Friday, February 29, 2008

Food: World Traveler

I just read an article in the last issue of the New Yorker about the carbon footprint of food. It was fascinating to consider thinking about labeling foods for their impact on the environment and a method/standard for doing so. The complexities are enormous--i.e. for a potato chip, do you consider the origin of the oil it was fried in, the impact of emissions of the farm equipment, etc.? Do you put a little plane on the label if it was flown (much more negatively impactive on the environment) or a truck or just one standard of 5 star ratings or what? Who will be in charge of this? It is unbelievably intricate and complicated.

Did you know you could read the New Yorker online? I had no idea and always bemoaned the elitists with their hard-copy in hand until my mom bought me a subscription, which I of course can not keep up with at all. Anyway, I found the article online:

I It is now commonplace for a piece of fruit one eats to travel farther than the person eating it will in a lifetime. I am currently reading a book called "What to Eat" by Marion Nestle, who is the person I consider to be the most influential and academic nutritionist in current existence. She not only seeks to educate and better the health of the nation, she is also an incredible, incredible researcher. Her muckraking skills and journalistic-type diligence are impeccable. I am constantly awed by her work, though I admittedly find her personality a bit less than "nice", but living in New York I am getting to know her type quite well--smarmy, off-put, smart as hell and of a Brooklyn Jewish upbringing. She is sort of a Larry David if Larry David were not funny.

In this book she explores every aspect of every issue facing a person when they go to the grocery store: Does the organic label really mean anything? What is natural? Are trans fats really bad for me? etc. etc. I am currently reading the section on labels of origin for foods, which is an up-and-coming trend that many people are pushing for. Nestle argues that knowing where your food came from is a key indicator to an undeniable amount of information about its freshness, not to mention gives you an indication of its carbon footprint. Eating local is becoming almost as important to the health-conscious as eating organic, and in fact, the term "locavore" was the 2007 Word of the Year for the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Eating locally has gained clout among leading nutritionists and foodies as well, because, among other reasons, when one eats locally, one eats seasonally--you are eating the freshest foods at the most apt times, which, they believe, also puts you in a sort of symbiotic relationship with your environs. There seems to be something to be said for that, as hokey as it might sound. Sure, if I had done this my whole life I would have never tasted probably 90 percent of the foods that I have (imagine, never knowing what a kiwi tastes like), but making an effort to be conscious of season and region is definitely not a bad idea, both for your health and for your environment.

Ideally, within the next few years country of origin labels (COOLs as they are known in the nutritionist world--a very fitting name), are going to be on everything, giving people an indicator of how far their food has traveled. This is important and necessary and will ideally span more than just specialty stores (cough cough Whole Foods) that pretty much do it already, but are too expensive for the mass population to afford.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bags of New York.

Welcome to my blog. This is my first post, so I should probably lay out some intentions. Naturally, I am unsure of exactly what I want to do here, but I want to explore issues that intrigue me in food, consumerism, shopping, the environment, sustainability and the like--all while exploring a new city and getting acclimated with a new lifestyle. Ideally, I hope to create a "food blog" that, through exploring issues of eating in New York, also depicts scenes from my life here. I should have blogged when I lived in Paris. So, here we are. I will try to include pictures and links to articles as much as possible (though no one ever reads the articles, do they?) to keep things interesting.

Alright, here goes.

Everyone is at this point probably familiar with the "bag" (specifically, the plastic bag) issue as one of the big "green issues" that we are often hearing about and concerning ourselves with these days. I would like to point out, as an aside, my brief thoughts on the green revolution of late. In my lifetime, I have seen two earth-oriented movements. The first came in the mid-nineties when, as an elementary school student, I spent countless hours learning about recycling, doing penny drives for the rainforests and understanding the "ozone layer" as an important part of our well-being and existence on planet Earth--though this pretty much just made me feel bad about using hairspray and I wouldn't say I really got the implications or science involved. This movement did not follow me much farther than middle school, however, and it was not until I returned from my extended stay abroad that I realized a new, and certainly different, movement of the same type was underfoot in America. This time bigger. More educated. More multi-faceted. People were interested not only in global climate change, but they were also curious and passionate about food/organics/naturals, carbon footprints, sustainability, their health in general, the health of the planet in general, the war, the election, politics (ok, not related), but people were like waking up from a 90s-riche-worryless-happy-sugary-consumerist coma that they had been in for a decade or two and seemed like they cared again. Beyond hairspray. Great, I said.

That, however, is really neither here nor there, nor what I would like to write about, but something I had been considering and contemplating. Of course I consider myself to have been interested in the environment, certainly, all along, like one of those people that claims to have liked the band before they were famous, but the food stuff was certainly something I came into later, starting in France and then continuing upon my return home.

So, bags. Goodness, bags.

In New York, there is a problem with over-bagging. Certainly some situations call for mulitiple-bagging and whatnot, but almost unfailingly, I receive a double-bagged item when I purchase something. When I purchase ANYTHING. The smallest thing receives a bag, if not two, and the city that never sleeps is also the city of fast-paced-ness, as you may be able to imagine, and therefore the bagging of items happens so rapidly that I am unable to note my protest or denial of said bags before I am scooted out the door in the wave of the crowd. I can barely get out my order and my money before, so instantaneously, my bagel is toasted, my change is in my hand and I am being given my breakfast in two bags. It's like there's no time to say, "I don't need a bag, thank you". It is frustrating! So frustrating!

Today I was feeling ready and prepared to put my foot down. I was in a hurry, so I went to my usual spot, but it was so crowded (and it was 8:29--I must be at my desk at 8:30) I was relegated to go corporate, so I marched into Dunkin Donuts to get my coffee and bagel and was still feeling somewhat staunch. I ordered. I refused bag for coffee (first refusal), though I was given a heaping MOUND of napkins on top of my coffee--a practice I have only seen in NY. I then waited for my bagel to toast and be prepared. Upon it's finish, it was given to my original cashier and she started to put it in a bag (though, please know that it is already wrapped in tin foil and placed in its own small bag, like a pastry bag). I refused bag again (second refusal), so she hands me the bagel in its small bag and tin foil and throws a heap of napkins on it. UGH! So aggravating. I proceed to take the napkins off, drop them on the counter and take the bagel (third refusal of excess paper products).

I left feeling like an asshole. She looked at me like she was INSULTED.

This is problematic. Even Jordan, who is in environmental school, has trouble refusing bags, or removing his things from something bagged and handing it back to the cashier. I find that people are often, at least ostensibly, offended when you hand a bag back to them or, at the very least, there is some mild tension or hassle associated with it. This is problematic. It takes, like so many other facets of this movement, diligence. A diligence I am afraid may wane, which could be a microcausal indication for the whole movement.

I carry a Baggu ( with me and bust it out RIGHT away. I am working on being unaffected when I receive hassled looks upon bag refusals or returns. It's doing the best thing for all of us in the long run--both you and the person behind the counter. But it's hard.