Pop Culture

17 Aug

Because we’ve been talking about waste recently, I was reminded of a particularly poignant part in Food, Inc in which Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms discusses the true cost of responsibly raised food and how much money we waste on junk food.

Salatin says, “I’ve had people come up at farmers’ markets and say ‘What? Three dollars a dozen for eggs?’ and they’re drinking a .75 can of soda!”

And I always thought to myself: I don’t drink soda, but he makes a good point there. (Please note, Angelinos, I also thought: Three dollars for a dozen farmers’ market eggs? That’s half what I pay!)

Pop quiz, Hot Shot, what's actually in your high-priced novelty soda? Read on.

Thus, it’s been countless times since first seeing the movie in the theater that I’ve stood in front of the Lily’s Eggs stand at various local markets and made a mental catalog of what else I justify spending about three dollars on. A latte with friends. Two songs on iTunes. One third of a cocktail… I find spending the extra money worth it for fresh and local food, but sometimes I’d rather get eggs from the grocery store and save a few bucks for, well, half a gallon of gas, or change for laundry day or my emergency parking meter fund.

Anyway, last weekend, spending an afternoon with the girls, my friend Rosie mentioned “needing a yummy cupcake” and, lucky for us, we happened to be in the close vicinity of (drum roll please) Yummy Cupcakes. If you haven’t stopped in here in a while, it has come a long way from the basic vanilla, chocolate, red velvet M.O. In fact, I saw cannoli, strawberry balsamic (I recommend) and even heard talk of maple bacon. Is it just me, or is bacon replacing cupcakes as the new L.A. food fad? An aside here, but if you aren’t the type of person who could eat frosting with a spoon, Yummy is not for you. But Vanilla is little more than 10 steps up the street and has a wide selection of basic mini cupcakes. Go early, because I find by late afternoon the mini cakes are a mini bit stale.

In any case, while this is out of character, I wasn’t in the mood for that kind of sugar assault, but I sure was thirsty. On moral and environmental grounds, I try to avoid bottled water, but I wanted to grab something with my friends and thus I was left with…soda. OK, once in a blue moon is fine. The good news is that the sodas came in fully recyclable glass bottles. I pointed to an interesting looking little one that boasted real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. (Who’d have thought “real sugar” would become a selling point?)

“What’s that one?”

“Oh, it’s just a Dr. Pepper in a bottle.”

I shrugged. I must admit that I was charmed by the idea of drinking a little soda made with sugar from a little glass bottle.

“That’ll be $2.25.”

“What?”

That’s right, I just became one of those people who are alarmed at pricey farm-fresh eggs as they hold a more-than-two-dollar soda.  And let me mention here also how obvious our out-of-control American portion sizes became to me in that moment. I was practically done with the bottle before leaving the bakery and was alarmed to find that what I had just consumed was in fact, an entire serving size. So it was not in fact, a cute little soda; just a single serving one. Think about how many servings you are drinking when you fill up at a soda fountain!

So, even though we knew it might be a futile effort, a few friends and I set out to find what exactly is in these novelty sodas that make them worth so much money. We did very important research. We went to Bay Cities.

While we found several stocked refrigerators with single grab-n-go sodas, most had similar ingredients to what you’d find in your average Coke product. As usual, the word “natural” on the packaging didn’t mean much of anything and we didn’t find any bottles under a buck a piece. But here’s what really struck us:

I love you, Bay Cities, but this is inexcusable...

I love seeing a local small business packed for lunch in this economy. I love that Bay Cities makes amazing sauce, pasta and bread for reasonable prices. I love that an employee is always around to give me a sample or recommend something; oblivious to how packed the place is. I love the little patio. But I would really love to know what’s keeping Bay Cities from providing a recycling bin when they sell a wall full of glass bottles and aluminum cans that people finish with their sandwiches just outside the door. It’s also beyond me why anyone needs a plastic bag to carry a hogie outside ten feet to eat it at a table and then throw the bag away. (At least reuse it when you go back in to find the Nutella you forgot.) I’m placing most of the responsibility on the customer here. How difficult is it to refuse a bag when you can easily carry your food with one hand, or to keep a bag in your car (or in your purse or on your keys)? California is on the cusp of becoming the first state to ban single-use plastic bags in grocery stores. If you feel strongly about this, send a quick note to your senator this week.

If you don’t know why you should feel strongly about this, listen to the wise words of Jeremy Irons:

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One Response to “Pop Culture”

  1. Brent August 18, 2010 at 2:46 am #

    I think the business should also ask. Paper? Plastic? Nothing?

    I remember when grocery stores used to give you a carryout option. We were trained to always ask back when I was working for Publix Supermarkets. Now almost every market I go to, the personnel just automatically start packing with plastic, and in some cases double-bagging (when they shouldn’t be overloading the bags in the first place).

    Sometimes I put my reusable bag right on the conveyor to make sure they load my groceries there instead of automatically going for the plastic bags. But I guess it’s a reflex for most to just ring it up with one hand and ready the plastic with the other. And the sour looks I get when I try to refuse their single-use plastic bags…

    So, not only should the consumer intercept the sandwich before it gets sacked, training ought to be changed at the store level to break this plastic-grabbing habit no matter what you’re buying.

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