07 March 2013

Our Daily Bread

We stopped buying bread at the supermarket and then stopped going to the supermarket altogether. I had been reading Felicity Lawrence´s book Not on the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on your Plate (2004) and then the book which accompanies the documentary “Food, Inc.” called Food, Inc. A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer – And What You Can Do About It edited by Karl Weber (2009) and concluded that the best protest I could make to the international food industry is to not support the ubiquitous supermarket chains which are mafia-style conglomerates and the gate-keepers to the world food supply. The supermarkets dictate food pricing, what is available and when regardless of local, seasonal offering, and thrive on a culture of compulsive consumerism in their psychologically manipulative displays of processed foods, all requiring enormous energy inefficiencies in food transportation, perfections in food production only available through petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified crops, and the global need for low-cost, slave-wage laborers available 24-hours a day. In every aspect on every level of our modern, convenience-based food industry we are poisoning the land, air, water, and the lives of desperate laborers and struggling farmers. In addition, the food available to us from such a system is toxically contaminated with hidden fats recycled from a whole industry of fat residues, repackaged with salt or sugar as processed cereals, chips, cookies, crackers, frozen meals, and bread. These recycled fats are known carcinogens and are associated with heart diseases. The pesticide residues on supermarket fruits and vegetables and their legally required washing solutions are filled with neurologically damaging substances. The workers exposed to these chemicals experience all sorts of under-documented ailments permissible because of their unprotected status as undocumented laborers, many times immigrants or refugees intentionally kept ignorant to labor laws and their human rights.

Every problem in the food industry is known, published, investigated and yet we willingly turn a blind eye because we all need to eat and convenience for our daily bread rules us emotionally. Our daily bread, dear Father give us today our daily bread, despite the fact that it is mostly inflated air held together in a chemically perfected web of those toxic, recycled fats with flour so finely ground that it is literally absent of nutrition on the molecular level, requiring vitamin additives, additional transportation shipments and contaminated inefficiencies.

We had long ago abandoned the vegetable and fruit section of the supermarkets, acquiring such items directly from our gardens or the farmers´ markets available year-round in most of Chile. Cheeses and butter and beans also began to be more readily available at the farmers´ market once we started going regularly and getting to know the schedules of which vendors had what available when. For our dry goods we found a local, family-owned business in Valdivia called Ordenes (@Bueras 1902) where we acquire packaged pasta, rice, cooking oil, salt, and sacks of flour as well as grains for the chickens, and dried fruits like raisins and nuts and household items like matches and toilet paper all for better prices than the area supermarkets and more directly distributed. Plus we form relationships with these vendors, social interactions that bring the business of food acquisition back to a more human scale. They remember us, remember that we bring our own canvas bas when we shop, and respond when we request a natural brand of cooking oil or larger portions of popping corn by stocking them on their shelves. Through our contacts and friendships in other bio-regions of Chile we have found direct sources for bulk purchases of olive oil, sacks of whole oats, brown rice, and a small-scale mill for whole wheat flour just east of us in the Andean foothills.

Thus armed with less processed, locally available grains which we can stock-pile all year, we abandoned the last connection we had to the supermarkets: the Chilean tradition of buying bags of white bread rolls and buns from the supermarkets every couple of days, or daily for urban dwellers, for evening tea and breakfast. Instead we quickly learned how to mix up flat bread dough and cook it directly on the wood-fired stove-top; evening tea and morning breakfast staples prepared in about 30-minutes of good rolling and flipping exercise. Or prepare rising dough ahead of time for the clay oven or make quick batters of drop biscuits or pancakes or just eat a bowl of hot porridge instead of bread, or bake granola for morning cereal with our own honey and local butter for added fat that we can source and control the content of.

All of this transition took investigation, footwork and synchronicity to seek out local, non-supermarket sources for our food and household items. And it required leaning how to cook and make many of our own once-processed food items like bread and cereal. We studied recipes and talked to people, exchanged ideas, listened to other generations, remembered how people ate prior to the arrival of the supermarkets, and then dedicated ourselves to the acquisition of food stuffs without the bright lights and marketing traps of the modern supermarkets. In Chile, where farmers´ markets are still a large part of most urban landscapes, I see no real reason besides ignorance and apathy that young urban dwellers do not better support these good, non-supermarket sources for food. There is a claim that the supermarkets are more convenient, but the fluorescent lights reveal tired faces standing in long lines paying for over-priced shadows of the food they may have eaten in their childhoods.

Give us today our daily bread and let it not only nourish our bodies, but also our local communities and the environment in which family farms can actually thrive on sustainable practices. Amen.