Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Natural Flavor

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There are numerous strategies for dealing with global warming, but here on the sultry South Carolina coast, where mid-June is already steaming and heat advisories trap my kids inside, there's only one foolproof antidote. Forget the troubled Kyoto Accord, or the failed hybrid Honda Accord. I'm talking simple, sweet, high mileage diplomacy: ice cream.

My passion has always run cold, between six and ten degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact -- the ideal temperature for scooping ice cream. I was licked early on; the cool comfort of Breyers All Natural Vanilla, its reverse galaxy of tiny black specks in a one-scoop cosmos of creamy white, was a highlight on Saturday nights at my grandparents' house. After a bath in Mawmo's claw-foot tub, we'd sit on the floor in front of Lawrence Welk, a coveted cone in hand. The romance continued in college, where late-night study sessions were fueled by pints of coffee (Haagen-Dazs that is), which we could buy on our meal plan. So much for the freshman fifteen. The upside was that I was too busy flirting with different flavors to be sidetracked by sex and drugs. It didn't take long for my husband to figure out how to stir my passion and melt my heart: he hid an engagement ring inside a container of White Mountain Creamery ice cream. I can't remember what flavor, but I'm sure there were two scoops.

Now that my grocery bills are no longer covered by a meal plan, and given the fact my three growing girls seem to get their daily calcium requirements straight from the freezer, especially during the sweltering summer, I tend toward lighter, less-expensive varieties. I'm a fro-yo convert, and while I occasionally splurge on Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia, I typically scan the grocer's freezer using a highly refined and sophisticated best brand/best buy/fat quotient calculus. The winning half-gallon depends on the weekly specials of the store I happen to be in. That is, except when I'm running errands across town and can pop in to Publix. There, despite stiff competition from the numerous Mayfield flavors they carry, the pick is straightforward. Publix Brand Premium Light Chocolate Chip takes the cake, or rather, the cone.

So you might imagine I was delighted when I learned that a brand new Publix store is going up within a mile and a half of my house. A quick calorie-burning, emission-free bike ride away! No more differential equations on the waffle aisle! No more settling for less than creamy consistency or too few chips! No more having to buy really cheap wine in order to justify designer label desserts! What more could a passionate, double-dip mom want?

Well. . . I wish Publix would go away. Or rather, that it would not be built near my neighborhood in the first place. I want the acres of tangled scrub brush and pine saplings to miraculously reappear where they've been strip-mauled by bulldozers. I want to keep buying sub-par brands of Vanilla-Orange Swirl at the often empty Bi-Lo right across the street from the new Publix, or waiting for Mayfield to go on sale at the Piggly Wiggly, just 500 yards further down the block. I want someone to explain how it possibly makes sense to build another big box grocery store within easy walking distance from three other large-scale chain groceries, all feeding, or rather feeding off of, a small residential area.

The community gets no added nutritional value from yet another 50,000 square feet (requiring enormous gulps of electricity for heating/cooling/lighting) to sell more of the same packaged pre-fab food and goods already abundantly and conveniently available. Sure, we might occasionally save a few cents on select products, including my favorite frozen yogurt, and have a few more jobs, but all in all, at least by my accounting, the impact versus payback analysis doesn't balance. It must look good enough to the company's CEOs and board of directors, who live fat and happy far away, but this calculus of greed will take me more than a few late night pints of Haagen Dazs to figure out.

Gone now are the geese that lived in the tucked-away pond hidden from the main boulevard by the trees, vines and thickets that until recently covered this natural space. I used to take my girls there to toss breadcrumbs and watch the birds fight over the small feast. Gone are the herons and ibis that stopped there en route to the marsh and beach just a mile down the road. Gone are the foxes, the squirrels, the who-knows-what that made their home in the humble scrub. Gone is the variation in terrain for those who drive, bike or walk/run by on this main thoroughfare connecting the town to the barrier island just beyond.

Granted, this was not a stand of majestic oaks, but it was an endangered species, an undeveloped lot with its own scruffy integrity, holding out amidst encroaching commercial monotony. "It was zoned business; we have no say over what kind of business can build there, as long as they comply with building and zoning regulations," the town planner explains when I call to grumble and inquire. More jabber about market forces, feasibility studies, and I'm ready to hang up, console myself with ice cream.

We who are blessed with the resources are also blessed, or cursed, by so many choices these days: where to shop, what to buy, what to eat . . . and on and on. An entire aisle of juice box options. A jamboree of macaroni and cheese. A frosty shrine of frozen confections. And more across the street. But outside the automatic doors of these super supermarkets, beyond their sullen blacktop parking lots, the surrounding landscape holds far less variety. A few propped up palm trees, some evenly spaced crape myrtles, maybe a pampas grass pom-pom or two to give a little rah-rah, but that's it for lush, living things. No wonder kids watch DVDs in the back seat these days; there's little else green and beautiful by the roadside to woo their attention.

I'd trade low fat Chocolate Chip for trees and geese any day. Sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the frozen yogurt, especially now that the forest is gone.


Stephanie Hunt lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with her husband and three daughters. Stephanie is a contributing editor to Skirt Magazine, Charleston Magazine, and SOMA Review. A graduate of Duke University and Vanderbilt Divinity School, she specializes in personal essays and profiles, and has published Peeking Under My Skirt, an essay collection. Learn more at her website.


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