How do you compromise your ethics? How do you eat SLOW (Seasonal, Local, Organic, Whole) or SOLE (Seasonal, Organic, Local, Ethical) when you can only hit a few of the tenets?
Everyone over the age of 4 (except politicians) knows that you cannot have it all your way, every time.
But we’re talking about the future of the planet and the lives of our loved ones here. We’re talking about happy animals, and the health of the soil.
I’ve written about this before, in the context of easing yourself into the lifestyle. But for those of us already deep into it, the daily compromises pile up. It makes me literally sick to my stomach to use plastic bags, and when the person ahead of me at the grocery store gets 10 plastic bags for 5 items I want to scream. There are foods that I’ve entirely given up because I really can’t bring myself to participate in the current food system. Delving into the Dark Days Challenge you start to understand how reliant we are (and I don’t say that as a criticism) on the world wide web that is the modern food system.
So you have to look at those six precepts: Seasonal; Sustainable, Local, Organic, Whole, and Ethical. And draw a line. Where will you not compromise.
I am the best at staying seasonal. I grew up when you could only get peaches in August, so it’s natural for me to understand the concept. I continue to struggle with my children who think nothing of buying strawberries for Christmas. I can’t do it. If I want summer fruit in winter, I damn well better have preserved it while the sun was high. I simply will not eat “fresh” squash in May or “fresh” grapes in January. I don’t eat salad all winter. I don’t need to–the kale and chard stay fresh in the garden until January. What I can’t harvest, I preserve. Even if you don’t garden, staying seasonal is not really much of a challenge at all.
This one is also easy for me since I love to cook. I simply do not buy foods with more than one ingredient, except pasta and bread. (These turn up again and again as problem foods.) This means I now make pickles, all sauces, jams, and most baked goods including crackers. I tried bread-making for about 6 months, but found it suits our lives better to buy it a local mom-and-pop baker. I also eat in restaurants and order pizza, although again, I don’t go to the chains, but only to the locally-owned ones. I like to think that “whole” is the line that I won’t cross, but, in fact, there are places that I have compromised on this.
Whole Foods Market is a giant misnomer to me, because if you’ve walked into a Whole Foods lately, you’ll note that it’s full of prepared foods.
To me, whole food means learn to cook.
I believe in local. Given a dilemma–Local or any other of those five words, I’ll choose local. And by this I don’t just mean grown, or produced, locally. If I can get it from a local farmer, I will. If I can’t get it from a local farmer, I will buy it from a locally-, preferably family-owned, store. Because here’s the thing. Am I trying to live like the ancient Potowatomie (my local Native American tribe), or am I trying to live in the modern world. I believe in the modern world. I don’t mind tracking down our native wild rice, but I also like basmati rice for some dishes, and arborio for risotto. I like salt, which I cannot get from local sources. I like salmon. Chocolate. Coffee.
And the truth is, humans have always traded for these things across long, long distances. There is archeological evidence of trade in dietary necessities like salt, exotic foodstuffs and luxury items from 150,000 years ago!
One of our Dark Days participants ran hard up against this one, calling us the “organic police.” But many people, including me, striving for a more ethical diet don’t always trust the “organic” label; there is a good argument that the certification system has been compromised. Second, local farmers often use organic practices, but haven’t been certified because it’s punitively expensive, being geared to factory farming (Michael Pollan calls it Industrial Organic). And when it comes right down to it, for me SLOW and SOLE is not just about personal health, it’s about healthy, sustainable communities. I can do more for my community buying non-organic Louisiana rice from the neighborhood grocer than by going to Walmart for something from Guam that happens to have an organic label.
I’d rather my food was whole and local than get bent out of shape over some small farmer using Round-up to spot-kill weeds.
While I understand the politics behind this word, I think this is the one that is the hardest for an individual family to impact. It is impossible to know the ethical implications of the food or other items you are purchasing, or to sort through the rumors. Years ago someone published an ethical shopping guide to steer you away from companies with poor ethical practices. First of all, it turned out that a lot of really bad companies had created all these brands to reach people like me who wouldn’t, for instance, buy products, howsoever organic, if I knew they were owned by Phillip Morris. And when they got outed, they just buried the relationship a little deeper. You can’t win this game. Unless you want every shopping trip to turn into a graduate thesis, easier to stop asking questions and focus on Local and Whole. Stop buying your meat at Safeway; find a local CSA, chicken farmer, or rancher and a lot of your ethical issues go away.
I like this term better than ethical to get to the same place. If you shop and eat, and in fact just live, sustainably, you stop having to worry about every other one of these words. By definition, focusing on sustainable practices means you’re buying whole foods, cooking them yourself, reducing food miles, and supporting local economies. If you’re trying to live sustainably, you’re not buying things you don’t need, you’re avoiding plastic and over-packaged goods; you’re cooking, and walking, you know your neighbor and your farmer.
Be mindful of how you consume, without letting dogma consume you.
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