A Very 99 Percent Holiday
Look, it's okay. I'm not going to tell you to shop at farmers markets. This is just between you and me, of course, because farmers markets promote organics, local farmers, minimal transportation impacts, and purple carrots. But those overpriced purple carrots were obviously fertilized by the shit of cows that ate diamonds. No one can afford a purple carrot. They're just for photographs.
I was curious about other options that can help tilt the balance of power back toward the 99 percent this holiday season—options at the non-exorbitantly-priced corporate- overlord grocery stores. So I called Scott Exo, executive director of Food Alliance—which oversees certifications for foods based on environmental, social, and labor performance—and cut him off whenever he mentioned an overpriced natural market, reminding him that we, the proletariat, are dying in the recession.
"Shopping with your values in mind has to send a signal about what we are rewarding," Exo explains. "We have to figure out how we can reward those folks who are growing beef on pasture, doing it at a price point that is reasonable—not just for the rich—and create a supply chain that works for people. That happens one step at a time."
Here are some easy steps.
Avoid the Corn: You're buying corn even when you don't realize it, and corn production is certifiably evil. Our country produced 88.2 million acres of the stuff last year, according to the USDA, which is an area larger than the entire state of New Mexico. Here's how it's grown: Monsanto sells its signature seed that's resistant to herbicides, our government subsidizes the fuck out of its cultivation, farmers oversaturate corn crops with fertilizer to satisfy the subsidy deals, and lots of that fertilizer washes down the Mississippi, creating an algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico that sucks up all the oxygen and kills sea life in an 8,500-square-mile region. Of all that corn, only a tiny fraction ends up on our plates in corn form—most goes toward feeding livestock. I'm not telling you to be a vegetarian. But beef is basically made of corn. "On a caloric efficiency on the feed in and protein out, pork and chicken are a lot better than lamb or beef," says Exo. So choose chicken, pork, or grass-fed beef. If you want corn or soybeans (another Monsanto crop) in your holiday feast, make sure they're organic or certified un-evil somehow. And instead of serving standing rib roast for your Xmas dinner, go with the pork roast or the turkey, even if you can't afford organic/free-range/raised-on-purple-carrots.
Which brands to skip: Lots of the brand-name products advertised on television are turning Americans into a herd of pallid manatees. Corporate conglomerate Kraft, which owns more than 100 brands, reported $49 billion in revenue last year. It is most certainly the 1 percent. Plus, there are other giants like General Mills, Tyson, ConAgra. Are there any megabrands that we should never touch? "I don't think there is any brand that rises to that level of alarm," Exo says. "Companies at a variety of scales are beginning to wake up to their obligation to do a better job." Note he says that they're beginning. They need to hurry the fuck up.
Which Brands to Buy: Check out Unilever, an international conglomerate that's made strides to reduce its carbon footprint and promote fair trade. They're the people behind Lipton teas, Knorr, Ben & Jerry's (endorsers of the Occupy Wall Street movement), and scores of other products like Bertolli pasta, Best Foods mayonnaise, and Wish-Bone salad dressings. Sounds like time for a festive fair-trade pasta salad!
If you need eggs or dairy products, meanwhile, Wilcox Farms, an egg producer in Washington State, has broken hens away from those terrifying cages that all chickens used to live in. "They are converting as quickly as they can to free-range operations," says Exo. Locally, Darigold has been farmer-owned for 93 years and rBST-free since 2009.
But beware of unsubstantiated claims, "many of which are BS, such as sustainably grown, humanely raised, natural, or free range," Exo says. "It may be a valid claim—if it is backed up." What you need, he says, are "true, independent third-party certifications" for such claims. You can find a handy guide to exactly that at www.foodalliance.org/eaters-guide—it'll tell you which brands give their farmers fair pay, provide workers with competitive wages, employ sustainable agriculture, and use a traceable supply chain.
Where to Shop: Believe it or not, Costco has been grilling its suppliers to make sure they support fair labor conditions in third-world countries, maintain humane conditions for livestock, and avoid hormones in their products (like rBST in milk). And Trader Joe's carries lots of its products in organic varieties for almost the same price as the regular stock. A word of warning, though: Trader Joe's often doesn't identify its sources, which could be dubious when it comes to certain endangered seafood, like shrimp for your lovely first-course shrimp cocktail. "They may be doing a good job on the back end, but there is little accountability," says Exo. And, hey, if you can afford purple carrots, go to the farmers market.