Duke Ellington once said that he “merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” I’m not a musician, so when I’m feeling pouty, I bake something sweet. It should be noted that I’m prone to bouts of baking due to other emotions as well, but for the sake of this post, I was feeling blue, and thus decided to bake, appropriately, blueberry lemon poppyseed cake. This is not exactly a coincidence, blueberries are in season so I thought I could pick up a bunch at the farmers’ market and get a good deal. Not exactly.
I’ve heard the argument many many times that going green is a venture for the wealthy. I’m always quick to point this out as fallacy. Public transportation (if you can find it in L.A.) is much cheaper and more eco-friendly than owning and driving your own car alone for example. Living on a budget forces you to buy only what you need and use. Cutting your utilities bills means you are turning off lights and water when you aren’t using them. I could go on and on, but in the case of sustainable food, I’m frequently grasping for straws. The sad truth is that eating healthy and fresh food is a luxury, one out of reach for many people. Organic food is more expensive food most of the time and many areas lack a proper grocery store, let alone one that will even carry organic and less processed food. However, L.A. is covered with farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture and many farmers’ markets accept food assistance and senior discounts. That being said, here was my experience.
I forgot to bring my recipe with me to the market so I had no idea how much berry I would have to buy. I (wrongly) guessed a cup would handle it. I shopped the entire market and the best deal I could find (and this was as everyone was tearing down and packing up) was a four dollar 3/4 of a cup carton. Were they delicious? Yes. Were they cheap? No. How many blueberries did I actually need for one cake? Two cups.
I walked to the supermarket later to supplement the stash (because some inevitably “disappeared” on the ride home). The only fresh blueberries came in about a two cup container and were 10 bucks plus tax and not organic. Hmmm, how about frozen? My luck was better here. I was actually impressed to find two separate brands of organic blueberries, each yielding about a cup for four dollars each. I was less impressed when I read the back of the bags and saw that they were actually distributed by the same company and the fruit was from Canada. While I appreciate the cheaper price, we obviously grow blueberries in California, was it really impossible to find anyone to match that price point before we hit Canada? So, before even buying any other ingredients, I was about nine bucks out…feeling pouty-er by the minute.
Now, I had to find a lemon. The lemons at the farmers’ market came pre-bagged and I couldn’t see myself making use of 10 lemons anytime soon. At the supermarket, no organic options and the lemons were all from Chile. So, this is turning into one helluva well-traveled cake. And before you point this out for me, yes, I was already considering actually trying to grow my own blueberries on my balcony at this point.
In any case, dinner the next night had me headed to the nearest Trader Joe’s. I dunno about you guys, but ever since it’s become a legal requirement to put where food comes from on its packaging, my shopping trips have become much more lengthy. I usually buy my grass-fed ground beef from the farmers’ market but forgot to grab some during the blueberry trip. TJ’s had a pound of organic lean ground beef for six dollars – what I pay at the farmers’ market. Not bad, until I flipped it over and found out it was beef from Australia. And despite my boyfriend’s subsequent relocated-to-L.A.-cow-with-an-Aussie accent impression, I was not amused. I looked at all of the ground beef available and none of it was purely even US-raised, let alone California-raised. However, some were mixes of beef from US, Australia and Canada. Really? My single taco could include beef from all three places? Rather than buying all the individual spices to season the meat, I opted for one TJ’s taco seasoning packet. No preservatives, just spices-good. A product of South Africa-bad. Forget that vacation, I was a regular world traveler in two meals alone.
So, what say you? What do you do if you can’t buy all of your groceries at the farmers’ market and grow the rest in your (hahaha) yard? Is truly sustainable food for the wealthy only? I highly urge you to be a well-informed consumer and check the origin of the food you buy from the grocery store. Is it really “fresh” if it has traveled from China? Is it really “local” if it was only distributed locally? If you aren’t finding what you want on the shelves, ask for it. That isn’t to say that the person at the meat counter will “look in back” and return with what you want, but it shows that you as a consumer demand a new food system. You demand no more misleading advertising. You expect to get your money’s worth for your food.
And, as per Michael Pollan, if you’ve got the freezer space, use it. Had I stocked up on my J&J Grassfed Beef to begin with, I could have avoided the grocery store meat counter entirely.