Perhaps you've heard that State of Michigan announcement that if every family in Michigan spent just $10 a week on food grown in Michigan it would put $37 million dollars into the Michigan economy and keep our family farms in business?
Probably more than the average bear, I puzzle over the implications of food choices that I make and that other people make. That's why I was (and I do not use this word lightly) enthralled by an email I got recently from my mother-in-law with the photos you see on this page. They're of families from around with world with a week's worth of their groceries. They're from a book called Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. It's absolutely fascinating to see what people eat and what they spend on what they eat. And it's heartbreaking as well.
If you look at what the family from North Carolina eats, there's precious little that's recognizable as a "whole food." Many of the families who appear poorer, like the one above from Ecuador or the family from Egypt, have food that looks like real food while the American and German families, probably among the wealthiest, have the least real food and the most packaged and processed food. And when you see what's available for a family of 6 at a refugee camp in Chad you just want to cry. I try to imagine cooking over a single pot set among the stones on the ground while 5 children look on, but it's unfathomable here in my middle class enclave.
Perhaps the best thing about this book is how the photos illuminate the choices that some people have and the lack of choice that other people live with. This book shows some of the outcomes of the tyranny of choice - endless choice doesn't make us any happier or healthier. But it does make us fatter.
Like most Americans, I don't think of myself as a mighty emperor whose every capricious whim must be indulged. And yet, on the whole, with the availability of any outlandish excess or perceived discount for our dollar, that's what we've become. Like the emperor, we may be mighty but we're also benighted by our self-indulgence and by the surfeit of empty choices. I know I can be more than just an overstuffed Sun King in my own puny domain. I've determined this to be the year that I actually vote with my dollars.
Voting with my dollars equals making a conscious choice about what I want to see more of in the world. Needing things a lot like everyone else and believing that my lot is cast with my own community, every time I buy something it will be replaced by the vendor with 10 more of those. And every time I shop somewhere, another 3 of those stores will spring up. That's how the market economy works, right?
I know I have to do more to find out where things come from and how they were made. But here's what I'm voting for this year: more farmer's markets (of course), more humanely raised meat, more vegetables from Tantré, more pizzas from Silvio's, more beeswax candles, more flour from Westwind Milling, more Scrumpy's hard cider from Al-Mar Orchard, more Michigan cheese.
You can see what other people around the world choose to eat this week at this site my friend Margaret sent: Fridgewatcher.com
And, just to give some sense of the scale of this whole picture, mighty emperor, from a recent COMFOOD email consider how much $406 billion is. $5 billion of that total that is fresh, local food is a small, small percentage. How exactly are we going to get to the $10 a week figure for Michigan?
"In 2006 Americans spent a little more than $406 billion for food at home, according to the consumer expenditure survey data released in October, 2007 (from the Bureau of Labor Satistics - http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm). Assuming that consumer expenditures for food increase by about 1% annually, then the $5 billion estimated for buying fresh, local food in 2007 amounts to 1.2% of expenditures for food at home. The $7 billion estimated for 2011 amounts to 1.6% of estimated expenditures for food at home in 2011. Those percentages are far from the 10% good food goal proposed by Kellogg at the Food and Society conference in April."
What are you voting for with your dollars this year? And with whom is your lot cast?
The river-fog will do for privacy
on the low road a breath
here, there, a cloudiness floating on the black top
sunflower heads turned black and bowed
the seas of corn a stubble
the old routes flowing north, if not to freedom
no human figure now in sight
(with whom do you believe your lot is cast?)
only the functional figure of the scarecrow
the cut corn, ground to shreds, heaped in a shape
like an Indian burial mound
a haunted-looking, ordinary thing
The work of winter starts fermenting in my head
how with the hands of a lover or a midwife
to hold back till the time is right
force nothing, be unforced
accept no giant miracles of growth
by counterfeit light
trust roots, allow the days to shrink
give credence to these slender means
wait without sadness and with grave impatience
here in the north where winter has a meaning
where the heaped colors suddenly go ashen
where nothing is promised
learn what an underground journey
has been, might have to be; speak in a winter code
let fog, sleet, translate; wind, carry them."
-- Adrienne Rich from The Spirit of Place