Shopping is Important

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Last Saturday I shopped at the Calimex in Tijuana. The UU youth and friends built a house for a lovely, deserving family, and I helped with the cooking for 40 people, ages 11-55. There was lots of shopping to do for the omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. Most of it was done in the US, but I'm glad we bought the last few things in Mexico so I could have the fish-out-of-water experience. Even with my little bit of Spanish and a fluent Spanish speaker at my side, we couldn't get across that we wanted some fresh tortilla chips! Never mind, we ate pretty well and built a very sweet little blue house. I hope the kids got a lot out of it, I know I did.

It was uncomfortable at the building site, dusty and rocky, garbage all over, no place to take the kind of break we're used to. Here, we have the luxury of taking our creature comforts for granted. There, I was reminded that most of the world doesn't have that luxury.

The senora of the family we built for said all her life she worked for everything she had, and now she has been given a house. She feels very blessed in her heart. She's a mother like me, but she was born on the other side of the border, so her life is very different. We served lunch together. It was really meaningful for me to recognize that she and I have so much in common despite the superficial differences.

One of the dads had this perspective. Imagine your house burns down and a big group of people shows up at your land. They don't speak your language, but they stay for 2 days and build you a new house. Then they leave, and you never see them again. Here's the thing, it wasn't just us who built the house. There were some Mexican Christian missionaries and their friends who spent their weekend helping us. Many of us were quite unskilled at carpentry, etc. These gracious people came to help us help this family, because that's what you do in Mexico. The word goes out that someone needs help and whoever can help does help. Aren't they rich in this way?

Think about this when you're shopping. How lucky you are to bring your groceries back to your big warm house, to have running water, to be as clean as you want to be. Think about what your life would be like if the dice had rolled the other way and you lived on the other side of the border. And yet, they may have financial poverty, but they have a richness of spirit that is hard to find here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Nutalie wants to know how high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made. University of Iowa's Professor Johnson explains it in (guess where) The Omnivore's Dilemma. The corn is soaked in water containing sulphur dioxide. The swollen kernels are ground in a mill. At this step, the germ (containing all the vitamins) is removed, dried, and then squeezed for corn oil, bottled straight or hydrogenated into margarine. The ground kernels are filtered, and gluten is extracted for use in animal feed.
The rest of the corn becomes cornstarch, then acid is added to break it down into glucose. The glucose can be transformed by enzymes into fructose. HFCS is a blend of 55% fructose and 45% glucose, which tastes exactly as sweet as sucrose.

Some of the cornstarch is sold as is, most becomes HFCS, and some is modified to become adhesives, coatings, plastics, thickeners, gels, and "viscosity control agents" for food. Another portion becomes maltodextrin and maltose. A full tenth of the US corn crop becomes ethanol for fuel. To make every calorie of food processed from corn, 10 calories of fossil fuel energy must be burned.


Who eats all the sugars, starches, and food additives? The industrial eater, a "supremely adapted creature: the eater of processed food." Turning cheap corn into complex food systems makes people spend more $ for the same number of calories, making the food processor rich, but not the farmer.

Be careful what you ask for, Nutalie!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Happy Friday the 13th! A great time for a few scary facts about the food chain and our participation in it (all from The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan). Read them if you dare, moohahaha...

1. McNuggets (and other chicken nuggets created by Tyson foods)are made up of 38 ingredients. Thirteen are derived from corn, some are derived from petroleum, others are unpronouncable. One ingredient, TBHQ, is added to help preserve freshness; it's a form of butane (lighter fluid) that the FDA allows on our food in small quantities. Unfortunate fact: one gram of TBHQ (less than an ounce) can make you sick; five grams of it (a few ounces) can kill.

2. When you eat corn directly, without processing it first, you consume all the energy in the corn. But when you feed that corn to a steer or a chicken, 90% of its energy is lost. The amount of food energy lost in the making of a chicken mcnugget could feed a great many people. For every edible pound a steer gains in its short life (about 14 months), he eats 14 pounds of corn. At slaughter, steers weigh hundreds of pounds.

3. A mcgrilled chicken breast is injected with a flavor solution that contains maltodextrin, dextrose, and MSG.

4. Why so many food products based on corn? Our tax dollars subsidize the farmers who grow corn (most of which goes to feed steers, chickens, and pigs), but not the farmers who grow other vegetables, organic or not. Clever food scientists have come up with ways to use up all the surplus corn by making it into high fructose corn syrup (look for it in almost all processed foods) and other products your body doesn't need.

5. These days, 19% of all meals are eaten in the car.

Hungry? Me too. I'm going to stop eating processed foods...right after I make that Duncan Hines cake for my son's birthday.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Does simple living mean less shopping or more shopping? Here are some ideas from that workshop I went to.

Simple living is:
1. Not easy.
2. About choices.
3. Mindful living.
4. A process, not an end goal.
5. Enjoying what you have.
6. Identifying what is "enough".
7. Removing what you don't want.
8. Adding in what you do want.

Our UU green sanctuary group had a potluck last night, and we shared what simple living practices are working for us. One mom described the morning's trip to the farmer's market with her small children. They tasted and bought organically grown fruits and veggies. They spoke to the farmers who grow what they sell. The kids had fun and the family had a great time together. She said it's mornings like this that remind her that enrolling your kids in soccer or T-ball is not the only way to raise your children.

Simple living tip from the workshop: Pick a day when your house is really chaotic. Invite a dear friend over and don't clean up before they arrive. Tell them you're so glad they could come over and knew they wouldn't mind your messy house. The important thing is that you are spending time together.

Simple living means doing more careful shopping, less pointless shopping. Think before you choose.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I went to Disneyland with my family last Saturday. I feel the need to mitigate. Here are some tips for your next shopping trip. I got them from the San Diego Natural Guide (and revised a few). They left one out: bring your cloth bags into the store instead of leaving them in your trunk (like I do too often).

On average,an individual throws out almost 4 pounds of waste a day (almost a ton of garbage per year). Before making a purchase, ask yourself:

1. Do I really need this?
2. Can I borrow it, rent it, or freecycle it?
3. Can it be recycled, reused, or repaired?
4. How much energy and resources were consumed to create this and transport it to me?
5. Can I get it in a form that has recycled content, was grown organically, or has less packaging?
6. Was this product produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner?
7. Even if this product seems sustainable, do I really want my $ to go to this company?

Buy locally and thoughtfully. Tell your kids and your friends.