A Dozen Little Dilemmas

Not surprisingly, there’s many reasons why Chris doesn’t like to grocery shop with me. But the main reason is because I stand in front of each display for every product on our list, and proceed to hum and haw over which I should choose, vocalizing all my concerns as Chris listens patiently.

I want to support Canadian farmers, growers, producers, packagers, and artists, as well as decrease the carbon footprint my food makes. Why buy apples from New Zealand that have traveled 13,000 km on a boat, plane, train, and truck to get here in front of me, when there are apples that a Canadian picked off a tree 900 km away in British Columbia?

So when choosing foods, my main concern is that it is locally or provincially sourced, or at bare minimum, Canadian made.

This sounds like an easy enough task, just check the labeling and you’re good to go!

Ha! Not with me you’re not.

This is gonna be long winded.

First, I will always choose something grown or produced locally, such as Al’s Carrots, grown in St Paul, Alberta, or any milk products, such as Dairyland, as dairy products are so perishable that they have to be sourced from local farms (but I double check anyway). When it comes to fruit, Alberta doesn’t produce much, so in this case I will only buy BC fruit.

So if I can’t get locally made, I move on to various “Canadian” products.

My number one choice is “Product of Canada” items, as these must be grown, refined, and packaged in Canada. I primarily find these choices in low end grocery stores like Loblaws No Frills, probably because sourcing locally is cheapest? Maybe? I’m not a supply chain expert. Anyway, the definition of “Product of Canada” is as follows:

“A food product may use the claim “Product of Canada” when all or virtually all major ingredients, processing, and labour used to make the food product are Canadian. This means that all the significant ingredients in a food product are Canadian in origin and that non-Canadian material is negligible.” Source

I love that. Those are strict rules in this day and age of outsourcing, and if a company can meet those regulations, I’m buying their product first 100% of the time.

My second choice is the tricky “Made in Canada with Domestic and Imported Ingredients”, which is usually something that is a blend of Canadian ingredients, with something else that just cannot be grown in Canada (which is most things since this country is way too cold all of the time). With this, they don’t have to specify if its 85% Canadian ingredients or 5% Canadian ingredients.

“When a food contains both domestic and imported ingredients, the label would state “Made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients”. This claim may be used on a product that contains a mixture of imported and domestic ingredients, regardless of the level of Canadian content in the product.” Source.

My third and last choice is a “Made in Canada” product, as it is is usually all imported ingredients, but at least it was refined into the final product in Canada, creating jobs for Canadians. An example would be a pre-made pizza where the dough, sauce, cheese, and meat are all imported ingredients, but it is assembled and packaged in Canada.

“A “Made in Canada” claim with a qualifying statement can be used on a food product when the last substantial transformation of the product occurred in Canada, even if some ingredients are from other countries.” Source.

Then after all that is settled, I move onto my concerns about packaging. Do you see how this is an exhausting process for everyone around me? No wonder I shop alone. My packaging concerns are less about the products themselves, and more about sustainability, responsible use of fossil fuels, and the preservation of Alberta and its environment. So for example, eggs are a big dilemma. Hence the title of this article.

Now I’m not going to tell you how long I stood at the egg case in Safeway because it’s embarrassing and I already sound psychotic. This incident of trying to choose eggs is what inspired this whole article. I stood there in front of a literal wall of eggs, and could not find one good option. Not one.

LOOK AT THIS. It’s ridiculous, all those brands and selection and nothing suits my fancy? Why?!

You’re going to be sorry you asked.

Eggs, like dairy, are perishable so they’re usually sourced from local Alberta Egg Producers. That’s great! But choosing eggs from the grocery store gives me anxiety for two reasons: packaging concerns, and animal welfare concerns. What I care about is happy, healthy hens, and reusable cartons made from recycled products.

So my first choice is obviously raising my own hens and harvesting the eggs. Which I do, but my few remaining hens met an unfortunate end when a fox got into the henhouse. I will raise more hens this summer. Now that I’ve seen what a hen needs to be happy and healthy, it breaks my heart to buy eggs from the store.

Second choice is buying eggs from a neighbor or local person selling eggs from their small scale henhouse.

Third choice brings me to the grocery store, where I will have to search through everything until I find the perfect carton that meets my standards:

1. Free Run or Cage Free or Nest Laid – Commercially sourced eggs have sad definitions of what has to be met to qualify them as “free run” and “cage free” and “nest laid”, a lot of the time the hens are allowed access to the outdoors for a limited amount of time every day, via a small door being opened twice a day. This doesn’t guarantee that every hen went outside and got to scratch around in the sunshine. Also sometimes companies brag about “enriched environments” which literally could mean that there’s a single window that supplies natural light during the day. Hens are very dependent on light cycles. Yet all this is still better than the conventional farming methods of mass produced eggs from hens in tiny cages with no access to anything, so I will always choose something labeled “cage free” or “free run” over a carton that makes no mention of either. However, not all laying hens are treated poorly, I believe the Eggs Farmers of Alberta are good, caring people who are running responsible businesses. No one is in the egg business to mistreat hens, you’re in it to provide consumers with a healthy product sourced as fairly and humanely as possible.

2. Packaging – I will not buy plastic egg cartons. I will only buy the cardboard ones, as they are created from recycled products in the first place, and I feel better about reusing or recycling cardboard than plastic. If I had the option, I would bring my own container to the store, load up a dozen eggs, pay, and reuse the carton every time. If only!

3. Brown eggs – I just like the brown ones. I know egg color has no impact, but I prefer the brown ones. I feel like other people will only eat white ones, so it falls on me to support those brown laying hens. In a bind, I will buy the white ones, if they meet the previous standards.

So sometimes, as in the Safeway situation, I will leave with no eggs. Sometimes there isn’t a single option that meets my insane criteria. But by now, I know which grocery stores carry the eggs I feel okay buying, and I will go there instead.

So after all that, only once did Chris shout “JUST PICK ONE!” in No Frills, at the end of his rope with me and my inability to choose chicken breasts. Needless to say, we left empty handed that day because nothing was up to my standards. Since then, we’ve started raising our own meat chickens. I haven’t bought chicken since then and subsequently have avoided any more supermarket domestics.

The entire point of this post is to try and get just one person to think about where their food comes from. If one person looks at carrots next time and chooses Al’s Carrots (Alberta) over Bunny Luv (California) because of this post, that’s amazing.

So if you see me standing in a grocery aisle for a prolonged period of time, looking between a package and my phone, just know I’m tweeting the company, asking them where they source their grains from, like the crazy person I am.

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