A cheese and pickle sandwich

One of my favorite topics of discussion is food – whether it be food sustainability, the eat local movement, organic and environmental issues, consumption/dieting, or cooking – it’s all there, in that thing we do at least three times a day. Today I was thinking about food appreciation. It’s so easy to buy meals these days and make or cook them instantly that we just don’t appreciate what we have, and we take it for granted (which global warming may change someday, but don’t get me started).

Everyone has those “throw-together” meals – the fall-backs for when you’re just too busy to figure out what to eat. The makings are always in the fridge or the cupboard just in case. Aside from mac & cheese, one of mine since college has been the very strange cheese and pickle sandwich. It sounds odd, I know. But to me, it’s enjoyable, easy, and has only four ingredients (or even less, if I’m skipping the mayo). The other day I was eating this sandwich and realizing that even this lowly food item that I slap together and could eat just about every day for lunch on auto-pilot, has so much to it. Never mind something as complex as an actual multi-course dinner, or a typical American processed food item like a frozen dinner.

Let’s look and see what we’ve got:

– 2 pieces of bread
– a couple of dill pickle slices
– a couple of slices of cheese
– Kraft olive oil reduced-fat mayo (or alternatively, Dijon mustard)

Simple, right? Well, let’s see. That slice of bread – I’m kinda  partial to the multi-whole-grain with oats kind, which means its got at least four types of flour and grains in it, if not a lot more. That’s at least four individual farmers growing their individual crops, worrying about the weather and waiting all season for my grains to ripen, harvesting them, milling them, selling them to the bread or flour companies, along with all the transportation and energy that goes into all those steps. Someone bakes and delivers the bread – I try to buy local, so that part of it probably isn’t very far away; maybe a bakery within 20 miles of where I live. Every now and then I stop in at that bakery for a latte and treat, and watch them making bread, rolls, and pastries.

Dill pickles – eek. Well, I know it starts with cucumbers, and I like kosher dills. So there’s probably not TOO many ingredients. Let’s see… vinegar, salt, natural flavors. Yep, not too much in that jar. But again, someone somewhere grew the cucumbers, who knows where. Then another business went to the trouble of being certified kosher. The salt – who knows where. Normally I buy from a more local company, but was at a different store this time. My jar says, ack, “made in India” !! How very strange. Kosher dill pickles made in a Hindu/Muslim country all the way across the world, shipped to Portland, OR, then distributed to a local store near me. Given the source of the pickles, the cucumbers probably came from northern Africa, based on what I’ve been reading lately, and the salt and vinegar from the middle east or the Mediterranean. Oh, and don’t forget conveniently sliced at the factory the better to fit on my sandwich. Sheesh. I wouldn’t have bought these if I’d seen that “made in India”. Not that I have anything against Indians making a living. Just that it’s a heck of a long way and a big environmental footprint just to have pickles.

Cheese… Trader Joe’s. No point of origin specified, which makes it hard to identify whether I’m meeting my buy local goals. They are a west coast company, so one hopes they’re buying from someone here, since there are multitudes of dairy farms from WA to CA. Let’s pick Tillamook, just for fun. I’ve actually seen that factory, on the coast of Oregon. They buy from local dairy herds, make the cheese in their factory with natural ingredients (although they are not certified organic, why I’m not sure). And again, presliced. Lazy, lazy, I know. I don’t usually do that. Not sure how I ended up with it this time, except that TJs had a wider variety of reduced fat cheeses than most stores, which actually taste good. So I may be buying it again. Here we must not forget the dairy hands getting up early to milk the cows… hmm. Does anyone still do that, or is it all by machine?? Paint me woefully ignorant about this part of the process. Most likely I really do not want to know.

Last, mayo. I don’t eat much of this, but recently found this olive oil version that I like – again, lower-fat but tastes just as good. Let’s see what’s in it – well, this is a long list. Three different kinds of vegetable oils, vinegar, sugar, eggs, starches, salt, onions, garlic and the seven or eight other random ingredients that every processed western food seems to have in it these days. Focusing on the “normal” ingredients – at least 5 crops in there, along with the other seasonings, starches, and eggs. So now we’ve added chickens to the mix and another multitude of farmers – some of which are highly likely to be in other parts of the world (olives, soybeans). And chemical companies for all those funky food additives =/

All those people growing crops, raising chickens and cows, milling, cheese-making, pickling, packaging, transporting, processing, mixing, baking, storing, never mind the containers, labels, advertising, trucking, wholesalers around the world, buyers and grocers – all so that I can make and eat one sandwich in under 15 minutes and never give it a thought…

Which brings us to the slow foods movement – if we really thought about what we eat and the impossibility of personally creating it ourselves, gave thanks to all the people who brought it to our table, all the animals, crops, weather, and nature that made it possible along with the manmade infrastructure, we’d appreciate every meal, no matter how lowly. We’d stop and think about what we are eating, how complex it is, how far it came, and whether we want all of those attributes in our food. We might slow down, eat less and with more gratitude, and be healthier. Next time you eat your favorite comfort meal, give it some thought!

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