Friday, January 20, 2023

Andy Young: Buy local (but read the label)

By Andy Young

Like most currently breathing people who wish to stay alive for the foreseeable future, I consume food on a regular basis. But since not everything I like to eat grows on literal or figurative trees, periodically I sojourn down to the grocery store to purchase edible items for my family and myself.

Several factors need consideration before I visit the supermarket, and one is price. Like everyone else who doesn’t have a trust fund, or who isn’t a successful counterfeiter, I have a limited budget, so if name-brand Rice Chex are $4 a box and the generic variety goes for $2.50, well, we’ll be breakfasting on Toasted Rice (or possibly Rice Squares, depending on which store I’m in) for a while.

But there are expenses involved with food shopping that go well beyond dollars and cents.

Buying local is important, since money spent in one’s own backyard goes into the pockets of those who run nearby farms, dairies, and orchards, and ultimately ends up back in the local economy.

The alternative, while sometimes nominally cheaper, comes with hidden costs, like contributing to the planet’s warming thanks to all the noxious substances emitted by the trucks, planes, and boats necessary to move products across the country and/or ocean.

Besides, who wants to subsidize ski villas, tropical island paradises, and the luxury yachts and aircraft necessary to commute between them for already obscenely overcompensated CEOs? Or, for that matter, who wants to bankroll their less fortunate corporate brethren, those who can afford several ski villas or multiple island homes, but not both?

That said, it’s not always easy to buy local. Try as I might, I can't find any Maine-grown pineapple, or any delicious New England-grown bananas, for that matter.

Something else I do before purchasing anything edible is to read the product’s label, a task that gets more challenging with each passing year. I hope that’s because manufacturers are making the print on the labels smaller but fear it’s due to a less desirable scenario: my own declining eyesight. One rule of thumb I religiously adhere to: if there are more than three unpronounceable ingredients listed on a product’s label, I’m not buying it.

Some labels contain information too intriguing to ignore. A good example of this is Trader Joe’s Harvest Hodgepodge, a 16-ounce bag of frozen vegetables. The ingredients (listed here, verbatim, in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS because that’s how Trader Joe prints them) are: BROCCOLI FLORETS, JULIENNE SLICED CARROTS, RED PEPPER STRIPS, ONION STRIPS, SUGAR SNAP PEAS, SLICED MUSHROOMS, BABY CUT COB CORN, SLICED WATER CHESTNUTS.

Also on the label is the following information: Product of USA, Mexico, Canada, Belgium, Vietnam, and Thailand.

It doesn’t specify which vegetable(s) come from which country, though, which leads educated consumers like myself to wonder exactly what it is we’re getting. Are these Vietnamese water chestnuts, Belgian snap peas, Canadian carrots, and American onions? And if so, what came from Thailand and Mexico? Or are these Mexican onions, Belgian mushrooms, and Thai red pepper strips? What if America’s only contribution is those lousy julienne sliced carrots? And most mystifying of all, how can eight vegetables from six different countries get flash-frozen, bunched together, and still cost less than a box of Toasted Rice cereal?

So, did I buy a bag of Trader Joe’s Harvest Hodgepodge? You better believe I did! Getting a nutritious mixture of eight different frozen vegetables from a trio of continents for under $2 is the sort of bargain one doesn’t find every day.

Besides, since one of the vegetable-providing countries is the USA, I can honestly say I’m buying local. <

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