Thursday, May 28, 2009

It Doesn't Pay to Sell Out or A Girl's Gotta Eat

Back when I "went vegan", there were only a couple soy milks on the shelves. Nothing like it is today. Back then (and most of the time, even now) Eden was my brand of choice. Not that I had a whole lot of choice, but even if it wasn't fancy, it was good. Now there are so many soy milks (and other soy products, not to mention a bunch of vegan non-dairy milks made from nuts to hemp) brands, we need a score card. It is somewhat heartening, but possibly a tad crazy as well. With growth and higher sales, at least here in the USA, there comes "selling out". When I took a look at the score card for soy, I was a little surprised at how low Silk brand was rated. I had heard wonderful stories about Silk as a company from people in "the industry" and I knew they had been bought out by Dean Foods, but I hoped they kept some of their integrity. I mean, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Too much to ask or so it seems.

I've been a supporter of Organic Consumers Association for years and receive their emails on a regular basis. While I don't use any one source for information on food and the like, I do respect their organization and find the information useful. So I thought I would take a look at the store today to see if their latest claims about Silk no longer being made from organic ingredients (especially the soybeans) was accurate. Sadly, it seems to be all too true. I noticed the carton looked different. I checked all around and no longer saw the words "vegan" anywhere. I also noticed "natural soybeans" had replaced "organic". Sneaky. What is an "unnatural soybean"? A GMO soybean? It doesn't say "non-GMO" anywhere that I could see. It is sad to see a brand which seemed to be dedicated to quality organic farming here in the US be bought out and completely lose that which attracted customers in the first place. Boycott anyone?

I was selling out myself today. I was shopping at Meijer. A super store. I hate the mega stores for many, many reason, but one non-ethics based reason is they overwhelm me. I like smallish co-ops and natural food stores. I feel comfy shopping there. I prefer the local ones, but I even liked shopping at Bread and Circus (before they were bought out by Whole Foods) and Whole Foods (where there is no local HFS available) when I lived in the Metro DC area. I know I am in the minority for hating Trader Joe's, but I'll get into that some other time. Anyway, I can count on one hand the number of times I've shopped at Meijer, but I admit that the last time I was there, I was taken in by organic frozen fruit from the US on sale 4 bags for $10. We eat a lot of frozen fruit in smoothies or it is just nice to have on hand when the fresh fruit runs out. I am still happy to shop mostly at my local co-op and HFS, but when I can get to Meijer on one bus easily I will take advantage of deals on organic fruit. Or so I thought.

I looked for several minutes for organic frozen fruit. Going up and down the frozen food section with the kids in a ridiculously big cart. I finally asked two people who I guessed were being paid by Meijer since they were pricing or rearranging food. I will not say they "worked" there because they looked at me like I was speaking another language when I asked where the frozen fruit was and I added "organic" to make them completely unnerved. They acted like they have never seen such a thing in the store before. Perhaps it is the time of year and they don't stock frozen fruit in the summer (I doubt this because they seem to have enough space to stock mega containers of sauerkraut). I swear it was only a couple of weeks ago when I bought the sale organic frozen fruit. We went to Meijer then for some Lego set for a birthday present since to my knowledge we don't have a local toy store which stocks Lego. This is the only reason Dema thinks people go to buy Lego. When pitting Meijer and Toys R Us against each other, Meijer wins...don't ask me why, it just does...or did.

I still bought some sale fresh organic berries so it wasn't a complete waste of time, but it was a tad disappointing. I recently had a discussion with some new vegan friends outside our local natural food store. They like Meijer because of the selection of organic foods and one stop shopping could be seen as kinder to the environment (I would buy that if Meijer or the mega store which shall not be named or shopped at for any reason, but begins with W ever located their stores in downtown areas). Anyway, since we don't own a car, I don't care how many stops we make. I have lots of friends who shop there and I want to get. I really do. I'm happy to save some money. Believe me. We are cutting corners as much as a family who eats very little processed foods, gardens, buys most non-food items second-hand, doesn't own a TV, and doesn't own a car can do. I'm just saying, we've never been ones for extravagant spending. Even when we made "a lot" (whatever that means) and we had two very decent incomes coming in with no kids, we lived in a very modest condo and took mass transit most of the time. Sure, we are "organic snobs". I mean today my 5 year old asked for the yellow raspberries because they looked "cool" and I picked them up to check out the label and my 9 year old said "Don't buy them mom! They aren't organic!!!". I told him it wouldn't kill them to eat one container of conventionally grown raspberries. Parker went into all the reasons we should buy organic and then after about 5 minutes of me convincing him it wasn't going to destroy the planet this ONE time to eat one container of yellow raspberries for goodness sakes. He said, "Okay, if you promise to wash them really well." I know he gets this from me (pre-kids, living in Maryland, I refused to buy produce one day because the store we were at didn't have any organic produce and Rob lovingly...or more likely exacerbated, but I'll remember it as lovingly... reminded me it is better to eat some produce than go without because it is conventionally grown) so I totally get him. Yes, we are organic freaks, but we do without some things or put more effort into others in order to buy where our heart is.

Is there a point in here somewhere? Silk selling out reminds me why I shop at the local stores when I can. I have some effect and some say (especially at a co-op) in what they stock. I vote with my dollars. Well, I feel like shopping at Meijer (for me....for now) is selling out. If I buy Meijer brand organic foods, I am supporting Meijer stocking organics and/or I am taking the money away from smaller companies who truly care about organics. Who do this not as a fad, but because they know it is right. I support them and hopefully they stay in business (and don't grow and sell out as Silk has done). I support Meijer brand organic foods and the others go out of business and then one day I shop at Meijer and all the organic options are gone. Who knows why. Maybe they decided the fad was over or they got tired of dealing with organic farmers or they grew so big there weren't enough organic farmers to keep up with the demand because the little guys are now out of business and Meijer no longer has the option to have its own organic brand. I then have no choice. None. I've "saved" myself into a corner and I can either grow my own food or buy conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

Sure, I want to save money as much as the next person. Heck, in this economy, it is more than a want. My husband's employer lays off people every so many months. We've been through one lay-off around the time Josie was born and things worked out as they usually do, but I am no Pollyanna. I know times are tough. I'm not saying I will never go back to Meijer. I probably way over think things which in the end, I'm not sure I have much control over. I mean I am only one person with the spending power of one family of five. I can't stop the tide. Hopefully, organics and companies who truly try to practice sustainability are here to stay. Yes, I know there are bigger issues in the world. Don't get me talking about water. We'll save that for another day. Food is the main expense in our family which I have control over. I spend a lot of time thinking about food. What is best for my family to eat is very important to me. I love food and love to cook, but I don't take it for granted. We live in a part of the world and in an economic class and in a point in history where the food variety, availability, and abundance is completely unprecedented. I don't think even that is sustainable, but this is where I find myself. As such, I will continue to mull these issues around and try to do the best I can with the information and choices I have. I will keep figuring out what works for my family while balancing our checkbook and our values.

In the meantime, a girl's gotta eat.

1 comment:

Jumbleberry Jam said...

I have been a long-time TJ's skeptic. I look forward to hearing your story to see if it's similar to mine ;-) Of course, now that we're broke, I may have to rethink it when we move back to a town with one (sigh).