September 27, 2005

The Organic Seeds of Discontent

SO HELP ME GOD, I did some of my grocery shopping this past week at a “natural foods” store. This will undoubtedly shock those who know me, as I strongly believe in American agribusiness's power to improve food through the use of preservatives, irradiation and chemicals like acesulfame potassium, the Diet Cherry Coke additive. But I happened to chance across the store and went on in, as I’ve found “natural foods” stores often offer good deals or have a different product selection than the larger groceries.

I’m still amazed, though, that it took me so long to discover the store in question. It’s located off a new shopping plaza here in town, but I routinely drove past the place without even knowing it was there. Partially, this was due to my amazing ability to not notice the obvious; for instance, it took me three years to notice the kitchen sink in my apartment had one of those spray nozzle things. But it was also because the store’s sign was designed more to fit in with the scheme of the building rather than to attract customers like me, who often shop at the giant supermarket just one hundred yards away.

Still, though, I found the store, and it was good. Of course, I always feel like a fish out of water in such places, particularly if my mind gets stuck in cynical mode. I mean, I've never been impressed with products whose sole selling point is their supposed "authenticity," as I don't see how anything can truly be inauthentic. (It can be bad, yes. But inauthentic?) I also don't hesitate to eschew organic products if their non-organic product is better.

Still, these stores do have their intangible advantages. For instance, there are always cute women shopping at such places. There are also always strange and outlandish products available for purchase, such as the organic Bible-based pasta.

At least that was my original judgment regarding the Ezekiel 4:9 brand pasta, a flourless pasta which contains several grains and lentils and what not. True, the company only mentions the verse in passing, and focuses on the fact that when all the things (wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt) are combined (per the direction of the LORD our God in the verse) it makes for a surprisingly protein-rich food. Still, though, my thought was: good God -- first pasta, what next? The Ezekiel 25:17 Big Kahuna Tofu Burger? (“That IS a TASTY burger!”) Leviticus 15 hygiene products? (Let’s not go there).

Then I wondered about Ezekiel 4.

Now, like most Christians, I had no idea what the Book of Ezekiel covered, because it’s one of those Biblical books one just tends to accidentally forget. I mean, do you – and here I refer to my Christian readers – remember any verses from the Book of Nahum? No, you don’t. You also don’t remember any from the Book of Haggai, Micah or Habbakuk either. That’s because these are Relatively Obscure Old Testament Books, and Christians tend to skip ahead to the New Testament once they hit Isaiah. And that’s just the Protestant version of the Bible; there are several Extra Bonus Biblical books to accidentally forget when one becomes Roman Catholic.

Well, as it turns out, Ezekiel 4 is all about the Babylonians wrecking Jerusalem, which presents all sorts of questions. Such as, should I even eat the pasta for dinner like normal, or should I save it in my disaster hoard in case of a blizzard? I mean, just look at Ezekiel 4:16-17:

Moreover, He said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem; they shall eat bread by weight and with fearfulness, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and waste away under their punishment.”

Yep. Disaster hoard. Definitely disaster hoard.

Moving on from the pasta aisle, though, I found this store had a small section in which one could buy coffee. I must admit I'm not much of a coffee drinker myself, even though I do like it and I like coffee-flavored things. It was here, though, where I found the yin and yang of the natural foods movement, at noontime in the garden of good and evil.

For here, in the coffee section, a battle was taking place: between the fundamentally good desire to live modestly and treat one's fellow men honestly and decently, and the fundamentally craven desire to boast of one's cultural savvy and sophistication, even if unmerited. You see, there was a couple examining the java for sale, and they were having an argument over it. To paraphrase their discussion, it went something like this:

The woman thought it particularly important to buy the “fair trade” coffee on offer. Such coffee provides the buyer with a guarantee that the coffee’s producers were only minimally oppressed in growing the stuff, and even got an above-market price in the bargain.

Horrified, the man pointed out that the "fair trade" coffee on offer was ground, and intimated he would sooner drink dish water than buy pre-ground coffee, which would have flavor issues. He made a point of not selecting the fair trade coffee his wife/significant other/life companion had chosen.

Annoyed, the woman politely asked whether he wanted to screw over the poor workers who harvested the precious whole coffee beans he so desired.

This caused the man to fall back upon the technical merits of whole-bean coffee, arrogantly explaining to his wife about things like the fragrant, flavor-improving oils within each whole coffee bean.

By this point in the argument, I was biting my lip, so I moved on. But my initial analysis was confirmed when I saw the man in question make a big show of carrying an entire frickin' box of organic vegetables to the register, announcing that he couldn't wait to put them in his home juicer. I couldn't wait for his wife to knock him upside the head with her purse because he was being such an arrogant fuckwit, but unfortunately, that didn't happen.

As one might imagine, I was far more inclined to agree with the woman in the argument, although I admit on technical grounds that both had sound reasoning. But I think the woman won out anyway, and here's why.

There's something to be said for people who make a point of sticking up for their principles on an economic basis. That doesn't happen as much as it should, and it's particularly inspiring when it means making a sacrifice, as buying the fair-trade coffee would have meant. After all, it probably would have lost its flavor pretty quick.

There's also something to be said for moderate living. I've always liked the idea of saving "the good stuff" -- whether it's coffee or drink or food -- for special occasions, because that makes one enjoy the good stuff more. Plus, one never risks having one's luxury become a necessity, something which Andrew Tobias and others have warned against.

Conversely, it's pretty frickin' pathetic when a man publicly argues about supermarket coffee. I mean, it's supermarket coffee. It is not, as a general rule, anything one would write home to mother about. It's bad taste enough to pull out the talking points when one buys Jamaican Blue Mountain or Kona coffee, but to lecture one's wife when buying the Manager's Special "Sorry, We Lost Track" Blend is just amazingly oafish.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at September 27, 2005 08:16 PM | TrackBack

Amazingly enough, I am currently reading through Ezekiel in my daily Bible reading regimen (actually, more like every day but Saturday, but that's another story). I too noted the seeming incongruity in trying to sell a product based on advice given while God was telling Ezekiel how badly he was going to kick some Israelite ass. And, to keep the reference intact, does one need to eat Ezekiel 4:9 pasta while lying on their side for 390 straight days?

Posted by: Aaron W. Thorne at September 28, 2005 10:09 AM

So - what products did YOU purchase ??? You have a great knack for finding cool stuff in places like this!

I was in 'Mustard Seed' yesterday seeking out organic yogurts! Alas, most were loaded with sugar (they don't sell products with 'artificial' anything), so the calorie point was too high for me) Prices high too. This morning I ordered the Salton yogurt maker. I will purchase one carton of good organic yogurt to use as starter, and go from there. Cost of machine - $14.99 ordered directly from Salton. Amazingly, has no less than 128 reviews of this inexpensive appliance, 99% of which are glowing. I can hardly wait to get it!!

So, what DID you buy at the natural food store??

-cousin jannie

Posted by: cousin jannie at September 28, 2005 10:14 AM

Well, that was the thing that got me: in the verse, God basically tells Ezekiel, "OK, you're getting survival food here, and you're going to be lucky to get it." This does not, in my book, symbolize the type of upmarket feelings one would expect to derive from the pasta. Of course, I could be wrong, as I haven't tried the stuff yet!

As for what else I bought -- I found some organic pico de gallo flavored snack chips. Also, I bought some organic black bean soup. The chips were worth it; we shall see if the soup is.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at September 28, 2005 08:28 PM

I used to LOVE Ezekel 4:9 bread. That stuff is so good. Two slices of that toasted is as filling for breakfast as bacon & eggs. You need lots of butter, though, because toasted it is as abrasive as a ScotchBrite scrub pad.

Posted by: Lab Rat at September 29, 2005 03:12 PM