superior.

Next week: East Lansing Food Co-op