Just so that you have been warned: This is a rant. I just wanted all of you to be aware of that before you went any further. Don't worry though - we will be taking frequent pitstops to give you a chance to wee (mentally speaking) as we travel along.
I went to the library recently and checked out The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements by Sandor Ellix Katz. It was an interesting read. It got me to thinking - which is the purpose Katz had in mind.
Every person who gives a tinker's damn about what they eat and how it is produced is caught up in the same conundrum - how can I do the right thing? And an even bigger question is - What is the right thing?
Yes- what is the right thing? Is it eating healthy? Is it eating local? Is it minimizing our impact on the environment? Is it eating organic? Is it eating to fit your budget? Can we do all these things at once or do you have to pick and choose? Should we be concerned about what other people do? Can we force people to stop doing things that are "bad" (whatever that means)?
It's all pretty freakin' confusing if you ask me. I'm a pretty average Joe. I really think about me and mine first. (And if you know someone who says they don't - they are a liar. Everyone puts self-interest first.) I worry about money. I worry about nutrition. I worry about getting the best products for my family. I worry about the long run - sustainable agriculture, global warming, agricultural run-off, the global food network among many other nagging, and sometimes disturbing, issues.
However, it comes down to where I have to make some choices. I have to decide what is most important and what criteria I am going to use to justify those choices. Is cost my biggest concern? Is good taste? Is eating local? Do I have to pick one over the other? Can there be compromises that will allow me to feel good about my choices or will they just leave me feeling like I wimped out?
So I sat down and asked myself - what really drives what I buy?
First - cost. I set a budget. It has to be. With all prices on the rise, it's a juggling act. Can I mend these pants? Can this car go for another year? And because it is something we really deal with every day - how can I make my food budget stretch? How can I get the most for the least?
Second- nutrition. With a teenager grazing through the pantry and fridge, I need to keep an eye on the types of foods I have in my house - based on nutritional needs as well as cost. Is buying red peppers out of season a bad thing? Can I justify the cost based on nutritional need? Are there other things I can buy or make that would be cheaper and just as nutritious?
Third - quality. If it is cheap and it sucks - no one will wear/use/eat it. Then it's just wasted - it fills up the landfill and drains the pocketbook. If I buy an off-brand of cereal (cost) that is has vitamins added (nutrition) and it still taste like the box it is packaged in - then I obviously didn't make the right choice.
Fourth - local and sustainable. Yeah - all the way down here. These two consideration make the top three much more likely to be met - in season. I buy from the farmer's markets. I am considering adopting a chicken and maybe even having a hog raised. I plant my own garden and can/freeze what I have room for. But here is the rub - we live in Ohio folks. I wish I lived in California - fresh produce all year round, but I don't. That means being a locavore is much harder than if I lived in a warmer clime. It's true I could devote myself to preserving a large amount of locally produced veggies for the winter table - but I work. A lot. I know the amount of effort it takes to "put by" enough food to get a family of four through the winter. I also know that some of the local farmers can and freeze their items, so that we don't have to do the work ourselves. But the cost! It would blow my food budget - and a couple other budgets as well - to buy enough to get me through the winter. So yeah - I am willing to do as much as I can to "Support My Local Farmer" and to eat local, but not to the extent that I am willing to sacrifice the first three items in the hierarchy.
Fifth - organic. This is pretty much at the bottom of my list for a number of reasons. "Organic" - What does it mean? A lot of different things to a lot of different people. The way the USDA defines it is written in government-ese. Some other folks define it a little more simply. The way I define it - expensive and in some cases - a smoke screen. I've heard reports of unscrupulous vendors slapping an "organic" sticker on items to jack up to price. Maybe that is true-and maybe it's not. I know it's human nature to "cheat" when you think you are not going to get caught - so I am inclined to believe that it does happen on a fairly regular basis. Let's take a look at the red peppers mentioned above. If I have a food budget of $60 a week and regular "grow with every chemical know" peppers are on sale for $1.99/lb and the organic peppers are available for $3.99/lb - is it worth it? If my budget is $40 a week? If my budget is $20/week? (And yes, I have been that poor in my life.) Is eating organic a chance for "those who have" to differentiate themselves from "those that don't"? How about the farmer's market - a chance to level to playing field. Regular peppers were 25 cents each. Organic were much higher - at one point 75 cents each.
I think as the the food production system re-aligns itself with consumer demand, the prices will drop somewhat. However, growing organic is a risk for many farmers. The consumer has come to expect flawless produce. Sometimes at the farmer's market, you will see people avoiding things like greens that have obvious bug damage to them. Without chemicals, produce will go back to looking like it did in our grandparents day (or maybe great-grandparents for you young 'uns). This means damaged goods will not make it to the grocery stores - and it means the items that do will be more expensive to cover the waste.
So, as for organic produce, I will buy it when I can but it is not something I go out of my way for.
There ya are. Love me, hate me - that is the way things stand today. A year from now, five years from now - things may change. It's the nature of the beast. So thanks for staying with me to the end.
For those of you who liked my wayside stops, check out one of my favorite comics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. I think it pretty darn funny.
Just a quick note: my cookie production is at a stand still. My ancient oven is acting up and have to get my landlord in to see if it can be repaired. And who knows how long that will take. Hey Gail! I think I'll be over this weekend to use your nice new oven!!!