Eco-novice reflects on the cost of buying local.
About a week ago, a friend of mine was driving up to Sonoma County for a camping trip with his kids. As part of the drive, my friend planned to stop at his favorite honey operation to stock up on honey at wholesale prices. I had recently tried and enjoyed this local honey through my CSA and asked him to pick some jars of honey up for me too.
Now even though I was getting this raw locally-produced honey at a great price (far below retail value), it was still significantly pricier than the jugs of pasteurized honey I buy at Costco, and I deliberated quite a while about just how much of this premium honey I wanted to buy. I use honey for my whole wheat bread, whole grain healthy "cookies," whole grain pancakes, granola, and drizzled over yogurt (among other things), so we go through a fair amount of honey at my house. Although I haven't researched the subject too much, I do believe there are benefits (in addition to flavor -- raw honey is delicious!) to consuming raw honey that are lost during the pasteurization process, so I decided to order enough raw local honey to use for all of our non-baking needs for about a year. I chatted with an employee at the local honey business for a while, and she agreed that many of the benefits would probably be lost for longer periods of baking in an oven.
I wrote my check and collected my honey. And I was feeling pretty good about my decision. I had supported a local business by buying a locally produced food, in glass jars no less. But I was still planning on using some big brand honey since I just couldn't quite justify the higher sticker price for unpasteurized honey that would be baked for 20-45 minutes anyway.
Then I read this article about "honey laundering" in Food News (brought to my attention by a post on The Green Phone Booth facebook page):
Asian Honey, Banned in Europe, Is Flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves: FDA has the laws needed to keep adulterated honey off store shelves but does little, honey industry says.
Now I'm not sure what exactly this article suggests about my "Sue Bee 100% U.S.-made honey" purchased at Costco. Does the Chinese honey contaminated with antibiotics and lead or concocted from artificial sweeteners mostly end up in processed goods (where the ingredient's origin wouldn't need to be disclosed)? Does the "honey laundering" only apply to honey labeled as coming from Asian countries suspecting of laundering honey for China? I'm not sure. But when I shared the article with my husband, he said no more Costco honey. When we run out of our raw local honey, we'll find a way to get some more.
A few takeaways from the "honey laundering" revelation:
- If you buy processed foods, you don't really know where the ingredients of your food are coming from.
- There is a lot going on in the food industry that we are not aware of.
- Because of global food markets, the industrialization of food production, and inadequate food regulation, the relationship between food producer and food consumer is largely a matter of trust.
- Therefore, buy local from small businesses whenever possible.
I think this experience will change the way I think about the relative costs of my food choices in the future. I feel more grateful than ever to have great options for purchasing locally produced foods from small family operations.