Saturday, April 10, 2010

Just Add Water

So yesterday I was able to do my grocery shopping at one of the nearby co-ops and it was a wonderful experience, and I truly could have wandered around for hours looking at the bulk spices, nuts, granola etc, but my companions were not equally intrigued. But really, I bought bulk soy sauce and balsamic vinegar! Who knew you could do that?! But I grabbed a little tub, filled it with as much as I wanted, and paid by the pound. I paid $.18 for the amount of sage I wanted instead of buying a whole bottle. This was just amazing to me.

While I have long been interested by the idea of sustainable and organic grocery shopping, I have never made the effort to go somewhere besides the Cub/Rainbow/Target market, but my Gender Labor Politics class pushed me to try. For one I can get extra credit by doing a cost analysis of my grocery bill, but also a discussion about food politics made me really think about food and why I eat what I do.

We have reached a point where we expect to buy whatever groceries we want whenever we want it, therefore we want produce out of season. This means extraneous measures are being taken around the world to make sure someone is producing corn for January and and for July (switched seasons). More and more food is being genetically modified so some people can make a bigger profit. Animals are caged up so tightly they cannot move and pumped full of antibiotics to combat the diseases they get from standing in their own feces, and people put up with it because it's cheaper.

There's a sense of false consciousness prevailing over our culture concerning food. We need food so there's no way to strike against it like the garment workers of Forever 21, so we distance ourselves from the process. We refuse to think about slaughterhouses and chemically "enhanced" meat and vegetables. We ignore that corn grown by farmers can no longer be eaten because it is hard and disgusting, but has to be processed into corn syrup and fed to livestock. We keep asking for food that is bigger and better than it is naturally supposed to be, so the producers make it happen.

On top of eating chemically and genetically modified foods, we exist off of
preservatives. Instead of mashing delicious russet potatoes we buy a box of Four-Cheese Mashed Potatoes, just add water! How lazy do we have to be that we now subsist off "just add water" groceries? Instead of making a healthy meal we pop something in the microwave - something that is full of preservatives and who knows what else so that all we have to do is nuke for 30 seconds. Then it comes out and it doesn't even look good but you eat it anyway and really just end up dissatisfied all around, so it's not like eating frozen food wins any points there. Sure it's fast, but it's gross.

Most of the ingredients and processes behind the food we eat is completely hidden from our view. Look at a granola bar and try to find out where those oats came from. It is impossible. At a certain point you cannot trace your food back any farther and you are asked to trust the company they are getting it safely and ethically. You are asked to trust that a certain amount of insects in your peanut butter is ineffectual. You are asked to trust that "Free Range" chickens are actually allowed to walk around when that is nowhere near the truth. Food politics are all about a separation between the producer and the consumer, but not only a separation - indeed there is a big black curtain keeping the two apart so that the latter know nothing about the truths of the former.

The problem lies of course, in the cost of eating organically and ethically. That choice is more expensive because in order to produce more ethically, most has to be spent. It costs more to keep a few chickens in a pen they can walk around in than to cram a whole bunch of chickens in that same space, and that cost is transferred to the consumer. This choice is an easy one to make until cost is factored in. Theoretically everyone prefers the more ethical choice, but practically not everyone wants to spend the extra money. I paid $3.49 for eggs which I could get for around $1.39 at Target, yet because I went in with a list for my planned recipes for the week, I still spent less that I normally do.

Food from a box that just requires some added water and a couple minutes in the microwave may be cheaper, but I know where my groceries came from - 42% was grownlocally, and I know there are no hidden "ingredients." While I may not be able to promise I will stop eating anything from a box or a can, this feels like such a positive decision I plan to make every effort to eat organically and ethically. It is the easy choice.

As a poor college student I want to make the ethical move, and I think I can make it work for my budget. Shopping for ingredients requires more planning; I cannot just walk down the aisle and grab a few boxes for my meals that week, but have to know ahead of time what I need which means less spending on food I will not actually eat. Plus the food I can make with these delicious ingredients is so much tastier than Mac 'n Cheese or Lean Cuisine. How could I possibly make any other decision? They always say the first step is the hardest, and most of the time that first step is just deciding to make a change.

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