Thursday, February 4, 2010

An inconvenient question

I've grown up debating. It's part of how my family works: in the midst of every major life decision, whether it's where to go to college or whether to take a job abroad or why the heck I am leaving a paying job to bicycle myself around the country, there's been a debate. Before engaging in any of these discussions, I learned quite young to come with my points and my evidence and my answers to anticipated questions. And there were always multiple sessions with follow-up questions and character witnesses, between which the courtroom participants broke for snacks and deliberation. Anyone speaking up for another family member being grilled on the witness stand -- usually the dinner table -- was accused of being a public defender. Mom used to say I should've gone to law school. (Now she's proud I didn't.)

The other night included yet another chapter in a series of phone debates between dad and I on the importance of sustainable food. Dad gets most of it -- less chemicals; better treatment of land, animals, and workers; mindful water use -- but I have yet to convince the judge why it's important to change our behaviors to support a better food system. How our individual choices make a difference. The item on the evening's docket: seafood. Dad had read my post on the Seafood Watch guide and while he's not out to actively destroy the planet he made some strongly worded points about the inconvenience of shopping and eating sustainably. "How am I supposed to know how the tuna on the menu was caught?" he argued. "Do you really think the guy at the Giant knows where the shrimp came from?"

"Well," I answered, "Ask. If they can't tell you, choose something else."

Now, let me reiterate here that I am not a purist. I eat things sometimes that are not local, not in season, and, yes, even sometimes not sustainable. Am I to turn down the friendly offer of barbecue from the next campsite over? No. But I do try my best, especially when I am paying for it. If there's something on the menu or at the store that might be questionable, I ask about it. If I don't get a good enough answer and there is another option, I choose something else. "Is the chicken local? Is it free-range?" or "Do you know where the shrimp come from? Are they wild or farmed?" If there's no option to have a free-range turkey at Thanksgiving, consider me a vegetarian.

I can't unlearn what I know, and I cannot (and would not choose to) divorce what I am learning from how I live my life. I actually get physically anxious throwing something that could be composted into the trash when I'm at someone else's house. (It's true.) There will no doubt be growing pains as I continue to become a more knowledgeable consumer. If dad's happy about how inexpensive steak is at the supermarket, or how cheap Alaskan crab legs are on sale this week, how do I explain without coming across as self-righteous that food *shouldn't* be that cheap? That supermarket chains are not charging us for the true (health and environmental) costs. That if we paid a fairer price for more humanely produced meat, it would cost more. Too expensive? Eat less of it. Look at how relatively inexpensive organically grown kale is. (And I know you love that massaged kale salad....)

I am not a doom and gloom kind of person -- ask anyone -- and I actually look at making more positive food choices as something joyful. Instead of looking at food and grumbling about what you're passing up, how about reveling in what you can happily enjoy with your conscience as well as your tastebuds? "Yay, strawberries are in season again!" or "Maybe I should try a glass of this organic cabernet and sample some raw, local sheep's milk cheese." or "Oh, look, farmed oysters are in the 'enjoy' column on the Seafood Watch guide. Another reason to indulge in oysters." I can go on like this all night....

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

  1. I'm very, very late with this comment, but I just saw the post from your visit with Taylor Shellfish in November.

    Yes, you had a real treat there. Those folks are genuine nice and do a lot for our environment here.

    I live near the Chuckanut farm and do a bit of environmental work in the area. Bill T, Bill D., Marco, Jennifer, and the whole crowd are great helpers.

    Glad you had the opportunity ...


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