I push my shopping cart through Whole Foods, passing produce, bottles, jars and cans, and plastic clamshells. I veer over to the bulk aisle and pull out my washed Ziplock bags. I need fair trade chocolate chips (who doesn't!), rolled oats, organic cashews and, hmm, that's it.
I meander through the refrigerated aisles, overlooking stacks of egg cartons, juice and milk, and pluck a large carton of organic, local yogurt off the shelf. Even though most eco-bloggers claim it's a piece of cake, I haven't yet mastered the art of making yogurt. I'll try it again this weekend. I need nutmeg and search out some of the organic, fair trade variety. My husband is almost out of coffee and Whole Foods carries, in bulk, the holy trinity of that beverage: shade grown, fair trade, and organic.
I toss dried pasta, local grapeseed oil and two cans of California olives in my cart and head to the check out counter. After loading my selections on the conveyor belt, I make small talk with the tattooed cashier as I swipe my debit card and then retrieve my canvas bag. Ahh, the big grocery shop for the week is over.
Last May, I read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In it, Pollan explores eating outside the industrial food chain. He spotlights one particularly feisty, "beyond organic" farmer, Joel Salatain, who prophesies an "alternative local food system rising up on the margins". This system would depend not only on a new kind of food producer but also on a new kind of buyer. As I toss my single bag - a week's worth of store bought groceries - over my shoulder and walk to the car, it hits me. That new food economy is here and I am that new kind of buyer.
My friends - after buying from these people for a year, I do consider them friends - at the farmers' market provide all of our produce, honey, juice, dried beans and some of our cheese. I buy my flour direct from an ancient mill in wine country, less than a mile from my parents' home, or from the independent health food store within walking distance of my house. I make my own butter, bread, granola, pasta sauce and jam and recently responded to local mom's post to exchange homemade baked goods, jams and such.
Eating within my foodshed has been a journey. The most recent link in this chain is a buying club for local dairy, eggs, pastured meat, and organic tortilla chips. For several months, the club was hosted at another member's home, one city over. We amassed enough members to have a second drop off site, here at my own home. I'm in charge of book-keeping, recruiting enough members to keep the site viable and coordinating orders. As I write this post, I await delivery and look forward to the first pastured eggs of the season, I despair that some of the cheese is still being made and will not be available until next week and I email members to let them know delivery will be two hours late.
Over the past year, I have uncovered this burgeoning, alternative food system. There are no bar-codes, shopping carts or printed receipts. Instead, there are late night deliveries of fresh milk and eggs, rainy treks for broccoli and lettuce, an antique water wheel grinding wheat, another mom's homemade jam, family dinners and, perhaps most importantly, being on a first name basis with every link in my food chain. What a welcome to the new food economy!