Tracing the origins of the food you buy can be maddeningly difficult, and what you find out can be depressing.
This great expose of fraud and misrepresentations at “farm to table” restaurants and farmers’ markets by Laura Reiley in the Tampa Bay Times (thanks KF!) is a perfect example. Compelling read.
I’d like to think that up here in the Garden State, farmers’ markets and farm-to-table dining options are more honest. But I can recall seeing bananas at our town’s farmers’ market. Those are so obviously of tropical origin as to hopefully not matter. But it makes you wonder about the standards and rules of the market.
I’m going to trust in the farmers’ markets and restaurants for the moment while I continue unraveling food origins in that place where I still get the majority of my food: the supermarket.
Basically, every item is up for investigation at this point, in terms of how far away it comes from and how it is produced or farmed or gleaned (organically? ethically? humanely? sustainably?).
I usually leave the supermarket with a headache these days.
But to give you an example. I had a hankering for cashews a few weeks ago. Nuts are usually a no-no because my son is allergic, but I was going to have some in a careful manner and he wasn’t around. I bought a bag of Whole Foods’ 365 brand cashews. I wasn’t really thinking about it. Peanuts are a crop of the South. Almonds tend to come from California. Whenceforth cashews?
India. Vietnam. And cashew pickers have it pretty bad.
Did my 365-brand cashews come from India or Vietnam? The bag didn’t say. But it seems likely.
I’m not saying that me not buying a bag of cashews in New Jersey is going to directly help cashew pickers in India. But wouldn’t it be nice if someday, wealthy countries as a whole recognized that cheap food is sometimes cheap because someone else far away is paying a price? And we had trade policies and whatnot that reflected that consciousness?
At Wegmans on Monday, I took some pictures of their cashews, which bear the “Food You Feel Good About” label:
To be fair, the “Food You Feel Good About” label does not include labor conditions in its definition.
Another example: shrimp. Read this article and see how you feel about eating shrimp of unknown origin after that.
I mean, that’s an Associated Press article. It’s not from Liberal Treehugger Daily. I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher the other night and he had a bit about how if people just read the news, the regular news headlines, instead of Kardashian clickbait, it’d be impossible to ignore climate change. The info is out there — sometimes it’s right in the newspaper; sometimes you have to dig a little.
(OK, after a little more investigation it seems that some consider the AP to have a liberal bias. That’s news to me (ha ha). But the horrors of the shrimp industry in Asia seem to have been established even before the AP investigation.)
Now, the other night we went out to eat at our favorite local restaurant. I really wanted the buffalo shrimp wrap, but I had these shrimp issues on my mind. I went back and forth in my mind — I just want to relax, restaurants don’t count, yes they do — and ended up ordering it. In retrospect, the thing to do would have been to express my reservations to my husband. That would be one more person who then knew about the problems with the shrimp. I could have asked the waitress if she knew where their shrimp came from (and then I could have explained the whole thing to her and educated one more person). I could, now, write an email to the restaurant encouraging them to review where they get their shrimp. (This is the kind of small-scale activism Steven Hopp talks about in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.)
I could just stop ordering shrimp altogether, but isn’t it better to get the word out, and find some ways to still have tasty shrimp? And maybe someday get enough pressure on Asia to stop the abuses of the workers?
Anyway. Stories like that, and the many minutes of my life I’ve spent now scrutinizing store labels, make me want to find easy ways to get good food.
One of the simplest is to make food items myself. Ergo, this year’s garden, and I have even bigger plans for next year’s garden (cackling maniacally). Some of the things that I am either making myself now or plan to try include bread, applesauce, canned peaches, tomato sauce/paste, chicken stock/broth, waffles, quick breads, crackers, and granola.
This post has gotten kind of long, so next time I will go through all my grocery items and break down my current preferences for how to source them.