I'm a writer, so ingesting decent sustenance isn't really a luxury I get to regularly enjoy.
But, when I do have a little extra cash in my pocket, I like to grocery shop, and I like to cook (I am Italian after all). And as of late, I've been having some major grocery shopping issues.
I used to be a regular at Trader Joe's. Overall, the chain is inexpensive, seems to provide a quality product, and--as long as you've remembered your canvas bags--is quite welcoming.
Then, an article came out in the Times last year that talked about here exactly Trader Joe's got its organic produce--specifically tomatoes--from.
Turns out, the Mexican desert.
A naive me was surprised to read that "organic" doesn't always mean local--or even domestic. Oftentimes, products labeled "organic" in the states are coming from farms outside of the country that may not use pesticides or chemicals--adhering to the technical definition of "organic"--but that, oftentimes, are employing environmentally damaging practices (such as over-planting a single crop which damages the soil).
There's also the concern of the emissions from the global transportation process and their effect on climate change. Some of these tomatoes are making their way from the Mexican desert all the way to Dubai, which is great news for the tomatoes--after all, who doesn't like an extra stamp in their passport?--but not-so-great for practicality purposes.
So, I stopped buying produce from Trader Joe's and stuck to things like their coconut milk, frozen crab cakes, and natural peanut butter.
Oh yeah, about that peanut butter.
Turns out, as we learned last month, it wasn't such a hot choice after all, wha with it being contaminated with salmonella and all. (How lonely has celery been since this news, by the way?)
Needless to say, I crossed Trader Joe's off of my list (though I will forever miss their Sunday samples), and considered joining our local food co-op, but realized I didn't own enough pairs of vegan shoes to walk in there without feeling judged.
So, because of its proximity to my house and decent natural foods section, I became a regular Raley's shopper. Which I loathe. Raley's isn't a bad place to shop. It's just insanely expensive. The box of Hemp Milk I buy from there, if not on sale, s around five dollars, but is gone with a few quick swigs from my thirsty boyfriend. The bottle of carrot juice that has only four servings, that I finish every two days? Six dollars on sale. A cart with a week's worth of food for two is never under one hundred dollars--which, if I'm being honest, has its perks: you get a coupon for 50 cents off of every gallon of gas at Raley's gas stations with every grocery-store purchase of over one-hundred dollars. Shop, baby, Shop and Drill, baby, Drill, I always say.
And then, just as I was feeling broke but semi-at-peace with my choice to shop at Raley's, a little gem of information came on The Today Show that forced me into the swift and rightening realization that it doesn't matter where you shop: Our food is, for lack of a better term, fucked.
*(As a side note--can The Today Show please start covering topics that don't incite instant paranoia? Case-in-point: They once did a story on First-Time-Surfer Paralyzation which resulted in my mother calling me in near tears every time I went to California.)
Now, to get back to the frightening topic at hand, last year alone 3,000 people died after eating contaminated food. But, while that number is shocking, it still felt distant. At first. And then I learned this little warm-fuzzy: The FDA inspects only six percent--yes, six percent--of food facilities in the U.S. The rest of the facilities--the 94 percent the FDA doesn't visit--are inspected by private companies hired by the food industry. Private companies who, I'm sure, are looking out for our well being and making sure two-year-olds don't die from eating spinach, right?
Not so much.
Of particular note, is the fact that these companies repeatedly gave high safety marks to facilities that produced contaminated food that either sickened or, in some cases, killed unknowing consumers.
A plant that produced contaminated ground turkey that sickened a en-month-old girl (who now may have respiratory problems in her adult life due to the contamination) received a 100-percent rating from a private company before and--this is the kicker--DURING their recall of the ground turkey.
Oh, and about those killer cantaloupes. The ones contaminated with listeria that were responsible for the deadliest food outbreak in 100 years? (In all seriousness, though, we shouldn't blame the cantaloupes; I just liked the alliteration in "killer cantaloupes.") he plant that produced them, Jensen Farms, was given a superior rating of 96 percent.
The best part of all? The inspection process these private companies employ involves no--as in zero--scientific testing. I guess they're banking on being able to spot salmonella and listeria with an unaided eye. (Okay, "unaided" may be a little harsh--they could be wearing glasses.)
Needless to say, I'm reconsidering my position on shopping at the food co-op. Which reminds me, I've got to get some vegan shoes.