Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Yes, it is true that there are certainly places in the DFW area to buy local and/or organic and if I am going to complain about the "difficult" shopping places, I should congratulate the places that work toward a more socially, politically and environmentally positive shopping experience. Tyra's comment rightfully mentions Healthy Approach in Colleyville which is so conveniently located off of 121, there is just no excuse for people looking to make healthy consumer choices not to shop there. For those committed to local purchasing, you'll still need to look past the imports and be diligent about finding out where things are coming from, but they rate high in my world, especially for those of us who sometimes can't get around the need for one-stop shopping. There are many local farmer's markets too. The best I've found so far is on Saturday mornings in Coppell (which has great ethical choices for your dairy, veggie, fruit, plant, baked goods and even worm needs). Grapevine has a smaller, but very good farmer's market Thursdays and Saturdays. The little goat farm in Keller (Homestead) has a nice little selection of goat cheese, milk, eggs (pre-ordered) and in-season, local produce and they are open on Saturdays. Each city here also seems to have its own 7-day a week "farmer's market" which is always (in my experience thus far) a small, free-standing store with red trim. From city to city they seem to vary in their produce inventory. They do a great shop of stocking local honey, sauces, jams, pickled items and other pantry items. They carry produce both from local farms and from farther-away states and countries. In Bedford, I witnessed staff over and over again trying to push the California peaches over the Texas peaches because they "tasted better." Such experiences make me sad, but I am still a regular shopper there because they do carry a good selection of local items, they are close to my apartment and they are open until 8pm on weeknights.

The places that really get me going are the bigger markets though--Central Market proudly displays its international fruit and vegetable selection with such a scant offering of local produce that I sometimes forget which country I am in. And Albertsons, Tom Thumb...well we just won't go there. The fact is, it is cheaper for people to import tomatoes from Mexico or from South America even when there is an abundance of them being plucked from plants throughout the region. The other fact is that it is easier for us as consumers to buy these gas-guzzling tomatoes because seeking them out in farmer's markets and produce stands can be more than we, as consumers, are willing to do. So while I am critical of our choices here, I am really just angry that we, as a nation, have gotten to this point. I am however very, very grateful for the markets who go against the majority, who take financial risks and make choices that are much better for our environment, its people, and our economic and social health. And if I were ruler of all things, one of my first tasks would be to find local super-market shelves for every piece of ethically-grown produce. In the meantime, I do what I can to buy locally and ethically...and I rant to anyone who will listen.

Monday, July 30, 2007

When I first entered into an awareness of the impact that my food and consumer choices were having on the environment, our politics, my health and the livelihood of farmers and farm workers, I vowed to make changes. It was some years ago and I was lucky to be living in the San Francisco Bay Area where it was easier to make choices to buy organic and local. I started with luxury items such as coffee and chocolate and bought only fair trade and organic. Then I began to read labels. No reason to buy jam from France when jam from Napa will do just fine. No reason to buy spaghetti sauce that isn’t organic and from this side of the country. Although it meant research and a lots of time spent reading labels, it hardly changed my lifestyle.

Over the years though I have become increasingly aware (and increasingly accountable) and frankly sometimes it just depresses the hell out of me. In earlier days, the wealthy flaunted their imported goods, their out-of-season fruit and fauna and their fashionably-developed tastes for things well-traveled. That was a time when it cost more to acquire such goods. Now it actually costs less to acquire such goods, yet we are still flaunting. How clever of us to find ways to eat watermelon in winter and tomatoes, apples, blueberries and other produce all year-round. The immediate cost to our wallets might be slim, but the exurbanite environmental, political and social costs just aren’t worth that bland, under-ripe, gas-guzzling melon that will need heaps of sugar to compensate for what was lost along its journey from its natural habitat to our kitchens.

At some point since first entering into this awareness some years ago, I have shifted from a nagging awareness to a full frontal awareness and I can no longer turn it off. I walk through the grocery store and when I scan the thrice-packaged boxes, the bottles of juices, water and sodas, the international fruit and veggie section and the cans and jars from every state not my own, all I see are the trucks and environmental resources that brought them here.

An earlier Pam would choose the organic, fuel-efficient item over the pesticide-covered, gas-guzzling item, but were the organic, fuel-efficient item unavailable; the latter would have to do. Now I am increasingly unable to even consider any choices that involve pesticides, high energy consumption, antibiotics, animal cruelty, unfair wages or mega farming practices and I am in the new position of choosing to go without. It isn’t as if I am starving. There are certainly abundant choices between the small selection of local and/or organic items at the grocery store and the variety of items available at the farmer’s market. And I don’t mean to play victim, but it is hard. In Texas I am finding that we have an abundance of locally- produced salsa and BBQ sauce, but I am hard-pressed to find out where the tomatoes are actually coming from and equally hard-pressed to find an organic, local salsa or BBQ sauce. Central Market boasts mozzarella made in the store and when I asked where the cheese came from, the hospitable cheese-maker said he made it here. Uneducated in the process of making cheese, I just didn’t know how to ask the question. Finally it occurred to me, “where does the cow live?” It sounded more like a poorly-translated colloquialism from some other language, but he got the gist. He said the “curd” came from California. Of course it did. Everything good comes from California. It never seems to come from Texas. Why is that? The eggs at Central Market were equally disappointing. Surely there are free-range, egg-laying chickens who live closer to me than those living in the state of Mississippi. Where are the eggs of chickens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area? I do know that I could drive up to Keller, about 20-30 minutes away to a small, family-owned dairy farm and pick up some eggs there. It is just that for someone like me who consumes no more than a dozen eggs a month, it is hard to make it a priority. So today I don’t have eggs. Again, I’m not going to starve.

The question I continue to ask myself is how far to go. At Heather and Zach’s wedding I met someone who is committed enough to the fight to consider himself vegan. His outward display of ethics radically shifted how I thought about my own efforts. Afterall, despite my sacrifices here and there, I still was in the closet about my agenda. I stayed in the closet because I was protecting myself and others from the horrible discomfort that goes with the discussion, “oh you don’t eat meat.” They ask why, I state why, they maybe get defensive about their foods choices, maybe even feel attacked, then the wait staff shows up with their steaming hot chicken breast and suddenly the chicken is no longer a food item but a casualty of war. I have avoided that encounter by reserving my ethical eating to the privacy of my own home. Don’t ask, don’t tell. But now I feel like I need to make the next step. I’m not a vegan. I will go to the ranch and buy their grass-fed, range-roaming, antibiotic free, good karma meat. I will even, on occasion, stray from my standard ethical choices, but I will no longer apologize for them and I will no longer pretend that they aren’t a significant part of my life.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Here it is. My birthday. The looming three-five is no longer “looming” but heavy on my lap. This 35th birthday is an unwelcome guest whose arrival I anticipated with some years of building terror. Now that it is here though, the self-reflection and thoughtfulness has paid off and on this day I arrive brilliant and beaming, wearing my most-favorite afternoon party dress and grateful for life just as it is. Intending too in my most deliberate of intentions to step into “35” with grace and to enjoy life in a kind of explosive way. Yes, that’s it—more explosive and less implosive. Dream large. Experience mountain tops. Joy. Love. The thin air of altitude and the thick, ruddy mud of depth. Today I embark on the first day of the rest of my life. I expect brilliance and openness and ecstasy at every turn. Let it be so. Happy birthday to me.