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Why I’m Not a Trader Joe’s Fan or A Continuation of a Food Journey Part I

July 7, 2014

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I am prepared for this to be a rather controversial post.

Trader Joe’s is somewhat revered in urban middle class settings.  Cheap food, mostly of the same brand, of decent prepackaged quality draw in the masses.  Here in ATX, Trader Joe’s finally broke into a market dominated by Whole Foods and HEB/Central Market (a Texas brand grocery and high-end grocery store) last fall opening one store on the other side of town.  In the past month, they opened their second store within a couple of miles of our house.  Being the lover of food that I am, I had to check it out (on the opening day of course).

I won’t be going back frequently.

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I am lover of all things Barbara Kingsolver.  I started reading her books back in the 1990’s, when she wrote primarily about the Southwest and Central America.   After traveling in Central America, I found myself drawn to her books.  I read the Poisonwood Bible along with every other Oprah watching woman who liked to read but preferred Prodigal Summer because of its setting in the Appalachian Mountains.  I naturally picked up Animal, Vegetable, Miracle because it took place in town I’d driven through on interstate more than once.

If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, let me give a very brief synopsis.  The book is a mix of memoir and nonfiction writing on the ecosystem and gardening.  Kingsolver packed up her family living in the dessert of Arizona, where they relied on others (in California, etc) for all their food to move to a place where they could produce all their own foods.  She desired to move from a consumer lifestyle to a producer lifestyle, living off their own land.  The family decided to only buy food products they couldn’t produce themselves locally for a year.  They did give themselves each one guilty pleasure–coffee for one of them, dried fruit for another.  The book combines chapters on their experiences being “farmers” (the turkey chapter being one of the most humorous and educational) with information on sustainable living–living in a way that our earth can handle for years on end.

I consequently joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at a small farm called Johnson’s Backyard Garden.  Once a week, a drove out to the farm and chatted with Farmer Brenton and picked up my box.  At first we had no idea what the vegetables we were getting were…what was this thing called Bok Choy, all these funny looking summer squash thingies, and these alien looking vegetables?  (turned out they were kohlrabi).  I bought a split quarter of beef from a local farmer, whose farm I drove out to in order to pick up my cow.  I only bought my meat and eggs from the farmer’s market (for a while our CSA had their own eggs, now they sell another farmer’s eggs with their shares).  When I shopped at the grocery store, I  allowed myself to buy onions and garlic year round, but the rest of the produce, I passed over unless it was in season and from the state of Texas (much to my husband’s chagrin).  I bought a lot of my vegetables at the farmer’s markets and learned where the apple orchards in the state were (and even visited one once).  I had my own garden in the back yard where I grew tomatoes in the summer and greens in the winter.  I had enough tomatoes from my heirloom plants to can them as sauce for the rest of the non-tomato producing year.

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Wasn’t this expensive, everyone asked me?  Well, the meat and eggs were.  We found ourselves eating less meat though, which according to some, is rather good for you.  I cooked a lot more.   I made my own bread, cakes, and cookies.  For awhile, I made my own yogurt and tried my hand at mozzarella.  (I didn’t like the taste of mozzarella–it tasted too much like milk–imagine that).  I bought partially pasteurized milk at the farmer’s market and made wicked good chocolate pudding from the creamiest part of the milk.  Buying a split quarter of meat was actually cheaper than buying organic, grass-fed meat at the farmer’s market or whole foods.  I actually spent less on food than other of my friends.

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I’ve relaxed a bit since 2007/2008-ish when I started thinking about my eating as an extension of my faith.  I buy fruit in the grocery store, but I try to buy as much Texas fruit as possible when it is in season (and as little Chilean, New Zealand fruit) to limit the number of miles my food travels to get to me (Limiting the miles food travels does two things–the food tastes better because it can be picked riper and it uses less oil/gas to produce the fruit).  I buy my meat at Whole Foods to help limit the amount of antibiotics my children receive without them ever knowing.  My kids’ sports schedules make it harder for me to get to a farmer’s market as often as I like, but when I can go, I do.

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Food choices are a bit like parenting.  We decide what our philosophy is and then we look around at everyone else.  On one side, people are letting their kids drink sprite and gatorade and the other side parents are not letting their children have any processed sugar (like white sugar or brown sugar we buy at the store in addition to all the high fructose corn syrup).  We judge the people on both sides.  How can those parents care so little about their children’s health?  How can they follow the paleo fad and take their children with them?  How can they make their children be vegetarian or vegan?

As I’ve relaxed my vigilant eating habits a little, I’ve relaxed my judgment a lot.  Nutrition is a funny thing.  While we know some things (eat lots of fruits and vegetables), other things are the great unknown.  Is sugar the cause of all our health problem?  Or is it fat?  Or is it meat?  Or is it simple carbs like white breads, white rice, and white pasta?  One person can quote one study (or at least google their position) and someone else can quote a conflicting study.  It’s not clear cut, except regardless of what you eat, unless its fruits and vegetables (especially leafy  or colorful vegetables), too much is not a good thing.

People on each far side of food choices can judge me…I’m too hippie or I’m too lenient in what I (and my children) eat.  Just know, whatever your choices are, I won’t be judging you.  I’ve been wrestling with my food choices since I’ve had children.  I love Nutter Butters and Oreos.  I can also remember that Madeleine didn’t have a milkshake until she was probably 5 and she didn’t like it.  She also thought McDonald’s was for dogs, because I told her so many times their food wasn’t good for us, which is why we didn’t eat there.

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Sometimes I sit down to write with a plan in my head.  By the time I get to about 1000 words (my internal limit which I rarely manage to stop writing by), I discover what I set out to write about I entirely missed.  Thus, this is the end of Part 1.  Maybe in Part 2, I’ll get to more about why I don’t love Trader Joe’s and a couple of books I read recently that I love (and have to do with this subject).

Until next time, savor your food and thank the farmer, known or unknown, who grew the food for you.

 

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