Sunday, February 5, 2023

All week I was reading a book about the secret life of groceries

which a friend had recommended, but I'd put off picking up because I wasn't sure I wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes with my groceries. I suspected it might not be great. 

And I was right. I don't know what to do with this information. I have to eat, which means I have to shop for my food. I know the case can be made that I can grow my own food, and I do, sorta, but I can't grow everything, and it's not like I want to raise chickens in my front yard. (Note to my friend who keeps joking about sending me chickens. Please don't.) 

Some backstory: my front yard has a grub infestation. I discovered the problem last fall, when in the process of cleaning up leaves, I raked up large chunks of the lawn. Turns out grubs had eaten the grass roots and now entire sections easily roll up like an old carpet. Pesticides seem to be the go-to solution, but as a rule I don't spray anything in our yard. After some further research, I learned that chickens eat grubs...  but I don't have chickens.

And I don't want them (I REALLY DON'T, DEB!) But a potential fun small business idea (courtesy of my engineering-brained son who lives on a farm): 

"Rent-a-Chicken," where you rent out your chickens to people who have grub infestations. How it works is you set up a fence around the grubby area and let loose your chickens to do their thing for a few days. Come back with your truck to collect the chickens, and on to their next grubby destination! 

But back to The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr. The story is equal parts fascinating and terrible-- whatever Capitalism has to do to give consumers what they want at the moment they want it, and as cheaply as possible, which regardless of how you want to spin it, involves horrific treatment of the people laboring at the bottom of the supply chain. 

The book isn't all dark though. There are chapters on the man behind Trader Joes and one marketing woman's quest to get a coleslaw-like relish on the market and what it's like to work at the fish counter at Whole Foods. Also, what happens on the nights the workers break apart the ice and clean out what's been collecting under that counter. 

Yeah. Probably you don't want to know this. But I hope you will read the book all the same. In the fall when I first discovered the grub infested grass, I had a brief moment of horror, followed by another moment of Let's Pretend I Just Didn't See What I Just Saw. I tamped the dead clumps of lawn back down and decided I'd worry about it later. 

But here I am approaching Later, and I still don't know what to do about the dead lawn. I don't know what to do about the complicated feelings I have about my groceries either. Be grateful, for one, that I have an abundance of food, that someone--many some-ones--did what they had to do to get it to my grocery store. 

And maybe it's time to start looking into renting some chickens? 



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