09 March 2008
I know too much.
I want (need?) meat. I've had a lingering cold for months now, which I can't quite seem to beat. I've taken to tea with honey and lemon. I've adopted raw garlic--two cloves per day. I sleep long regular hours. I eat well. I do this and I do that and my constitution still does not quite function. I make yet another hypothesis. In December when this cold began, my meat consumption was falling to no more than once per week. Perhaps I am lacking an essential amino acid. I need a silver bullet protein that will take care of my panoply of amino acid needs. So it is off to the grocery store with a singular mission.
That's where I live. San Francisco, California, in The Mission neighborhood. It is a neighborhood in which Spanish not English takes the front seat. The corner bodega caters to the population with organic food relegated somewhere to the back of the bus or more accurately, not even on the bus. So for that reason, it is the IGA where I will spend my dollar today. As I cross the halogen lit parking lot entering into the expansive supermarket, I am hyper-aware of the cultural divide between the two shopping experiences. Spanish vs English, cracked well-worn tiles vs waxed and polished ones, narrow aisles wandering between shelves vs wide boulevards running straight and labeled A through F. And the people. It is laughable how once crossing the IGA portal, I enter into a world that can only be described as White. The Mission could have an overnight exodus of every non-Spanish speakers and the streets would remain teaming with activity, virtually undisturbed by the emigration. Yet here is a haven of America; that dominated by strip malls, 24 hour diners, and produce far removed from the source. And the store is entirely devoid of anyone looking remotely Latino. (Except myself I suppose--I know, but my skin is dark.)
The meat aisle unfortunately looks rather devoid of organic meat. I stroll its length seeing twenty-thousand hazy reflections of myself in the glaring light, as reflected by the plastic wrap which with styrofoam ensconces the various options. As I turn 180 and slowly walk the length again, I began to carefully scrutinize my choices. It is fish first. Half of the choices have a sticker on the packaging certifying the contents as "Sea Safe". I pick up the salmon fillet hopeful, then realize that I have never heard of the standard. Sea Safe could very well be an industry designation with little meaning. The other half of the seafood has a variety of stickers including ones with the words USA, Vietnam, Farm Raised, Caught in the Wild and more. I quickly dismiss this information as hardly useful in making a humane decision as location means little, Farm Raised fish suffer and poison wild populations, and Caught in the Wild is good from a "free range" perspective but often times mired in politics, over fishing, and poor practices. From the sea options I abruptly transition into red meat and sausages, which practically screams foul from conception to packaging. With images of pigs which can't turn in their pens while wallowing in fecal matter to cows alive and kicking imminently headed for the glistening blades of the meat grinder after not receiving an electric coup de grace, I shudder and move into poultry. It is there that I stand in awe thinking about the miracles of modern science in which less than three pounds of feed is able to grow a pound of flesh. Certainly interesting, though is certainly aided by the lack of exercise an animal suffers from when having 44 square inches to itself, and for the cage free variety a bit more than that, though still slightly less than the 93.5 square inches of a regular sheet of paper.
I turn around and visit the center island where the pre-packaged and branded meats lay, only to be rebuffed by many of the same objections. My eyes then fall on some brown-board packaging with progressive looking coloring which overlies the shrink wrapped links within. Thinking I have at last found an organic option my heart pulses faster. As I read the playful modern script, I quickly realize that what I am looking at is merely effective marketing. And then like a beacon of hope, I spy the lone organic meat option in the store. Score! As I my trembling hand reaches forth picking up the nonpareil of virtuous amino-acid protein, my excitement is quickly shot to pieces once I view the nutrition facts: 40% daily sodium allowance per small morsel. With head hung low I make my way out the door.
My sadness is quickly tempered by thoughts of how even organic meat is not necessarily a lone cow grazing in a pasture or chickens pecking in the backyard. My mission in The Mission at the supermercado was likely doomed from the start.
Consumers say they want organic meat but at the heart of it want humane responsible meat, with the organic label a window into that. Unfortunately the term organic is under pressure from lobbyists on the production side. Lacking omniscience, (oh the short comings of economic theory) you and I rely on such indicators. We must keep the term organic strong and in line with what we believe it stands for.