I recently came upon a thoughtful piece from Dr. Janet Chrzan of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and Founder of the Oakmont Farmers’ Market in Havertown, PA. Chrzan wrote about an experiment she did (as a mental break from her academic writing) about the cost of food. While trolling through old advertisements on the “Philadelphia Inquirer”, she found one from 1951 advertising Thanksgiving turkeys for 73 cents per pound. That caught her eye because it’s so much more than what they cost nowadays at the supermarkets. She assumed it was used as a “loss leader,” a retail term that depicts merchandise used to entice shoppers to step into the store and at a price that may not actually reflect the costs. She recalled that the price last Thanksgiving was 39 cents per pound, which she remembers because she tracks loss leaders, comparing them with the prices at the farmers’ market she runs.
While attending the Hazon Food Conference at the University of California, Davis campus last month, I had the pleasure of leading a table learning and discussion at the Community-Wide Beit Midrash (house of study) program on Saturday morning. Sitting at separate tables in the large room, I was one of two people who lead sessions on non-Jewish rather than Jewish texts. The noise level was high but the energy level was fierce. My role was as facilitator, not lecturer, and I found it timely to present a topic inspired by a post in [Grist.com], which referenced a TED presentation by Frederick Kaufman called “The Measure of All Things.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.