Monday, September 29, 2014


Food: can we talk?  No doubt.  Even my Sunday morning symphonies have been displaced by recipes and what was once a nicely confined set of foodies in trendy urban places seems to have taken up the work of the Devil that medicine started -- scaring us all, making us afraid to live for fear we might die.   Promising orgasmic ecstasy if we just follow directions and buy exotic ingredients. Yet, there’s a lot of truth in what they propose.  Life is a matter of push against shove-back.  

Most things biological operate on continuums in tension between two extremes.  Mouth and anus are obvious, but I’m thinking more like glucose v. insulin -- the subtle transactions that go on inside bodies all the time.  We are bombarded with statistics, which are translated for our innumerate misunderstanding into percentage warnings.  They would be more effective if they stayed the same, but one month butter is in, then it’s out; one month salt is out, then it’s in; etc.  

The constant war of theories in our media is echoed less consciously in the local grocery stores, which must figure out what they can afford to stock (what there is shelf space and warehouse space for) versus what won’t sell, fresh foods versus how long foods can be held and how, what is appealing enough to bring people in when what is appealing varies widely by age, income, and so on.  To say nothing of advertising and celebrity opinions.

There are men here who packed supply mule trains in Italy in WWII.

Also neglected is the conversation we act out in our daily lives, the binaries of transactions.  This is a stream of consciousness list -- or order or categories.  Unsorted.

Buying local versus buying at a supermarket
Growing one’s own versus standard packaging and transportation
Vegetarian versus meat
Storage: fresh, frozen, canned, dried
Diet proportions:  carb to protein to sugar
Root veggies vs. leafy vs. fruits and nuts
Statistic generalizations vs. the unique individual
Monitoring blood vs. whatever feels good   (a monitor strip a day vs. a1C)
Adjusting diet to respond to blood type (not genome)
Traditional diets with ethnic identity value
Comfort food, what Mom gave you when you had a cold or hurt feelings
Weaning from sweet/fat/salt fast food
Glycemic index v. calories
National holiday foods

Is there such a thing as food that's not organic?
Yes, Twinkies.  Not even biodegradable.

Mechanical problems like bad teeth or trouble swallowing 
Access to cooking and “kinds” of cooking (microwave, convection, electric, gas, wood)
Hydration vs. food
Fish: fresh or salt water, cold water, mercury, other pollution, endangered, 
Regulation of recreational acquisitions, both fish and game. 
Allergies: gluten, peanut
Industrial chemicals:  antibiotics, herbicides, hormones
Human contamination  (e coli)
Abuse of human workers (long hours, poor housing, no washing facilities)
Abuse of animals (unnecessary force, crowding)
Processing of both meat and vegetables
Inclusions:  high fructose, foreign objects, level of tolerated insect parts
Kinds of fat:  Lard, Krisco, oils, butter, margarine
“Taste additions,” dye, preservatives, nitrates, monosodium glutamate

Independent Grocers Alliance is the full proper name of the IGA stores, which are organized as a franchise in 1926 and now exist in thirty countries.  The difference is that each store is independently owned, which means it can develop according to local conditions. What we never see is the distribution network, which can make or break an individual store.  I'm going to leave in the wiki-links, in case you really want to think about it.

Wikipedia says:  “Logistics is the management of the flow of goods between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet some requirements, of customers or corporations. The resources managed in logistics can include physical items, such as food, materials, animals, equipment and liquids, as well as abstract items, such as time, information, particles, and energy. The logistics of physical items usually involves the integration of information flow, material handling, production, packaging, inventory, transportation, warehousing, and often security. The complexity of logistics can be modeled, analyzed, visualized, and optimized by dedicated simulation software. The minimization of the use of resources is a common motivation in logistics for import and export.”

Curry's belongs to Associated Food Stores.  The logo is over the door.

Another wholesale supplier is a cooperative:  "Associated Food Stores was founded in 1940 by Donald P. Lloyd, president of the Utah Retail Grocers Association along with 34 Utah retailers. Concerned with effect that large corporate stores would have on small independent retailers, he felt the only way these small businesses could survive is if they united and faced the competition as one, therefore increasing their collective buying power."

The entry describes eleven different aspects of logistics, which would apply to any kind of system, including schools or the military, but in the small town grocery store, all eleven aspects have to be handled by one owner.  The trouble with the IGA system is that the end-point is at the mercy of the wholesaler, which is a single entity.  In a place like Montana where distribution is always struggling against aging transportation systems and unpredictable weather, the interface network of friends and influence becomes crucial.  Customer populations split between older folks (though most are too young to know how to get through the winter with a side of beef and a barrel of flour) and younger folks who want the latest instant stuff; split between locals who’ve always made pies with lard-based crusts and formerly urban folks who expect frozen ready-made graham cracker crusts.

Gresham Berry Growers

My father’s first job was as a wool-buyer roving the state of Oregon.  Most of his working life was as a field rep for Pacific Supply Cooperative, visiting the small co-ops to drum up business and provide feedback to headquarters.  It was bought out by a corporation, as most of the rural co-ops have been.  Gresham Berry Growers and Tillamook Cheese were on his agenda.  For him, growing up on the prairie, grower co-ops were a kind of religion with granges for churches.  His cathedrals were the elevators that stood along the railroads.

Today convenience and fast-everything has replaced co-ops.  People will pay for time saved.  The big corporations have the capital and tight management that makes such a thing work.  I once accidentally walked down the aisle of an Albertson’s behind a regional man interviewing the store manager.  It was very enlightening.  The local man emphasized that cost was more important than name brands in his store.  Since name brands use whatever leverage they can to get their items into the big corporation stores -- including kickbacks and promotions -- this wise regional man paid close attention.  Now the store carries generic foods at lower prices.  The big names have been saving money by short-weighting packaged foods, so people like me begin to prefer bulk.

In fact, the co-op is bouncing back in the form of Bountiful Baskets, a distribution system with no stores.  Customers must put in the time and the effort of understanding what things are and sorting them.  (Local clerks never recognize parsnips and are puzzled about how to cook them.)  It’s one step farther along than U-Pick, which was my mother’s way of saving money and guaranteeing quality.  It also mean canning, freezing, drying.  We were in Oregon, which is indeed bountiful, but in Montana there are not so many kinds of local food beyond meat and grain.  (If you U-Pick livestock, the ranchers get upset.)

We’re at an awkward spot in the economy where the population is teetering back and forth between having cars that can reach bigger stores easily, using computers to order luxury foods that will dependably arrive by UPS, individually owning washing machines and cell phones -- unless one has slipped below a certain level.  Then there are not enough low-income people to support laundromats and telephone booths, or even a decent bus system, but there are unserved poor people.  Local stores, at their discretion, can offer credit.

Living in Saskatchewan was an education.  Instead of fifty cereal options, there were maybe five.  The same for toothpaste, canned goods, and even basics like flour.  In the States, even on the prairie, one strategy has been to slightly vary something like cola and market it as unique kinds, for the discriminating, a mark of prestige and identity.  Vegetables are sold as organic or gluten-free, even if they’re carrots.  Is there such a thing as a non-organic carrot?  Or one with gluten?
A Canadian cartoon

In the small town store the most important feature is the owner and then the clerks.  No order “from the top” can compete with observation “on the ground.”  Brand loyalty can never be more important than friendship and good service.  There's gotta be a sweet spot in there somewhere, but it moves around.

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