Local Lent diary

UPDATE: Eight years later, I’m linking this Lenten inspiration to Hearth & Soul . . . and I’m thinking about how I can reduce the plastic coming into and being discarded from our home this Lent!  I’m also going to make more of an effort to read the Bible to my three-year-old daughter, who has been interested in attending adult Bible study with me lately.

Happy Easter!  If you read my article about reducing your environmental impact for Lent, you might have noticed something missing: I never said what I was going to do for Lent this year.  Am I just so impeccably environmentally friendly that there’s nothing left for me to give up??  No, but an enviro-fast wasn’t in my plans for this year until I started working on that article and feeling hypocritical.  I had planned a different Lenten discipline, but I decided to do something environmental as well, something not too difficult, for a change, because (in addition to being thoroughly stressed out by illness and snowstorm just before Lent) I think I’m more helpful to novice environmentalists when I write about the easier things.

So, I decided to fast from buying things made or grown outside North America. I gave priority to things made in Pennsylvania (where I live), then the continental United States, then Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, and Alaska. North America is huge and abundant, and this fast was only about what I buy–not what I use that I already have or that someone gives me–so this sounded like not much of a sacrifice.  Well, it was and it wasn’t. . . .  Read the details ahead, or scroll down to the end of this article for a summary.

Rather than post constant updates on my project, as is the fashion, I added to this diary as I went along but kept it unpublished until now because

  • This isn’t really a blog, and when I’m reading Websites I like to have plenty of material on one page rather than have to click around and load a bunch of pages to follow a story.
  • Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)  I minimized talk about my fast while I was doing it, to avoid any temptation to show off my suffering.
  • I’ve heard from many readers who appreciated our SoyLent diary (when we gave up meat in 2002), so I wanted to write something similar.

Ash Wednesday

I didn’t buy anything today, but in a brief moment when my thoughts at work wandered to my fasting plans as I gazed out the window at the passing cars, I suddenly realized:



Sure, the United States still has a domestic petroleum industry, and Canada and Mexico do, too.  But I know that a large proportion of the petroleum consumed in the U.S. is imported from farther away–South America, Africa, the North Sea, etc.–and there’s no way to tell what you’re getting at the pump.  Every petroleum company these days is importing some of its petroleum and, so far as I know, mixing it all together at the refinery.  Certainly there are no labels telling you whether today’s blend comes from Oklahoma or Nigeria.

We don’t drive very much, and we have a hybrid car that gets good mileage, but I recall that when I went to Costco on Sunday the fuel gauge showed only 3 dots and I considered filling up (to get the discounted price there) but didn’t.  So we can drive less than 90 miles in the next six weeks, or else we’ll have to break the fast to buy gas.

Let me clarify at this point that this is my fast.  The rest of my family (partner Daniel and five-year-old son Nicholas) hasn’t signed on.  However, I do almost all the purchasing for our household, and I am not going to abuse the technicality by asking Daniel to buy things for me.

Thursday, February 18

Still haven’t bought anything, but I had another sudden sinking feeling:


Coffee is far more important to me than gasoline.

Coffee can’t be grown in the United States except for Hawaii.  I think maybe it grows in parts of Mexico.  But your typical American coffee comes from Central or South America.

Now, I’m not worried about the coffee I make for myself every day at home and at work.  My fast is about what I buy, not what I already have and use during Lent, and we have a big canister of coffee at home that should last into April.  It is organic, fair-trade coffee, so I feel no guilt about it–although at the moment (I’m at work, where I use coffee from an unlabeled jar that I filled from the home stash) I don’t recall what country that particular coffee comes from.

The problem is restaurant and take-out coffee, which I will, inevitably, be buying during Lent.  I can cut back, for example by choosing to have coffee at home/work before or after going to a restaurant instead of ordering coffee in the restaurant.  But I am prone to severe headaches that strike rather suddenly, and the most reliable thing I can do to stop a headache in its tracks is to drink coffee at the first hint of prodrome (pre-headache feeling).  Therefore, sometimes when I’m out and about, I buy coffee from the nearest available source, where typically there’s no choice of variety; if I bug the counter clerk, she might go look at the package and tell me it says Product of Nicaragua or whatever, but odds are it will not be North American.

Does God want me to have terrible headaches?  Well, I’ve often pondered that question in general–why do I have these headaches?  Why is it that when I pray for the pain to go away, it always gets worse?–but let me consider the more specific question: Does God want me to have terrible headaches that I could have prevented if I had taken emergency medication? Because that’s what coffee really is for me, in that particular situation.  Well, I’m sure some Catholics would say that I ought to accept the suffering and “offer it up” to God.  But I’m an Episcopalian, and while I do my best to accept what God gives me, I don’t believe that purposely choosing suffering is a particularly holy thing.  Considering the way a headache affects my ability to fulfill my obligations to others and my ability to be pleasant and civil, prevention probably does more good than evil in the world at large.

So, I guess what I’ll do is be more attentive to the way I feel before going out somewhere–make more of a conscious assessment of whether I might be prodromal–and drink coffee then if I need it, make better use of headache prevention/treatment strategies that don’t involve buying imported stuff, seek out places selling Mexican or Hawaiian coffee (ready to drink) and keep them mentally on file, and pray for guidance.  And any times I have to break my fast for emergency coffee will be noted here, which will be informative since I really have no idea how often I’ve been buying emergency coffee.

Oh, and I’ll drink the fair-trade coffee at church on Sundays and continue putting some change into the offering cup that supports our serving that coffee instead of the cheap stuff (thus “buying” the coffee), because it’s traditional for Lenten fasts to be lifted on Sundays.  I’m intending for the most part to keep my fast on Sundays as well, but where I make exceptions I’ll try to time them for Sundays.

Wow, all this thinking, and I haven’t even bought anything yet!

Friday, February 19

The coffee we have at home is labeled Product of USA.  Oh, good!  But where in the USA?  I read the longer blurb about the glorious aroma and skillful blending.  “Our beans are sourced from small-scale farms in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Peru.”  Umm, the USA hasn’t annexed those as states, right?  So what are they talking about–do they mean the coffee beans were roasted in USA?

It makes me realize that my definition of this fast was kind of naive. A lot of the things I buy have been through more than one step in production.  How many of the steps have to be done in USA?  How many of the ingredients?  What about the packaging?  Aargh!

When I mentioned the coffee issue to Daniel last night, he pointed out that a cup of prepared coffee contains two ingredients, coffee beans and water, and the beverage itself is made right where you buy it.  That’s an interesting point: If I order coffee at, say, Kazansky’s Delicatessen, what I’m buying is a beverage prepared 3 blocks from my home using water from the good old Allegheny River and beans from (probably) another hemisphere.  So…is that “made or grown outside North America”?  When I put “or grown” in my definition, I was thinking of fresh produce…but coffee is grown, too…but the beverage called coffee is made….  Am I starting to rationalize already?!

I’m already becoming more aware of just how elaborate our economy is, how many places and people are involved in the production of almost any item, and how much I take the availability of these items for granted.

It’s tempting to react by thinking I ought to stay home and make everything myself from local resources, but I have obligations at my day job, and anyway our main local resource right now is snow.  I can eat snow, but not for six weeks.  So I guess the next step is to pray for discernment.

Saturday, February 20

My prayer worked: I got through the supermarket feeling relatively unconfused about what I mean by “made”.  What did confuse me were the number of labels that say only Distributed by and give absolutely no indication of where the food came from–I didn’t know that was allowed!  I’m going to have to research some of the other terms used on labels, like Product of and Packed in and Manufactured for, because their exact meaning is not obvious, and I’m suspecting they’re various forms of euphemisms for Acquired at the lowest possible price from wherever currently available and then somewhat processed by [name of corporation] at one of our facilities which may or may not be located at the address listed.

Anyway, my approach to this shopping trip was to buy the most clearly North American (ideally local) version of everything on our list and to refuse anything that was definitely imported from outside North America.

Nicholas was with me and immediately asked for bananas.  No, they are from Costa Rica.  Nectarines?  Well, in the summer they’d be from California or closer, but right now they’re from Chile.  Given the choice between Florida oranges and Washington apples (organic), he chose the apples.  We also bought kale from Alabama.

It’s Daniel’s birthday, so I’m making a special meal of lasagna and his favorite blueberry streusel cake, and I felt like splurging.  That’s the only reason I bought red peppers from Mexico.  Normally, even when it’s not Lent, I avoid non-organic peppers because they’re one of the most chemical-laden crops, and I avoid all non-organic produce from Mexico and Central America because their laws allow chemicals that are banned in the USA.  But I really wanted peppers in the lasagna sauce….  Is this the sort of temptation I’m supposed to be resisting?

Nicholas said, “I will not try the lasagna if you put even one mushroom in it!!!” so I decided not to buy any, although almost all the mushrooms for sale were grown in Pennsylvania, America’s Mushroom Capital.  (It’s nice that we are famous for something.) (UPDATE: Here’s how Nicholas learned to like mushrooms when he was 8!)

We saw a sale on canned mandarin oranges, one of Nick’s favorite fruits, but found that that brand and the other two in the store (and, we later learned, a fourth brand whose can was still in our recycling bin) all are Product of China.  I can’t explain why I feel so surprised and betrayed–it makes sense that mandarin oranges come from the same country as the Mandarin language, and that information has been on the labels all along, if I’d only bothered to read it!  Nicholas quickly accepted that we couldn’t buy them; he stated what he learned from the recent toy recalls, “Things made in China might be poison.”

Italian foods turn out to be pretty good on local-ness: LaMagna cheese is made in Verona, about a half-hour’s drive away; Dei Fratelli tomato puree is made in neighboring Ohio from USA-grown tomatoes; Rosetto frozen ravioli (which I bought on sale for a future meal) are made in upstate New York, although their Website doesn’t discuss ingredient sources.  Lasagna noodles, though, only said Distributed by Giant Eagle (the supermarket chain)–but considering the amount of wheat grown in North America, it would be strange if they were made anywhere else.

The same reasoning applied to the frozen blueberries Distributed by Giant Eagle; a lot of blueberries are grown in New Jersey, just one state east, and although it’s not producing fresh blueberries this time of year it might well be the source of frozen ones.

We bought tortillas on sale that are Distributed by Giant Eagle but also Product of Canada.  Canadian tortillas?!

The cake recipe calls for walnuts, but after seeing unclear labeling on the walnuts I began considering other nuts.  Low-priced “nut topping” contains something like (I didn’t write down the exact numbers) five species of nuts from nine countries on five continents, in a one-cup packet!! I bought pecans labeled Product of USA and Canada.

Wednesday, February 24

My lunch today is a frozen meal Distributed and sold exclusively by Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, CA. Maybe it was made in a factory there; maybe not; how can I tell?  At any rate, it was most likely made outside the Pittsburgh area, so any meal made in a local restaurant is going to be more local than this.  Hooray, an excuse to go out to lunch!  I’m a little short on cash these days, though, so the best approach to workday lunches is (as always) to bring leftovers of foods we’ve cooked at home.  We just didn’t have any leftovers today.

I found some information from the Federal Trade Commission and Wikipedia about some of these label phrasings that have been furrowing my brow.  Useful things to know:

  • “U.S. content must be disclosed on automobiles and textile, wool, and fur products. No law requires most other products sold in the U.S. to be marked or labeled Made in USA or have any other disclosure about their amount of U.S. content.”  Dang.  Why not?  Don’t we have a right to know whether we are supporting our national economy or contributing to the trade deficit?!
  • Assembled in USA means that a product’s “last substantial transformation” took place in the USA, even if foreign components were used.  That’s what I thought.  For example, “A blank compact disk is manufactured in the United States from imported materials, in a process that constitutes a substantial transformation.  Music is then encoded onto the compact disk in the United States, in a process that also constitutes a substantial transformation and is the last substantial transformation of the product.”
  • The 2002 Farm Bill required country-of-origin labeling on fresh meats and some fresh produce and some nuts, but for most foods it’s voluntary.

I’m surprised that it took a full hour of digging to get this little information!  I still don’t have a clear definition of the term Product of USA. I’m going to e-mail Trader Joe’s about that coffee.

Thursday, February 25

Thank you for your feedback and inquiry. Although the beans used in our coffees are sourced from different countries, they are roasted in the US. Therefore we label these items product of the US, since it is the final country of production.

Items produced in the US do not require country of origin labeling, so not all our products will have this statement. You may only see our distribution statement on US sourced products.

Trader Joe’s Customer Relations

I guess the roasting is the “last substantial transformation.”  I think what she’s saying in that second paragraph is that things marked only Distributed by Trader Joe’s are made in USA, at least the last step.  That implies that Giant Eagle’s Canadian tortillas are the only Distributed by Giant Eagle product I bought that was made outside the USA.

The main thing I’ve learned from this fast so far is that most foods sold here are made in North America. Other consumer goods are trickier, and so far I’ve coasted along not buying any.  How long can I keep it up?

Friday, February 26

My purse’s strap tore off!! Yikes!  I am the sort of person who carries my purse everywhere (even while rock-climbing), and just putting it inside my tote bag for the rest of the journey to work gave me repeated bursts of “My purse is missing!!!!” anxiety.  I cannot go on this way.  The loop of leather-covered cloth that was holding the strap to the body of the purse appears to have worn out completely, so I’m not sure how to go about fixing it, particularly since the other side looks like it could give way at any moment.

This is an Italian leather purse that I bought on amazing clearance sale at Macy’s more than three years ago and have carried every day since then.  It has all kinds of handy compartments.  I really want to replace it with another one very similar.  But I bet that in any department store, all the nice purses are from Europe and all the cheap ones are from Asia.  I did once have a hemp purse made in Canada, which seemed very environmentally friendly but turned out to be much less durable than leather–it lasted about a year and a half, and only with a patch sewn over the hole that my keys chewed through it within a few months–so that isn’t a good option.

Sunday, February 28

Nicholas and I decided to make a bread pudding out of the odds and ends of bread (mostly heels) nobody wanted to eat.  We found a recipe in a cookbook, which suggested a variation with blueberries and pineapple.  We used the remainder of the bag of blueberries from Daniel’s birthday cake and opened a can of pineapple purchased before Lent–I remember that Dole pineapple used to have 100% Hawaiian emblazoned across the top of the can, but no more: Product of Thailand.  Well, we won’t be buying any more of that for a while.  The recipe also called for vanilla extract, and I was certain I remembered buying a new bottle of vanilla months ago, then finding that there was more left in the old bottle than I thought and the new bottle being in the way in the cabinet…so I moved it…where???  I looked everywhere I could think of but couldn’t find it!  We used almond extract instead.  The bread pudding turned out pretty well.

Daniel fixed my purse with heavy-duty needle and thread and what he said was a total disregard for aesthetics, although I think it looks only a little scrappier than before.  It might not hold until Easter, but for now it seems strong enough that I’m not making a special shopping trip just to see if there are any American leather purses in the stores.

In fact, I didn’t do any shopping at all this weekend.  I’ve been meaning to get to the food co-op but didn’t, due to a bad headache and nagging feelings that we should use up more of what’s in our pantry before we replenish.  (Speaking of the pantry, I’m glad we happen to be stocked up on olive oil!  We use a lot of that Product of Italy.)  We have one of those 10% off everything at Target coupons that expires today, but the things I’d been planning to get on my next trip to Target (clothespins, another nylon mesh bag for washing delicate items, more sweatpants for Nicholas) all are likely to be imported, and more importantly I feel we can do without them for another month.  Even better for the environment than buying sort-of-local stuff is buying no new stuff!

Friday, March 5

The car ran out of gas, and Daniel filled it up.  I feel guilty that probably-imported fuel has been purchased for the car I drive.  On the other hand, at least a gallon from the previous tank was used to drive a friend who has no car on an important errand 40 miles away on a very cold day.  (The Prius is less efficient in colder weather.)  That was a good deed plus two hours of conversation with my friend; I don’t regret that.  Will 9 gallons of gas get us through the next 30 days?  I think so, although we’ll probably be going to a Passover seder an hour away, and Passover is during the final week of Lent.

I’ve been realizing that the things I buy travel more than I do! Many of these foods Made in USA come from the Midwest, California, or Florida, traveling over a thousand miles to Pittsburgh grocery stores.  Clothing, appliances, and so forth are mostly made in China or other faraway countries.  I’ve thought about this before–I used to keep my mind busy during school by imagining how many people had been involved in bringing me a pencil or other ordinary object and how many different places the components of my pencil had been.

Aside from one trip to Japan when I was a toddler, I’ve never left North America.  It’s been 13 years since I was outside the United States, and that same trip was the last time I visited the western half of the continent.  I haven’t left metropolitan Pittsburgh since Thanksgiving.  I don’t mind–I like it here! But it’s weird that within walking distance of my home I can buy a huge array of things from around the world.

I’m trying to be conscious of all those places and people producing my stuff, to pray for the graphite guys (I have no idea how graphite is obtained, without looking it up!) and the pencil factory workers and the truck drivers . . . but it’s overwhelming.  How did I deserve to be born into such wealth and convenience and seamless organization?  I wish every object had credits, like a movie, so that I could see all those people’s names and get my head around the fact that they are real.

Saturday, March 6

Daniel said, “Is that the bottle of vanilla you were looking for?”  It was on a higher shelf, wedged way over at one side where the side of the cabinet door concealed it unless you had your head practically inside the cabinet and were looking at that shelf.  Grrr.  But now we’ll have vanilla for whatever we may make during Lent that tastes good with vanilla.  I’m pretty sure vanilla beans come from someplace faraway.  Here I am on the Internet . . . oh, native to Mexico! But “The majority of the world’s vanilla . . . is produced in a small region of Madagascar and in Indonesia.”

Sunday, March 7

Trader Joe’s canned fried onions (the crunchy casserole-topping kind) are Product of Holland.  That’s a surprise!  It makes sense that a country famous for its flower bulbs also produces onion bulbs, but so many onions are grown in the USA that I’m surprised to see these are imported.  Trader Joe’s canned mandarin oranges are from Spain.  These were among the few products we couldn’t buy at Trader Joe’s, going on the assumption that their Distributed by means, in the absence of further information, that the product was made in USA–I still feel suspicious about that.

Tuesday, March 9

Many of my idle moments are now spent squinting at labels to see where things were made–not just in stores but everywhere I go.  A snazzy new dish-brush turned up in the office kitchen, Made in Czech Republic, of all places.  I’m relieved to find that my contact lens solutions, all the medications that indicate their origins, and Up&Up (Target store brand) hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol all are Made in USA.  Last night Nicholas held up a half-full package of batteries and said, “We’d better not use all these before Easter!  I bet they are made in China!” but I looked, and they’re actually Made in USA.  That got me curious about other store-brand batteries, so I now know that Rite Aid and Giant Eagle batteries are Made in USA but CVS batteries are Made in China.

Wednesday, March 10

Hey, Sunday’s newspaper includes an investigative report on what Made in USA items are available at a local Target!  Interesting.  I’m glad they did some of this research for me.

Friday, March 12

The double pack of CVS dental floss was the best value and also the only variety Made in USA.  The single pack of CVS floss was Made in Canada–do they have two different floss factories, or have they switched factories recently and one size of package has been restocked more recently than the other?  The other brands were Made in the Dominican Republic and Made in Ireland, of all places.

We’re out of coffee.  I guess there was less in the canister than I thought.

Sunday, March 14

I spent much of the weekend stocking up on groceries.  Saturday morning, I went “dahnna Strip,” as they say in Pittsburgh, to find fair-trade organic coffee grown in Mexico and roasted locally.  La Prima Espresso did not let me down!  Having awakened with a mild headache, waited almost an hour for Daniel to get up and start being the POD, and then driven to the Strip without benefit of coffee, I decided to invoke the “It was brewed here from beans roasted here!” argument and enjoy a cup of the coffee they were serving at the counter without asking what country it was from.  Also a cranberry muffin.

From there, I stopped in at St. Stanislaus Kostka, the Catholic church that is a focal point on the Strip, just to sit quietly for a few minutes and soak in the beauty of the stained glass and statues.  I love churches that are just open (without a service going on) to anyone who wants to come in; it’s such a simple, pleasant symbol of God who is always there for everyone.  I didn’t pray for anything specific, but I became aware of a fear that my shopping trip would turn into a binge of acquiring things we don’t need and/or being unable to resist temptation to break my fast . . . so I released that fear and immediately felt trusted.  I had aimed to feel trusting in God’s guidance, but actually I felt trusted to be responsible for myself, which is even more heartening.  I went back to Right By Nature where I’d parked the car, walked through the whole store, but bought only three apples because we just didn’t need anything else I saw there.

At Market Outlet at the other end of the Strip, I found some good bargains on American food, including a half gallon of cranberry-pomegranate flavor 100% juice for 75 cents because the plastic bottle was slightly, harmlessly dented!  Then I went to Giant Eagle for some basic provisions.  They had Mexican zucchini at $2/pound, so I got some of those and cooked up some vegetables to top our pizza later, followed by Zucchini Tofu tonight.

We needed onions, but all the healthy-looking low-priced onions were from South America, while the North American onions were more expensive and dotted with black mold.  I finally bought a few of the very small USA onions, which were lower-priced than the big ones (but you have to consider that a larger proportion of their weight is inedible skin and root) and less moldy.  They turned out to be very strong-smelling when cut, but at least they taste good.

Frozen concentrated orange juice was on sale, but the can said, Concentrate from USA, Mexico, and/or Brazil. Darn.  I wished I’d known we were low on orange juice when we were at Trader Joe’s, where the frozen orange juice is organic and reasonably priced and 100% Floridian.  I read the labels of Old Orchard brand juices, saw that some of them listed countries of origin while others didn’t, and bought the ones that didn’t–all the fruits in them, like apples and grapes, can be grown in the United States.

I was home for lunch, and then Nicholas and I headed for Costco in the afternoon.  After months of importing their avocados from Chile, they now had avocados from Mexico!  Hooray, guacamole tomorrow!  The one thing we really wanted to buy but couldn’t was tilapia fillets (we tried a free sample, and they were delicious) because the package didn’t say where they came from–they might be breaded in USA, but I’m sure I’ve read that tilapia are caught around Argentina and the Philippines and such–and anyway we didn’t have room in the freezer.  We walked out with a cartfull of food and a fresh pizza for only $5.36, having used the money-back certificate from our credit card.

Today was member discount day at the East End Food Co-op: 10% off everything and my long-awaited opportunity to get more quick oats!  Due to a series of glitches in my procurement system, we’d been out of oatmeal for almost two months, during prime oatmeal-eating season . . . but it hadn’t made me quite grouchy enough to buy more-expensive, non-organic, packaged oatmeal at the supermarket!  I spent most of the shopping trip happily refilling my various containers in the bulk food section, labeling some extra jars for green lentils since they were on sale.  Almost nothing in the bulk section is labeled with country of origin, so I decided to assume it’s North American unless it’s something I’m pretty sure doesn’t grow here, such as tea.  (The one thing I bought that I think is questionable–didn’t consider it seriously enough until I got home–is cashew nuts.  Wikipedia says they’re native to Brazil and also grown in Asia and Africa.  Oops!)  A quick jaunt through the rest of the aisles netted 3 pounds of local organic apples for only $3, a nice bag of USA non-moldy organic onions, and yogurt.

We are now well-provisioned.  My legs ache.

Saturday, March 20

What with headaches and having guests, our 12-ounce bag of La Prima Espresso is almost gone!  So I went into Margaret’s Fine Imports, a neighborhood shop that specializes in coffee and tea.  They had Kona coffee (from Hawaii) at a very high price and Mexican coffee at about the same price as La Prima, so I asked for some of the Mexican.  The dispenser was nearly empty, but the clerk carefully shook beans out of all its nooks and crannies to sell me every last one!  He was just finishing this when Margaret finished serving another customer and noticed what he was doing.  She objected that those beans were very old and dried-out.  I explained my fast.  She insisted on charging me half-price! Score!!  It’s not the greatest coffee ever, but it’ll do just fine.  (And I don’t think I looked somber, Jesus…)

I ordered “It was brewed here from beans roasted here!” coffee at Kazansky’s this morning.  It wasn’t quite an emergency.  But this is only my second such lapse during Lent.  I thought there would be a lot more, but I’ve done better than expected at drinking all my coffee at home, work, or church.

Sunday, March 28

We got to the Passover seder and back again before using up the last of the 9 gallons of gas we bought more than 3 weeks ago.  At least Daniel managed to fill up on Sunday this time.

Wednesday, March 31

You know, there just hasn’t been much to report.  I can buy most of the groceries I want; I can’t buy most of the other things, but it doesn’t matter because I can wait until after Lent for those things. (I stopped hanging my purse from hooks to reduce strain on the strap, and it’s holding up…but the zipper on one of the pockets has jammed half-open.)

At the co-op last night, Nicholas and I bought more local apples and kale from somewhere in the USA.  It looked like all the winter squashes were from Mexico (I had no idea that Mexico grew winter squashes, much less that we’d need to import them up here, since winter squashes grow here and can be stored through the winter), but then we noticed that the delicata squashes were from USA and bought those.

I used the last of the black tea today.  We still have green tea.  All tea is imported from Asia, so far as I know.  Some herbal teas might be domestic, but it’s impossible to tell with tea bags that are Packed and distributed by American companies.  I’m a big fan of rooibos, a/k/a red tea, which seems to come exclusively from southern Africa, about as far away from Pennsylvania as you can get!  I used up the last of that last week; no more until co-op member discount day on April 11.  I’m glad the weather is supposed to warm up this week so I’ll stop craving non-caffeinated hot drinks.

The waiting, the deliberate avoidance of instant gratification, probably is good for me.  It doesn’t feel like much of a burden, though.  Ooh, I have to survive this last week with a reduced selection of teas!  Big deal.

Thursday, April 1

Writing the check for the natural gas bill, I realized: There are sources of natural gas in the United States, but how do I know whether this gas I’m buying is domestic or imported?  I wrote last month’s check without even thinking about it.

Good Friday

So, I’m at work, happily cleaning data, and suddenly I felt a headache coming on.  Okay, coffee time.  I went to the kitchen and put water in my percolator and milk in my mug.  I returned to my office and got out my jar of coffee . . . and it’s empty!!!  Yesterday I used the last of the coffee and meant to take the jar home to refill it, but I didn’t!  This is particularly, cruelly ironic because yesterday, I received a pound of Panamanian coffee in the mail from my mother (who recently visited Panama), and since it’s a gift I don’t have to fast from it, so we have plenty of good coffee at home, but despite enjoying that new coffee this morning with Daniel (who thought I said Panda Mania coffee–we now wonder if coffee does induce mania in pandas), I totally forgot to pack some for work!  This is all my own stupid fault!!!

Now, I know there are several options available to me, and it probably wasn’t the best choice to give the chair of the office coffee club $1 for a scoop of their Folgers Classic Roast, which is labeled so vaguely as to completely obscure its origins and might even be harvested by child slaves from a pesticide-drenched wasteland–I called the toll-free number on the canister to ask, but they are closed on Good Friday–but in the pain-addled moment, that’s what I did.  A vile sinner am I!  If I had been there in the mob in Jerusalem, and the servants of the high priest had offered me coffee to shout, “Crucify him!!” I probably would have done it.

Easter Sunday

Well, this has been an interesting project.  For the most part, it wasn’t very difficult, because in a short time period like six weeks, the easiest way to avoid buying imported stuff is to buy nothing except groceries. That wouldn’t work forever, but for six weeks it was no big deal.  I’m looking forward to getting a new purse.  Sure, I’ll look for one Made in USA, but what’s most important to the environment is getting a purse that will serve me well for as long as possible.

Funny how the coffee wasn’t as big a problem as I expected, until the very end.  Friday’s headache was a real mind-bender; you can see, above, its terrible influence on my rational thinking abilities.  There was no reason for me to stay at work.  I could have taken a few hours of sick time and gone home for coffee (and relaxation and stretching, which also would have helped relieve the headache) or even stopped for coffee at one of the sixteen places that sell ready-to-drink coffee along my route home!  But no!  I didn’t even consider that possibility until sometime the next day!

My major lapse was gasoline. We used a lot less than most Americans would in six weeks, but we did burn up a full tank plus some.  We could do better.  Other than that, the only thing I bought that I’m (almost) sure violated my fast is the cashews.

It was interesting to see which kinds of produce are being imported from where at this time of year.  Because supermarkets stock almost all kinds of fruits and vegetables all year, it’s easy to assume that all of them are grown relatively nearby, maybe in greenhouses . . . but the reality is that a lot of summer crops are trucked up from South America during our winters.  I already had been “trying” not to buy faraway foods, but forcing myself to stop for six weeks was good for me. I’ll probably keep on paying more attention to the origins of things, now that I’ve gotten into the habit.  However, I’m not willing to permanently abstain from any of the always-imported foods I noticed during my fast: bananas, pineapple, vanilla, tilapia, cashews, tea, and rooibos.

The main thing I learned from reading labels is that many labels don’t tell me everything I want to know about a product’s origins. I had no idea labeling laws were so minimal!  I’d like to know more about where my stuff has been.  One of the things that motivated me to choose this particular fast was my son’s asking me to buy him a set of colored pencils with sharpener–the package said, Pencils made in USA of Brazilian wood. Sharpener made in China. Packaged in Mexico. and I was astonished by the thought of these little things doing so much traveling yet being sold so cheaply!  (I didn’t buy it.)  Now I know that very few products give you that much information.  If I’d had time, I would have called more of the toll-free numbers on packages or written letters asking for more information, but I wish they’d just tell me.

The most important effect of this fast has been reminding me that the systems that supply us with consumer products are extremely complex and heavily dependent on fuel for transportation.  It’s amazing that we have constant opportunities to buy stuff from all over the world at affordable prices, yet we tend to take it for granted. As petroleum supplies dwindle, it’s not just gasoline to fill our cars that will become expensive–everything that travels long distances to reach our stores will be affected.  How are we going to keep this incredible system going as we have less and less fuel to power it?

On this feast day, I am more grateful than ever before for stores overflowing with bananas and orange juice, and for all the hard-working people who make it possible. But I’m not racing to the store today.  We have plenty to eat right here.

7 thoughts on “Local Lent diary

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