Dear Trader Joes, Love, Erica

traderjoeslogo-650x400 Dear Trader Joe's,

I write to you, not to lodge a complaint, but to have a conversation. Like all healthy, functioning and stable relationships, it's important to voice our feelings and ask questions to preserve the integrity of it. So, as a faithful shopper, I must tell you something that confuses and bothers me...

Three days ago as I made my way down your frozen food aisle, filling my cart with my favorites; Vegetable Fried Rice, Peas, Blueberry Waffles and Salmon/Orzo Dinner, I came across your "Reduced Guilt" Stuffed Shells. Truthfully, I didn't even see the Reduced Guilt part until I unloaded my groceries at home, simply because I was distracted by how delicious those ricotta-stuffed miracles looked in the picture. Reduced Guilt put a bad taste in my mouth and I automatically closed my eyes, smacked my palm on my forehead and muttered to myself, in a most Jewish/East Coast Way, Oy, TJ's...y'killin me. Reduced Guilt?! What on God's green earth do you even mean by that?!

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Here's the thing; I am a recovering Binge Eater, Chronic Dieter, Nutrition Whore and Body Hater. I am also an Eating Psychology Counselor, Yoga Teacher and ex-Personal Trainer. For the past few years, I've dedicated my personal and professional life to bringing awareness around food being largely demonized in our culture, and comfort to the knowing that it doesn't have to be that way. We don't need to refer to foods as 'good' or 'bad'. We don't have to pretend that Low Fat and Reduced Sodium aren't just fancy ways of saying, "abbreviated taste" and "chemical sh*t storm".

I felt sad and a little betrayed when I saw "Reduced Guilt" on your product. You see, Low-Fat is a junk science term, but Guilt...guilt is an emotion. Guilt suggests a story, and not a very happy one. Guilt and shame, particularly around food, gets woven into the behind-the-scenes of our family kitchens and the back story of so many men, women and children's relationship to food. Dieting and restricting is unfortunately a widely acceptable behavior in our society and I can see why labels likeĀ Reduced Guilt are a cheap but effective tactic to get people to buy a product.

I wholeheartedly believe that the Trader Joe's brand is not purposefully trying to send the message that food is to make eaters feel guilt for eating. I trust that Trader Joe's is not implying that Stuffed Shells are a guilt-inducing cuisine and that Reduced Guilt is a way to make eaters feel better about enjoying a perfectly fine meal. But unfortunately...

...the message sent isn't always the message received.

When I read Reduced Guilt on a product that I plan to nourish my body and taste buds with, I'm reminded of all the foods that were simply off limits and guilt-promoting to me as a dieter; stuffed shells and your delicious cashew butter were at the top of that list.

The reason I'm writing to you is to ask what exactly you mean by "reduced guilt". What makes a food reduced in guilt? And what would have to happen to a frozen stuffed shells dinner to make it completely guilt-free? And is it possible for it to be Joy-Enhancing or Happiness-Causing instead of Guilt-Reducing? (Clearly, I'm very good with words. Maybe I can help! We'll talk.)

I've been a hard-core TJ's shopper since I was a child and in fact, I feel a great deal of joy when I grocery shop now, because the first items I place in my cart are the ones I forbade myself to eat in the height of my own eating disorder. (Wine Country Chicken Salad forever!)

Please know that I don't feel angry, disgruntled, insulted or persecuted.

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I'm just concerned and put off. I'm not asking you to pull this item from your freezer and change the wording (although, wouldn't that be so cool?!). I'm not trying to make a statement, I'm just asking that you be a little more thoughtful in your marketing and packaging. Like me, I believe that at the core, Trader Joe's adheres to a benefit someone, but harm no one mantra. I worry that this particular label and those similar in its messaging do more harm than good. What do you think? I'd really love to hear your feedback.

I truly appreciate your taking the time to read this and address my concerns. Maybe we can chat about them a bit more...over some Stuffed Shells.

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