Move Over Mary Poppins!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Organic Celeriac from the Moon

I was involved in a thread over at Faceplace earlier today in which I was dared, in "Julie & Julia" style, to cook all of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and blog about it. I replied that I
d be cheating, as I already use the book as a jumping off place when I buy soemthing that I'm either not familiar with, or haven't played with before. My choice of example was "ooh, organic celeriac from the Moon" is on sale at "Whole Paycheck." I was joking. They don't grow celeriac on the Moon; they're only doing microgreens and chanterelles up there so far.

It got me thinking, though, about the shift in grocery shopping ideologies, once from local markets and grocers to big box chain supermarkets, and now away from big box chains and back towards farmers markets and so-called "good" chains like Whole Foods. Now, I'm never going to bad mouth farmer's markets. I think they're great, and maybe we should all be locavores for a year, and see how we do.

It's Whole Foods I take exception to. In many ways, they're great. They have a wide selection of pantry staples, and a wonderfully varied supply of specialty foods. If it's olives, cheese, fancy chocolate, artisan bread, gluten free baking supplies, or hard to find produce, they're my go-to location. The other day, though, I went in to get a pomegranate, three Meyer lemons, three Bosc pears, and whole star anise, and I picked up some eggs, frozen fish, and paprika while I was there. The produce, while labeled organic, was brought in from California and South America. So, we saved the planet a little by growing the pesticide free product, and then destroyed it a little by shipping said product several thousand miles, largely by fossil fuel.

I am trying, but I know I'm far from living green. I recycle, I compost, we avoid heavy pesticides whenever we can here at home. I shy away from chronic use of chemical cleaners, which is not to say I don't use them. I'm judicious in my application. I own an old car, which is fuel efficient and large enough to cart most of what needs carting, without taking up half the highway. Contrarily, I also like to eat clementines from sunshiny locales, and fish from the pacific northwest. I enjoy my green beans from a freezer pack when I can't go buy them at a farm. I've reconciled myself to this.

What really bugged me about my recent trip to Whole Foods was the woman in front of me. She was chatting with someone - friend, acquaintance, total stranger - about how she had recently decided to abstain from commercial grocery stores, and shop exclusively at Whole Foods and, of course, the CSA in season, because shopping there was better for her "carbon footprint."

First off, Whole Foods is a commercial grocery store. It's a national chain, for cripes sake! It's one with a conscience, yes, but one nonetheless. Secondly, my point about trading organic for heavily traveled. Third, changing stores for that reason shows good intentions, but also lack of through-thought. What if you are driving 10-15 miles to buy heavily traveled organic produce, when you could drive - or walk! - one mile and buy the same heavily traveled organic produce at Stop & Shop, or Shaw's, or Hannaford's? What good are you really doing? You're pumping 9-11 miles of exhaust into the atmosphere.

Whole Foods is a brilliant business. They have crafted themselves into a marketing juggernaut that deludes people too lazy to be informed about why they make their choices into thinking they're affecting real change in the world by simply switching grocery stores. They are also a good business model. By all accounts, they promote the right causes and suppliers, they treat people fairly, and their stores are often a pleasure to shop in. All I'm saying is, be careful how much importance you place on where you shop, and give some serious thought to how you shop.



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