Reason For Not Eating Out #9: It’s Easier Being Green

I’ve long put off reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and have for the past few days been soaking up that matte, darkly clad book like a parched sponge. Far be it from the only up-to-date source on the current industrialized food system that we live on, but sometimes it just takes thrusting yourself into the pages of an engaging book to make you really wake up and say boy, do I have a lot of dilemmas. As Kermit would have put it, sheesh.

My dilemma is that I’ve slackened in my principles when grocery shopping. Or, I didn’t have a clear enough idea of what those principles were, or that the underlying causes behind my choice of principles had changed over time. Whatever they were, I wasn’t always buying at the Farmer’s Market or opting for the locally-grown, organic (industrial-organic or not), choices. It’s difficult now to say which of these choices really mattered — which option is the lesser of two evils, and if my choice even makes much difference at all. I apologize if it sounds like I’m speaking in tongues right now for those who haven’t read the book. Basically, the points I’m alluding to regard its uncovering the inconsistencies with what we’ve come to believe as being “whole” or “organic” foods, and the seeming impossibility of maintaining the sustainable values upon which these ideals were built in an industrialized, global economy. I’m actually looking forward to a much more thorough discussion of these topics at my first foodie book club meeting next week at the Brooklyn Kitchen. But until then, I’ll get back to this post.

Any way you look at it, it’s easier being green when you cook in your own kitchen. You’re still far removed, in Brooklyn at least, from the various farms and processing plants that put the ingredients you purchase onto the shelves of your grocery store. But as a person who only cooks and eats at home, I’d clearly have a larger facility to determine where those ingredients came from and what they contain than the person who eats out. The restaurant industry has responded: there are several I know of whose menus proudly state that the eggs they use are 100% cage-free, or note the exact farm where their steaks were raised (a practice common in restaurants for the culinary purposes of terroir, but now seems to take a more crucial role in an eco-competitive industry). Rose Water in Park Slope, for instance, comes to mind. But let’s not forget the distinct pricey characteristic of most of these restaurants. How many cage-free eggs would I be able to buy at a supermarket to every fully prepared, plated, and served one of theirs? Two dozen?

It’s easier, cheaper, and overall more advantageous trying to be green while cooking at home, and so, for the rest of this journey at least, I’m going to take advantage of that. I’ll put my money where my mouth is — since I’m saving like a squirrel anyway — and be, if not fully assuaged by the marketing promises on labels, as green as I think I can be.

Would it be an inconsistency of principle if a person were to buy only free-range meat or organic produce at a supermarket, but not patron only restaurants that claim they do the same? I think this would be one of the dilemmas we’re so inexperienced with knowing just how to deal with. It’s never going to be easy for me to be green round the clock, 24/7. Just as it isn’t for those who eat out, or those who found restaurants based on environmentally-sustainable values, or even those who raise farms in the most sustainable way possible. But the best you can do, I suppose, is try with whatever vices you’ve got. Or wait, maybe it helps if you’re married with a baby in Lower Manhattan… right. Maybe then…

5 Responses

  1. Lou

    Funny you should bring it up; I’m on page 105 of the Omnivore’s dilemma. It’s a fascinating read. I believe I eat more green now that’ I’m in Puerto Rico (I moved here 2 years ago). All of our beef, chicken, and pork comes from here, so nothing can have been processed more than 60 miles away from me. We once got a fresh ham from a relative a mile away, and it was still warm when we got it. We have 30 free-range chickens (we supplement their food with corn), but we have not been able to bring ourselves to kill them (though a couple are looking pretty nervous).

    Of course, we can still get the processed products from the mainland, but we try to avoid it.

    We also grow a lot of our own produce on our land. We have citrus of all kinds, pineapple, star fruit, breadfruit, and many root vegetables I’d never heard of before coming here. My apples, however, still come from Washington state.

    On the other hand, the only wheat flour I can get is bleached, bromated, all purpose. It doesn’t seem to work the same way as the unbleached I used before coming here. I make a lot of bread and pizza, so I use what I can find.

    Not eating in restaurants is easy: we don’t have any, at least in the central mountain region where I live. I’m sure I could find a good restaurant in San Juan, but it’s too far away. We have a lot of US imported fast food places, but didn’t eat that stuff when I lived in Boston, and I certainly won’t now. It amazes me that Churchs Chicken is so popular, considering there are roadside stands all over the place selling fantastic roast chicken.

  2. Emily

    I’ve been reading your site for about a month now, and I’m so glad you posted this. I’ve been considering reading Omnivore’s Dilemma after seeing several mixed reviews, and I’m now motivated enought to pick it up.

    New to Brooklyn (and NYC, actually) and looking to meet foodies – so I’ll be @ the book club next week, too. Thanks again.

  3. cathy

    Hi Emily — cool! That’s great, I hope to see you there!

    Lou, thanks so much for sharing your experience. Fantastic roadside roast chicken sounds pretty awesome though, and I’m so envious of all the wonderful exotic fruits that you have. As great as apples are, the Northeast US is a dismally boring place for fruit! Best of luck!

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