My trip to Fairway today took a little longer than usual. No, I wasn’t doing grocery for a grand slam 7-course dinner party for 10 people or anything like that, but the extra time was spent on eggs. Yes, chicken eggs. I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which took me quite a while to get through, and now I’m left a little disoriented. Well, first of all, to echo all the 2006 books of the year lists, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a must-read. Mr. Pollan is thoroughly intelligent and a delightful writer. His book is so jam-packed with myriad relevant information that upon finishing it, you feel both enlightened and burdened by the surfeit of new knowledge. Like what Pollan himself said of his experience reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, I feel the same way after reading his book: you either have to look away (from all the problems that are now apparent to you and pretend like they don’t matter) or you change.
I’m not going to go into details with the book because you should read it. But basically, The Omnivore’s Dilemma explores the politics, ethics, and business of food production. One thing though, Pollan is not telling us to all become vegans–even he himself is still an omnivore at the end of the book. What he’s trying to say is that eating is naturally and unavoidably a political act, that everytime you go into a grocery store you are voting with your dollars and what goes into your cart has real repercussions on the future of the earth.
So now we come back to Fairway. There I was, in the grocery store, smacked in the middle of my own omnivore’s dilemma. You see, I come from a frugal family, so shopping for produce has always abided by one easy rule: eggs are eggs; they’re all the same, so you go for the cheapest eggs. And today at Fairway, I was trying to both maximize the value of my dollars and vote with my cart, simultaneously. Who am I kidding with? Cognitive dissonance?
I definitely did not have ignorant enough of a mind to avert my eyes completely and just forget about what I read (and actually agreed with), but I sure wasn’t prepared to take a big leap. I enjoy eating meat too much to give it up, and I can’t afford to buy all my produce organic right now, although I do plan to do that after graduation when I’ll have a stable income. One thing I did buy organic today though was the eggs, thanks to Mr. Pollan who so dutifully described the inhumane practice that went on in the industrial egg operations:
The fate is reserved for the American laying hen, who spends her brief span of days piled together with a half-dozen other hens in a wire cage on the floor of which four pages of this book could carpet wall to wall. Every natural instinct of this hen is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral “vices” that can include cannibalizing her cage mates and rubbing her breast against the wire mesh until it is completely bald and bleeding…And when the output of the survivors begins to ebb, the hens will be “force-molted” –starved of food and water and light for several days in order to stimulate a final bout of egg laying before their life’s work is done.
Not very happy hens, eh? Unable to erase that image off of my mind, I dragged my cart to the elevator and ascended to the upper level of Fairway organic heaven. So this is why it took me longer than usual: now that a dozen of eggs was going to cost me more than $3 instead of the measly $0.79, I had to do a little more work to make sure that I was still maximizing my dollar value. In this case, that would mean some kind of a warrant that the hens that my eggs came from were indeed happy hens who once led happy lives roaming in a small organic, preferably family-owned, farm (as opposed to industrial organic, because there’s a huge difference between those two). In the end, I wound up with Organic Valley’s Organic Large Brown Eggs which cost me a cool $3.99, just about four times more expensive than its conventional counterpart. I picked Organic Valley because I was drawn to the words advertised on the cartons like Cage Free, Family of Farms, and free-range hens. The little drawing of an idyllic farm with a red barnhouse on the hill helped too. Call me a marketing victim, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in exchange for a notion of happy hens. As I made my way to the register, I realized that there wasn’t any meat in my cart except for a quarter-pound of pancetta and a quarter-pound of soppresetta (a sort of a high-end cousin of pepperoni).
Shit. Am I turning vegetarian?
This will probably go after a week…
Feeling all virtuous from my $4/dozen egg purchase, I smugly hailed a cab home and proceeded to cook a simple, wholesome meal with D. I settled on vegetable ragu with polenta, and to make up for the lack of meat, grilled portobello with balsamic reduction. It’s just one of those nights when all you want is something warm and comforting, and polenta definitely ranks near the top of my comfort food list. Mr. beefy portobello also enjoys a very special place in my promiscuous heart, so there you go.
Ok, so this wasn’t completely vegetarian; I actually snuck in a few slices of pancetta (cured meats and I, our love runs deep). First I sauteed some garlic and onion with the pancetta, let everything sweat and brown for a little bit, then added the tomatoes, zucchini, carrot, eggplants, yellow pepper, and basil. I used the no-stir recipe I found in Gourmet for the polenta: bring 4 cups of water with a pinch of salt to a boil, add the polenta in a thin stream whisking for 2 minutes, let simmer at low heat covered, stir every 10 min for the next 45 min, then finish with 2 tbsp. of butter. This is the best polenta recipe I’ve tried to date. So creamy with such minimal effort! Cooking the polenta covered allows condensation to build up, which eliminates the need for constant stirring.
As for the mushroom, I massaged it with some olive oil, garlic, and thyme, put it under the broiler for about 7-8 min each side, then topped it off with balsamic reduction (should’ve been a drizzle, but I overpoured the balsamic so the mushroom was drowning a little bit…oh well.) D brought a cabernet, which I thought went really well with the portobello. Thanks D!
And we’ll see what becomes of my organic happy hens’ eggs…