I’ll mention here how ashamed I feel for waiting this long to get to the blog. I think the holidays really can jerk you out of a momentum for a while. But I am back now and will be regular again. Plus, I’ll also mention that Farm to Fork has been busy, and that is something to brag about. I am really having a splendid time meeting with people who want to be active about eating well and are excited about my contributions to that. I do enjoy connecting with others about food, for food is an ever-fascinating subject for me because it is charged with emotion and memory and politics.
Keeping with that thought, lately I have been having a number of conversations with clients, friends, and acquaintences about the overwhelming aspects of food. Consistently, I’ve noticed that if you ask a person or a family what a typical week’s eating looks like (in other words, what do you eat?), they will stumble to answer. Not only do many people not know how to answer that, they can become defensive or emotional. It appears that a question like that is a question they would like to respond with what they would want to be eating. The question begs, does what we eat define us?
Just recently I had a friend express to me her frustration over making good food choices for her and her family. So much to consider when shopping for food, such as the type of store, the standards of food, labels on food, cost and convenience. She shops, as most people I know do, sporadically. Buying organic milk at the food co-op, mixed greens at Costco in those giant plastic boxes, canned and boxed foods at a conventional grocery store near her house, and buying produce and meat at random depending on how much she can afford for the grass-fed beef and organic strawberries. Describing to me this type of shopping brought her obvious anxiety.
And beyond where to shop, the feat of reading the grocery label seems to require a degree in itself. Think of all those standards labels on meat and what about the fair trade sticker, how does that translate when you’re just trying to pick a bunch of bananas for the kids? Another question begs, which is a question for the fortunate, what takes priority and when: If I have the option, do I buy first organic, local, seasonal, or based on convenience and affordability? Many people I’ve come into contact with have asked me this type of question, and I do believe that there is no right answer for all of us, but that it depends on you and your family and your means and health and other factors. I know, not the answer one wants to hear…
I’ll give you an idea of how my husband and I buy food. But let me preface with the fact that we do not have children and we are privileged enough to live in the Twin Cities where access to good food is broad. Now, in chilly January, I buy nearly all of my food from the Wedge Co-op, because I believe that they have consistently good produce that is varied, seasonal, certified organic, and as local as they can manage depending on the time of year. Hopefully it goes without saying that this is in contrast to many other grocers in the area. As well, I do appreciate their local dairy products such as yogurt and milk and cream, and those products themselves are nearly all made from grass-fed, organic cows and little processed. In terms of their meat counter which includes poultry and fish, it is impressively local and fresh (pastured and organic chicken, wild and frozen-at-sea fish, grass fed or organic beef and buffalo, for instance). Lastly, I want to add that it is also just a pleasant place to shop and has sparkling customer service, which is very important to me. And I do have to drive from Highland Park in St. Paul to get there, so it is not a convenience for me, but that falls away for me to make room for all of the above. Now, in the summer my shopping also includes the St. Paul Farmers Market or the Mill City Farmers Market in Mpls.
After years of slowly making decisions about food and incorporating whole foods into our diet, this is where we’re at. Another value I forgot to mention but is incredibly important to me is that I’m supporting, in as much as I can, a locally-run business and a cooperative for that matter. The food in that realm has a face and is potentially chosen by me as a member, it can escape the anonymity that you often find in larger grocers, even Whole Foods. I enjoy the smallness, the intimacy, the community in relation to food, for I find that in nearly all other aspects of my life there is a great sense of disconnectedness to what I invest in and consume. Shopping at the co-op is more costly than shopping at a conventional grocery store for certain, but I weigh that up against what I’ve just mentioned above.
My advice to others who feel that sense of frustration is to do the best you can based on your means and values, and health and time of course. We do, I believe, need to be active and not passive about buying food and feeding it to our families. You must decide what your values are and measure your ability and go from there. If you can even make a stop each week or two to buy a jug of local, pastured, organic milk, then you are doing something. Take it slow, incorporate the food you want to be eating slowly into your routine, and continue to do a bit of homework on food issues and labels. This is being active in my eyes. Good luck and good eating to you…