Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Weary Travelers

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
Reading, savoring and thinking.

When I finish the book, I'll fully review it here, but it is impossible not to say anything about how Kingsolver's year of living solely on what her family could produce or buy locally has reinforced ideas I've been thinking about in some form or another for a long time.

One of these ideas is about our country's dependence on foreign oil...and how Americans seem to take everything we're given, suck it dry...then leave the skeletons behind...whether we're talking about farmland, oil, forests, oceans, etc...you name it; we are "Users" and "Consumers" in the worst sense of the words....without ever a thought to what we might do when those resources are gone.

Some of the ways that we waste resources are very stupid.
And many of them we do without ever realizing what we are perpetuating.
Take groceries, for example.
Even those of us who try to buy the best that we can to feed our families healthier meals don't realize how much gas and other fuels go into making sure we have those "healthier" products.

I bought these groceries the other day...these items are all items that I would normally buy in my own family's quest for better health. 

Please remember that I live in rural Mississippi...I do not live in the big city somewhere where fresh produce is difficult to find.

However, of everything I bought, only these few items were actually produced in my state.

 The chicken was manufactured in Laurel (10 min. from my home) and the bacon was manufactured in in Shannon (several hours from my home). 
The corn was wrapped at my local grocery which does try to make a habit of buying from local farmers, so I'm assuming it came from someone in my county or close, and the tomatoes came from Lucedale (an hour or so from my home).
While for many reasons these are not "perfect" foods, they are the best of what I bought in terms of how much fuel went into getting them here.

Then, I added in 3 other products that were manufactured and shipped from other Southern states. 
 The coffee is from Louisiana, the bread from Georgia and the blueberries from Florida.
Still not too bad...I can be in LA in 1 1/2 hrs, FL in 4 hours, and GA in about 6 hours.

 Unfortunately, though...my "fresh" bagged spinach and my tasty strawberries rode on some truck all the way from California.
 I've traveled to California no telling how many times in the last 2-3 years...I fly. 
My poor spinach and strawberries had to ride on a truck.
Here's where it gets confusing to me.
The climate that I live in is pretty well suited for growing.
Even out of season fruits and vegetables are available in area hothouses...
So, why am I buying strawberries from California????

The apples pictured in this photo are from Washington, and the Bleu Cheese is from Wisconsin.  I have no idea where the canteloupe, cucumber, broccoli, or milk came from because the only identifier on them was "USA." 

Oh, yeah thanks!
That narrows things down for me a lot.

I went ahead and fed my family these products even though I had no idea where they came from, who grew them, or what kind of pesticides, chemicals, or additives had been used in their production.
That's actually a pretty scary sentence.

 Probably the most confusing purchases of the day were these. 
Why in heaven's name did these world travelers show up in my Southern Mississippi grocery store?

The bananas are from Guatemala, the yellow pepper from Canada, the kiwis from Chile and the blackberries are from Mexico.
I grew up picking blackberries (that's how I found out I was allergic to redbugs, or chiggers as we call them in the South)
And, I have yellow peppers growing in MY garden.
Are you as confused as I am?

While I know that sometimes we have to have certain items shipped in, it seems silly for me to be buying items from Mexico that I can buy right here in my own town. 
If everybody did at least that...buy what they can locally instead of buying those same items shipped from faraway places, imagine how much gas/oil would be saved.



  1. I'm with you on being self-sustaining. My husband has actually started buying books on being, what he calls, "off the grid"
    When we retire, and have our forever house, we want to grow as many things as we can, and support the local economy as well. You'll be able to see my house from space. My husband will have windmills, solar panels, and Lord only knows what else. That engineering background the Army has provided will come in handy!
    Here in Hawaii, we get LOTS of stuff shipped in and the climate is perfect for growing so many things. Unfortunately, there are so many people here, there's not room on this small island to grow things anymore.

  2. You have certainly given me much to think about! I never even thought about where my "healthy" food was coming from! And to think that I can buy most of it locally. I am planning to do that starting right now. I will stop at the roadside stands. I will eat from my garden (when it yields). I will purpose to drive across town to the Farmer's Market instead of buying all of my produce at Kroger.
    Thanks for eye opener.

  3. You preach it, sister. I'm going to the Farmer's Market this afternoon. I've been mulling over Kingsolver's book for months, but I admit I haven't done a great job of changing my habits. I hope to really get serious about it this summer.

  4. Great post! I've been an avid "ingredient" reader for years and, in the last couple years, a regular "made in" reader.
    The problem I'm finding now, in my quest to grow more of my own stuff, is that I am so, shall we say, small scale, that it often costs me more to grow my own than it does to buy it. Start to finish, my expenses to grow 50 well beyond what I would have paid for at the market. Crazy, huh? But I know, it isn't just about the expense.

    Anyway, I've more to say, but don't want to hog your comment page, so I'll stop. :-)
    I'm wishing right now you were right across from me so we could discuss this more - I feel we could talk for a long time about this topic you have quite eloquently written about today. :-)
    One more thing, though...you know what else drives me crazy?! All the waste and non-recyclable packaging used to shrinkwrap that corn. Grrrrrrrr!!!!