Sunday, May 29, 2016

What am I Listening to?: the Omnivore's Dilemma

Lately, I've been listening to a lot of great audiobooks in my car. Top among them is probably This is How: Surviving What You Think You Can't by Augusten Burroughs, read by the author, the self help book for people who hate self help books. But perhaps the most revelatory has been The Omnivore's Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. 

Having worked in multiple grocery stores over the course of eight or so years (five at Trader Joe's), I know a fair amount about the food business - where it comes from, where some of the best growing regions, how far it travels to get to us, how much is involved in growing, what all the labels mean such as organic, all natural, cage free, free range, vegetarian fed, fair trade, etc. 

I know because people ask a lot of questions. NO, you cannot buy vegetarian fed, free range eggs. Free range chickens eat bugs that they peck from the ground. And NO, organic wild blueberries do not grow in Quebec in the winter. Quebec is covered in snow in winter. Nothing grows. So quit asking! 

The answers to these questions and more might seem obvious to a lot of people, but clearly not all. When I told one woman in California who complained about the lack of organic wild blueberries from Quebec in February that they were out of season stared at me blankly.

Customer: What do you mean "season"?
Me: It's not their growing season.
Customer: What's a growing season?

This is how disconnected a large part of Americans are from our food chain. The reason you can eat asparagus and other summer foods in winter? They're grown in the southern hemisphere - where it's summer - then shipped all the way here. This is how buying out-of-season food works. It's the same way clothing comes from Asia. And it takes a toll on the environment when you factor in shipping - literal shipping on cargo ships - and then trucking. So much gasoline consumption! 

Don't even get me started on industrial farming and how it ruins the land, wastes resources, poisons our water supply, and also consumes massive amounts of oil. All of this is covered quite succinctly in Pollan's book.

What I didn't know going into the book is that corn effectively poisons cows, but we force-feed it to them anyway. By the time a cow is ready to be slaughtered (and rot all of them make it that far), it's a mercy killing because the animal is so sick from being fed the wrong food. Hearing about how basically cows are being eaten alive from the inside by stomach acid for our human convenience horrified me. And the absolute torture we put pigs through made me grateful that I can't eat them.

Will I become a vegetarian now? No. Plants are just as alive as animals. It's cruel to go from abusing one species to abusing another. What I can do is support local, sustainable farms and businesses like Fluffy Bottom Farm, featured in the current issue of the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal, and the copious farmers markets in the area, which is how I met Jen Gossett, the genius behind Fairytale Baked Goods (OM NOM NOM NOM). 

Happy local farm goat courtesy of the
Crazy Wisdom Community Journal.

I love knowing who makes my food! As much as I love Michigan-based Meijer (the family has done a lot for our state), the people at the Co-op are just more personable. And as a person who likes to cook, I find seasonal ingredients and recipes exciting.

Does buying local cost more out of pocket? Yes. But it isn't subsidized by the government and is far less likely to be polluting or destroy the land. And it's more humane. Happy cows do not come from California. They come from local pastural farms where they get to eat grass, not corn mixed with beef fat (cannibalism!) and antibiotics. 

I'm lucky to live in a state that has a thriving local food economy. But you'll find it everywhere if you look for it. And the higher the demand, the readier the supply. Let's make this change for the better.