"Transporting a single calorie of a perishable fresh fruit from California to New York takes about 87 calories' worth of fuel. That's as efficient as driving from Philadelphia to Annapolis, and back, in order to walk three miles on a treadmill in a Maryland gym," she writes. "Pardon me while I ask someone else to draft my energy budget."
I don't normally do food diaries, as much as I admire and enjoy the work of Orangeclouds115 and others. But when I read Think global, grow local by Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Goodman in this morning's Boston Globe, I could not resist. The quote above is something she extracted from Barbarak Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Or as Goodman herself says
I have seared into my memory the fact that every item on my plate has traveled an average of 1,500 miles to get there. Some 85 cents of our food dollars go to processors, manufacturers, and transporters who make up the food industry, a phrase that used to be an oxymoron.
As children my sister and I delighted in helping in the family garden, which was actually fairly extensive. We grew berries, various vegetables, and had so much excess that we would peddle them to the neighbors. But by the time I was in 9th grade and my sister in 11th we no longer had the time. Over the years my sister has returned to growing her own food. For much of my life I lived in apartments and thus lacked the ability to grow my own, although in this the 23rd year in our own house I no longer can use lack of land as an excuse. We have an ancient apple tree, and have grown few things like mint and catnip. Now it would be hard, not merely because of our lack of time, but because a family of rabbits can often be found in our immediate neighborhood, and they have attracted at least one coyote as well - oh, and we are well within the original 10-mile square of the District of Columbia, with the Pentagon perhaps 5 miles away as the crow flies.
Reading Goodman made me remember a different time - and a different way of eating. As she notes near the beginning
It all began with parental virtue. It seemed to me that we expend so much energy around sex ed, telling our children where babies come from -- and so little time on food ed, telling them where lunch comes from.
I wanted my daughter to know that a carrot was the root and a tomato was a fruit, that food came from the earth rather than the supermarket. Now I offer this biology class to my grandchildren.
Goodman is a graceful writer, and I want you to read her column. It is something that will remind us again (as the Vegetables of Mass Destruction crew so often do) of the intersection between what and how we eat and governmental policy. I admire the way Goodman can connect seemingly ordinary things about life, like planting seeds, and issues of policy, weaving in pointed statements by others, such as this:
Michael Pollan, author and a one-man consciousness-raising group, says of the massive federal farm bill that is now up for renewal, "the system is rigged to make the most unhealthful calories in the marketplace the only ones the poor can afford."
Until now, he writes, our policy "essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce."
I realize that when I seek to buy the least expensive (in terms of out of pocket expense) food I am often not only eating unhealthily, but may be costing myself more indirectly in the damage done to the environment - by pesticides, by the carbon footprint noted by Kingsolver, by the destruction of community as factory farms displace family farms, as rural communities are destroyed. I see also the connection with the displacement of American workers as the Walmarts of the world transfer their purchasing to low labor sites in China and elsewhere - the carbon footprint also obtains, especially given China's increasing dependence upon dirty coal and its ravenous need for petroleum, the latter inevitably contributing to the instability in places like the Middle East.
The time "saved" by fast food meals is more than offset by the the other damages, whether directly to our health or indirectly to the natural world and to the communities destroyed by the way we industrialize. Of course, I have choices in what I eat and how I allocate my money and time, choices unavailable to many in this country and to most around the world. And the amount of impact of my individual choices will be miniscule.
And yet, if I am unable to exercise what choice I can, how then can I place upon the government the responsibility for policies which service the perceived wants and needs of people like me who do have choice?
I will not be able to grow my own fruits and vegetables. But I live in a community with multiple farmers' markets, in which the vendors come from places far closer than the industrial farms producing much of the produce in our supermarkets. I can make the choice to begin to change. Changing lightbulbs, washing with cold water where possible, buying locally grown produce, eating less or no corn-fattened beef, driving a hybrid and at slower speeds - all of these are things available to us, actions that will make the world healthier, and ultimately lessen many costs, direct and indirect.
So that is my food diary for the day, or rather a brief reflection on the column by Ellen Goodman. I could offer another snippet - both her opening and her close are gems. Let it suffice for me to note that I chose the title I used for this meditation deliberately - good and healthy food is something that still matters to me. And I becoming increasingly resolved to become again more aware of what and how I eat.
How about you?