The Irony of Organic Garlic From China
After working (and shopping) at market in local produce bliss yesterday, I arrived home, only to realize I was out of garlic, a pity since I had Virginia-grown bulbs within arm's reach just a few hours earlier. Oh well, I thought, I can pick up some when I'm at the Thai grocery, where I needed to pick up some soy sauce and gingerroot.
In the back of the store, I found garlic grouped in threes, packaged in white netting. The label said, "Made in China." Garlic from China? Something is wrong with this picture. I promptly returned it to the bin, thinking of a plan B. My neighborhood Whole Foods Market surely would have garlic that had not traveled across two or three continents to get here. The American garlic capital of Gilroy, Calif., was a long way from Arlington, Va., but it was a lot closer than China.
My helpful kitchen assistant offered to do the job, and in the meantime, I began preparing dinner. As I unload the bag, I notice the familiar white netting that I had just spurned in the Thai grocery. Lo and behold, the label stating "Organic Garlic," also indicates on its back side, that it's "Made in China." Say it isn't so!
I am immediately reminded of a passage from "The Ominivore's Dilemma," by Michael Pollan, in which he debates the merits of 'organic' asparagus that has been flown in from Argentina:
"My plan had been a cozy winter dinner, but I couldn't resist the bundles of fresh asparagus on sale at Whole foods, even though it set me back six dollars a pound. I had never tasted organic South American asparagus in January, and felt my foray into the organic empire demanded that I do. What better way to test the outer limits of the word 'organic' than by dining on a springtime delicacy that had been grown according to organic rules on a farm six thousand miles (and two seasons) away, picked, packed and chilled on Monday, flown by jet to Los Angeles Tuesday, trucked north to a Whole Foods regional distribution center, then put on sale in Berkeley by Thursday, to be steamed by me, Sunday night?"
So, for $1.29, I had three bulbs of organic garlic from the other side of the world that arrived in my kitchen - only to be moldy and partially unusable. I guess I'd be moldy too if I had to travel 8,000 miles in a veil of white netting.
We in the wealthy world have access to food from all over the world to satisfy our epicurean appetites - lamb from New Zealand, oranges from Israel, char from Iceland. But garlic from China? Can someone please enlighten me and tell me why it's a good idea to expend fossil fuel to transport little allium bulbs from the other side of the world? I still can't get past my disbelief.
Have a similar long-distance food transport story that still has you scratching your head? Share in the comments area below.
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