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…