Outside the Los Angeles cityscape begins its nightly routine. Griffith Park Observatory glitters in the distance, like a trusty light house guiding ships through the darkness, and the humming of Sunset Blvd quiets, as people of this city wind down their work day and head home.
For me, my nightly routine includes sitting and working in my kitchen, where I’m always within arm’s reach of something fun to snack on. In case my thoughts begin to wander or in case I need some extra motivational nourishment, my kitchen has its perks (and serious distractions!) and ironically it’s the place where this story begins.
Early this year, I vowed to become a strict vegetarian. Inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s journey to expose factory farming, I became recommitted to a meatless life. I cleaned out my refrigerator and cupboards and cooked up all the meat (and byproducts) and fed it to the dogs. No more chicken sausages or chicken stock, no more fish or caned tuna, and no cheating even when I’m struggling to find something savory to bite into.
Never a big meat eater, I made this transition rather easily. And after I learned what factory farms and agribusiness does to animals and the land of our country, I wanted nothing to do with their “meat”. Simply put: the idea of creating, processing, and selling this cheap “meat” so that hundreds of millions of us (just like you and me) can buy it, prepare it and consume it without knowing its origin or what it actually is disgusted me. Frankly it’s cheap meat for meat’s sake!
Initially becoming a vegetarian was a lifestyle shift that put to rest all of my food anxiety about eating the right thing … that was until I picked up “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. Part first hand docu-journal, part vegetable garden recipe diary, this book follows Kingsolver and her family through a year in their life as they grow everything they eat from the land where they live. If they couldn’t grow it on trees, or from a bush, or in the ground, or raise it from infancy, they swore it off for an entire year.
Aware of the “local” food movement for quite sometime and with a restaurant in my ‘hood of the same name, I understand the importance of supporting local farmers who are doing their thing to make a living. But simply knowing the locality of my food was just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce!), and the deeper I read into this book, the more I began to analyze my own food selections. “Is this food local? How far did this piece of fruit travel from where it was grown so that I could eat it in my kitchen? How much fossil fuel was consumed so that my cheap and lazy palette could enjoy these exotic flavors?”
To put to test this newly acquired knowledge and with these questions in mind, I packed up my reusable bags and headed to my local TJs for my weekly grocery shopping adventure. Perusing the aisles, I saw stuff I know I didn’t need or want: Mexican grown tomatoes (NO!), Canadian Brown Rice Pasta (NO!), Washington State Apples (Delicious but NO!). As my bags remained empty, I began to worry I might leave the store with nothing. Then I spotted one of my favorite guilty pleasures: Flattened Bananas.
Having read my way through nearly the entire book, I knew better than to assume these bananas were grown locally. I was also willing to bet that they were probably driven, flown, and boated from some tropical place in the world before they were placed in this grocery store in Los Angeles.
I flipped over the package. It read: PRODUCT OF THAILAND. (Uh-oh!)
Now listen … I’m all for guilty pleasures and splurges. Sometimes you just have to say F*CK IT and enjoy life, even when you know it’s not the right thing to do. But as the great Oprah says, once you know better, you do better. (But no one’s perfect, right?) I’m only human and I really wanted them (!!!), so I told my Oprah Angel to shut up the hell up, and I threw the damn bananas in my bag and continued on my day.
Later that evening as I unpacked my grocery bags and placed the Thailandian Bananas into my cupboard, I felt guilty. I know it’s silly, but true. For me was difficult to neglect the fact that several little pieces of fruit were flown half way around the world just so I could enjoy the taste and texture of a flattened banana. “Is it really necessary?” I asked myself. “Are they really that good?”
As I chewed them piece by piece and savored their sweet flavor, I vowed that night never again to purchase those flattened bananas. So if these were the last of there kind in my home, I certainly was going to enjoy them!
Unless, of course, I travel to Thailand.