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Food For Thinkers: Culinary Rehab for Those Stuck in a Supermarket Rut

Do you ever find yourself stuck getting the same old ingredients at the supermarket? Jessica Helfand proposes a solution.

Over at Design Observer's Oblog, graphic designer Jessica Helfand adds a charming post to this week's Food For Thinkers chorus. In it, she proposes a culinary rehab plan, complete with iPhone app, to help aspiring cooks break out of their pantry rut and effectively navigate "alien supermarket aisles filled with mystery ingredients."

Helfand puts herself forward as the prime candidate for this treatment, as her own supermarket habits have been constrained by early childhood experience:


My mother, who was beautiful and funny and brilliant in every way, was acually a rather distracted cook. She was also thin—naturally thin, the kind of thin where she forgot to make meals sometimes because she didn’t actually appear to think about food very much. Our family lived for many years in Paris, where you could eat extremely well pretty much anywhere without ever setting foot in your own kitchen. Curiously, many of my food memories of Paris that do involve our kitchen are sort of strange, like the time Carmen, our Spanish babysitter, stayed with us for a week while our parents were away, and upon learning that my sister and I liked to eat toast for breakfast, proceeded to torch the entire loaf and put it in the dish cupboard, whereupon we were obliged to eat from the cold, charred pile for the next five days.

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Surrounded by distracted and eccentric cooks, Helfand finds her own culinary vocabulary frustratingly limited:

I was doomed, it seemed, the minute I hit the market, where I was hardwired to revisit the same aisles, to buy the same ingredients, to make the same dishes, over and over and over again.

It was like Groundhog Day, but with cheese.

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Visit Design Observer to read Helfand's post, including her imagined "cure"—a cross between a supermarket immersion program, a reality TV-style pantry makeover, and the Supercook recipe engine—and share your own tips for navigating outside of your grocery store comfort zone.

Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than 40 food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?

Follow the conversation all week here at GOOD, join in the comments, and use the Twitter hashtag #foodforthinkers to keep up to date as architects, human rights activists, space archaeologists, and even a couple of food writers share their perspective on what makes food so interesting.

Image: Price Chopper's international aisle, via All Over Albany.

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