The Disconnect for Patrons at Farmers’ Markets

Flickr: ghbrett

I usually avoid a fight in which you’re bound to lose (because it is really hard to change a person’s opinion with your own opinion).  However, I do get riled up when people make uneducated claims about farmers’ markets and CSAs.  I’ve heard plenty in my three years as a CSA host. Then a few weeks ago, I was a guest at a luncheon in which people disparaged the prices at our local farmers’ market, including the statement, “The prices at my daughter’s farmers’ market are cheaper.”

On my way to the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market in Philadelphia on Sunday morning, I was still fuming about the conversation, so I decided to seek some knowledgeable answers.

Nicole Sugarman of Weaver’s Way Farm said that the label, “farmers’ market,” does not mean that everything sold is from a local farmer nor are the growing practices necessarily organic and sustainable.  A farmer from Lancaster County said that his neighbors have been known to truck in produce from larger farms down south, presumably with egregious farming and labor practices.  Finally, Katy Wich, the Manager of the Farmers’ Market program of The Food Trust, said that there are other complex issues involved.

First, what are a farmer’s labor costs?  The Asian research scientist of Queen’s Farm sells his wife’s lovingly tended vegetables and his young daughter helps him on market days.  Another farm employs college interns, who’re only paid a small stipend.  The Amish farmers often rely on family to plant and harvest.  I‘ve visited Tom Culton on his farm and, while he is touted as a “superstar” farmer, I saw how hard he works and under what conditions.

Second, what is the time frame for a crop?  When a farmer is desperate to get his produce to market such as before spoilage or a storm, he/she might resort to a farmer’s auction such as the one in Leola in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  There, the farmer is paid a pittance — such as $6 for a crate of eggplant — for his season of hard work.  There, middlemen buy the produce and re-sell it at a profit.  The customers at a discount store such as Produce Junction will save money, but at the expense of the farmers.  I also recall reading about the beleaguered dairy farmers in Japan after the tsunami this spring when they were told that they couldn’t sell their milk, because of radiation contamination.  The farmers spilt all of the milk because they had no market.

Finally, what should a vegetable cost?  How could we complain when we’ve never sweated for our food?  Recently on NPR, an anthropologist spoke about how our bodies have evolved for the hunter/gatherer lifestyle, not for the sedentary life of a technologically-focused world.  We should be on our feet for several hours a day, looking for food.  The only looking we have to do is in the fridge.

I shop at a farmers’ market for the freshest produce, to keep within the season’s offerings, and to support our local farmers.  It is not to save money.  Remember the adage that we get what we pay for?  Where would we be, if we only had to rely on industrial farms?  A captive audience for the next E. coli outbreak, that’s where.

Hannah Lee writes from her home in suburban Philadelphia about issues that engage her.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/the-jew-and-the-carrot/142007/#ixzz1WXruMkaF

Smaller Plates and Bigger Forks Lead the Way to Healthier Eating Habits

Flickr: Sean Rogers1

Our daily need for food means that people who need to lose weight have a hard time, as we cannot simply withdraw from food’s siren song, unlike the non-essential addictions for cigarettes or alcohol. The most interesting research for me has been the work of Brian Wansink and his colleagues at Cornell, who’ve studied how and why we keep on eating “mindlessly.” I was fascinated by the description of their clever experiments in his 2006 book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think including the study in which unsuspecting participants eat soup from bowls engineered to automatically refill until the researchers called it quits — the soup eaters did not, as they saw there was still liquid in their bowls! Another experiment involved inviting college students for a free movie and handing them buckets of popcorn, the students gorged themselves on the snack, even though it was three days old. What they might have rejected otherwise as stale and unpalatable, was consumed uncomplainingly, because they were distracted by the movie and because they had been ingrained to eat at the cinema. Dr. Wansink taught his readership how easy it is to be fooled into over-eating by our circumstances.

After reading Dr. Wansink’s book, I switched my family’s dinner plates to a smaller size (except for Shabbat) and I now plate the food from the kitchen, allowing only the vegetables on the dinner table, as they are hard to over-eat (except by my husband). It’s harder to manage portion control when we have company for meals, but I know of one family who plates everyone’s food even for Shabbat and Yom Tov. This past Pesach, they offered pre-prepared menus to their guests who were advised to indicate their choice of entrée by placing a sticker next to their choice. (Their kitchen is large enough for the assembly-line plating, although mine is not.) Not only did they help their guests manage their intake of food, they told me that there was less waste too.

Last week, Peter Smith, a columnist for Good, reported on a forthcoming study in The Journal of Consumer Science, in which scientists at the University of Utah invited undergraduates to meals at a popular Italian restaurant. Over two days and four meals, they were served with “custom cutlery” — researchers had swapped forks that were either 20 percent smaller or 20 percent larger than the standard utensil. Their surprising finding? Students using the bigger forks ate less than those eating off the smaller ones.

Why should the results be so counterintuitive? The scientists reason that when one uses the smaller forks, each forkful hardly makes a dent in the dish. But with the larger forks, each bite makes a distinguishable difference in the amount of food consumed (note: it’s still the food remaining, not the amount consumed). Smith wrote, “fork size could be the quickest dietary fix since chewing.” The researchers claim, “[I]f we are not chewing longer, then consuming from a larger fork may actually be more helpful in controlling over-consumption.”

In another upcoming study in Food Quality and Preference, researchers Charles Spence and his colleagues offered Greek yogurt in two kinds of bowls to volunteers. Those given the yogurt in the heavier bowls rated their yogurt as “weightier,” — both denser and more expensive — than participants who ate the same yogurt in lightweight (such as Styrofoam) bowls.

The combined take-home lesson? Use a smaller plate — no take-out containers! — but a larger fork. You’ll feel more satisfied and eat less at the same time.

Hannah Lee does not use Styrofoam and she finds it easier to use a smaller plate than to chew more.

 

Yoga, Chocolate and the Rain Forest: Our Costa Rican Idyll

Last August, my husband and I chose to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary by going to Costa Rica. It was our first vacation with an ecological focus, as recommended by old friends who have more refined tastes and more stringent religious commitments. We were delighted to have our girls accompany us. It was a vigorous vacation with hiking, snorkeling in Puerto Viejo (newly discovered by surfers) and daily yoga sessions. My husband was able to decompress faster — and remain relaxed longer — than on any other trip and my review of our stay at the Samasati Nature Retreat posted on TripAdvisor has been read by enough viewers to garner me a free Shutterfly photo album (which, alas, I was too late to redeem). This was a great way to unplug from the world — no phone, no Internet, no television.

Our bungalow overlooked the mountainside and we woke each day to the sunrise (about 5 am) and the chattering of the monkeys. It was the off season in the Caribbean coast, so we had the resort mostly to ourselves. My family had de facto private sessions with the yoga teacher in the beautiful, octagonal studio.

It rained hard most days we were there but at different times of the day. In the capital city of San Jose, the streets have deep and wide gutters, up to two feet in parts. The locals, called Ticos, carry their babies everywhere, not bothering with carriages, strollers or even slings. People can even steer their bicycles, while holding up umbrellas.

All of us but my husband have studied Spanish — my daughter who is a recent college grad is the most fluent but I surprised myself by remembering words and phrases not used since high school. I realized my mistake in studying only the words of the foods we can eat but not words for the non-kosher species we do not eat. As other friends just back from Barcelona remarked, “there are so many ways to describe pork!” The food offered at the Samasati itself was good vegetarian fare (fish can be ordered for Friday night).

We chose to spend a quiet Shabbat on the mountaintop instead of seeking out the Chabad rabbi in San Jose. We reserved a private tour that was listed as “easy.” What we got instead was a guide who wielded a machete — necessary to hack away at the lusty vegetation — and a sweat-inducing, heart-thumping hike through muddy riverbanks, steep inclines, and rocky streambeds. We were up close and personal with the bugs, fauna, and flora.

Sunday in a Catholic country is pretty quiet, but we stumbled upon a cacao educational plantation and the polyglot European owner consented to giving us a tour. We saw and touched the various plants necessary in the chocolate-making process. We participated in the grinding, kneading, and molding. We were invited to “eat as much as we wanted,” because authentic Costa Rican chocolate is so rich that no one can eat more than a piece or two. We learned that families traditionally make chocolate together during their social gatherings. My daughter wanted to bring cacao beans back to her college campus as a different fun activity, but we couldn’t find any on our last days before heading to the airport.

As our first eco-trip, it offered a phenomenal education. The rain forest is God’s gift to mankind. Scientists are studying the therapeutic and medicinal properties of the plants there as well as the inter-relationships of the creatures. Did you know that a certain species of mosquito has the divine purpose of being the pollinator of the wild banana? We have much to learn and appreciate about this precious Earth on which we live.

Hannah Lee now eats chocolate to support the rain-forest economy and still trying to find more time for yoga.

Do Cash Purchases Yield a Healthier Diet?

Flickr: Cafemama

With the opening of this season’s farmers markets, I find myself withdrawing more cash from my ATM — and more cash each week. The vendors do not accept checks or credit cards, so we patrons have to plan ahead or pay nasty surcharges when we run out of money during the middle of a market run and need replenishment from a nearby ATM (although a shout-out to WaWa by my beloved Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market at 2nd and Pine in Philadelphia for not charging extra for cash withdrawals from non-bank members). The consolation is that I spend less at Whole Foods and the other large food chains on my regular shopping rounds.  But does this need to use cash have a deterrence on my total spending budget?

Peter Smith reported recently that it might. “According to a new study reported in the Journal of Consumer Research (subscription required), credit card use may mediate the pain of parting of our hard-earned money.” Manoj Thomas, a marketing professor at Cornell, examined the spending habits of 1,000 shoppers at one chain grocery store. After collecting data over a 6-month period, he found that credit or debit card use contributed to impulsive purchases of “vice products.” Thomas and his colleagues speculated that paying with plastic is “emotionally more inert” and “abstract.” Paying with cash is immediate and tactile.

Smith also cites Dan Ariely’s 2010 book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions in which the author recommended the use of “self-control credit cards” with a $50 limit on impulse purchases. Or the feedback aid of a credit card that displays the debt as soon as a transaction has been enacted.

Me, I use my credit card merely as a bookkeeping tool, as my husband and I pay off the full amount each month, never even bothering to remember what our bank charges for interest payments. Yes, I do find it easy to ring up purchases at Whole Foods. When I shop at my two farmers’ markets (Sundays and Thursdays to carry us through the week and for Shabbat), I see how much money I put in my pocket and how much I hand over to each vendor. And I do feel a pang when I have to detour to the ATM because the maple syrup vendor appears (after a disastrous sap season in 2010) and I want to spend more than I’d allocated for that week. For me, a conscious locavore, spending cash for local fruits and vegetables means that my family is eating food that is as fresh as can be (often harvested early that morning!).

A different argument might be posed for families living on the brink of poverty. Their government-supported food stamps — whether through SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance For Needy Families), or WIC (Women, Infants and Children) — are often not accepted by the small-scale vendors at farmers’ markets. Around the country, most SNAP clients use an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) Access card at approved grocery stores, where the amount of a purchase is automatically deducted from the monthly allowance. This presents a challenge for farmer’s market vendors who do not usually accept credit cards. However, many markets around the country are setting up EBT stations where folks with snap benefits can transfer their electronic benefits for tokens that the farmers will be able to accept.

In my advocacy work with refugees (families being resettled here by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)), I’ve learned that there is often a steep learning curve for these new arrivals in budgeting via a plastic accounting system. There is also the temptation of many new “food” products never before imagined in their native countries. Finally, many poor families — though not my refugees — live in “food deserts” where they have to rely on small stores, known as bodegas in cities with a large Hispanic population, that do not offer much choice in fresh produce.

For people in various economic situations, cash payments do not necessarily result in a healthier diet. While I have the luxury of being able to afford my weekly trips to the farmer’s market, I understand that not everyone is able to or has the access to fresh healthy food like this.

Hannah Lee writes from her home in Pennsylvania, in between taking care of her family, her shul, and the refugees being resettled by HIAS.