Coalescing of my thoughts on food
In a previous blog entry , I mentioned that I had read Michael Pallan’s book “In Defense of Food”. Subsequent to that, I’ve been reading (and have not yet finished) another of Michael’s books: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” but I had to stop and blog when I read, then stopped and read AGAIN, 1 paragraph in the middle of his book. Here’s the paragraph:
Note that I’ve changed a bit to make it more generic, which is necessary for understanding it outside the context of his book. Parts I’ve changed appear in italics.
Shopping in an organic supermarket underwrites important values on the farm; shopping locally underwrites a whole set of other values as well. That’s because farms produce a lot more than food; the also produce a kind of landscape and a kind of community. Whether we spend our food dollars on locally produced and marketed foods as opposed to the mega-mart (which includes your closest Whole Foods) will have a large bearing on whether our lovely local landscapes — this undulating checkerboard of fields and forests — will endure, or whether the total economy will find a “higher use” (Can you say “Large House, Small Lot tract housing?”) for it. “Eat your view!” is a bumper sticker often seen in Europe these days; as it implies, the decision to eat locally is an act of conservation, too, one that is probably more effective (and sustainable) than writing checks to environmental organizations.
If you read the book, you will understand that this is significantly different that buying “Certified” organic products – many of which has been industrialized and have thus lost the systematic advantages (other than the absence of herbicides and pesticides) that are preserved by sustainably produced, locally transported and sold food.
Yesterday, before I read that paragraph, I abandoned (temporarily) my habit of buying from the local natural foods store. I abandoned it because I had a recipe that I wanted to try that called for chicken thighs with skin and bone still on. I knew my normal store didn’t have this, so I went to my closest mega mart and bought industrially grown and processed thighs (Foster Farms). Were I to be tempted to succumb to the temptation of a particular recipe going forward, I’ll adapt my recipe to what is sustainable instead of abandoning my principles.
Full Disclosure: The recipe called for chicken BREASTS with skin and bone, but I vastly prefer the taste of dark meat to white meat, so I often make the substitution. I might have said “… always make the substitution” except that I have a few favorite recipes that revolve around cutlets of boneless, skinless breasts pounded to a uniform thickness — not something possible with dark meat!
While at the mega mart, I needed a couple of other things, and I vividly recall how I tried to select the honey that I needed for the same recipe: I tried reading the labels. NONE of the offerings were Organic, so I turned to attempting to discern the geographical source of the honey, figuring that if I couldn’t put my money on organic, at least I could put my money on least use of fossil fuels for transporting the product from farm to processor and then to me in the store. Alas, most of the honeys were sourced by 2 Midwestern cooperatives and hence had a high transportation cost. One honey was sourced in Southern California and one honey (the one I ended up buying) appeared to be sourced locally. I use the word “appeared” deliberately because, when I got home, I looked up the distributor on the web. While the distributor was fairly local – about 50 miles away – it turns out that they specialize in supplying superstores, and most of their products arrive by rail from points far distant. Even if the honey I bought was actually produced locally, the label gave me no information to confirm it, and it may well have been ultimately sourced from one of the 2 Midwestern cooperatives under a private label, or from even farther away.
I’m now far closer to “getting” it. I want to eat locally, sustainably and organically. I’ve got a long way to go and a lot of work to do to come close to realizing all three simultaneously, much less one or two. My first step is going to be subtracting (where I can) the use of my car when buying groceries. It’s time to get off my butt and actually use the bike that’s languishing in my garage. By the shoreline trail, work is only 1.5 miles from home, and my natural food store is only 2 miles beyond that. I’ve been mildly ashamed that I haven’t been biking to work on non-rainy days since I’ve been working at my current employer (approaching 11 years). While I may not be quickly able to realize my locally produced and transported criteria, I can at least offset the environmental harm of transporting food long distances by getting it the few miles to my home without using fossil fuels!
Thus I now have significant weekend plans: Clean out my garage! It’s a small garage and needs significant rearrangement to allow easy access to my bike while preserving the ability to garage my car. One of my excuses for NOT using my bike has been the difficulty of extricating it from my garage. That excuse stops this weekend.
I should also note that another of my “I can’t take my bike” excuses used to be that I had to leave work to go buy my lunch. I’ve been notoriously bad about packing a lunch. However, in the last 3 weeks, I’ve managed to pack a lunch every workday save one, so that’s another excuse I no longer have!