Breaking Thumbs

I vividly remember one day when I was a kid, maybe eight or nine, I was in my room trying to close the door, but it just wouldn't close. On the other side I could hear my little sister screaming, but for some reason I didn't put one and one together, and I just kept pushing, trying to close that door. After a few seconds of leaning against it, pushing, opening it and attempting to slam it shut, I realized that my sister's finger was wedged in between the door and the wall near the hinges.

At that time what should I have done? Thinking back, I guess I had two choices. I could have either opened the door to let her get her finger out, or I could keep right on trying to close the door. After all, I wanted that door closed!

Not a taught choice as you can see, and even at that age I realized the right thing was to open the door and let her get her fingers out. Of course I could blame myself for not noticing the fact that she had her fingers in there in the first place, it was pretty ignorant of me, but at least I didn't just keep on pushing.

* * *

A while back I posted some photos and a price list of a typical trip to the grocery store ( It makes me sick to look at it now.... [shudder] ). Since then, I have learned quite a bit about the effects my choices as a consumer have on the environment. Despite fear that being a responsible consumer meant doubling my monthly bills, and loosing out on a lot of the foods that I thought I loved, I have made some changes.

The more I learned about what I personally was doing to contribute to the degradation of our earth, it was hard not to change. Like learning that I was about the break my sister's fingers, I learned that I was helping to break the world, and only because of what I wanted.

Although no one would have suggested that I ignore the screams and the knowledge that my sister's finger was in the door, I am clueless as to why so many people who seem to know better continue to ignore the fact that their own consumption is just not sustainable. I'm not even talking about people who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence, I'm talking about people who are well read and intelligent... yet are somehow able to ignore the screams, simply because they want the door closed.

I was one of these people, and I didn't like that fact. I, however, was lucky to have Tomoe, who has a masters degree in environmental studies, around me all the time to answer my questions and point me on the right track. It's one thing to know that what we are doing is just plain selfish, and frankly sucks, but It's another thing finding good reliable information about what we can do differently.

I've been working on a little personal project which should be launched soon that will hopefully help myself, and any other people who care, make heads or tails out of their lifestyle choices, but for now I will leave you with last week's shopping list. What I bought, why, and most importantly, how affordable it was. Being responsible doesn't mean being poor.

* * *

Just some background about what goes through my mind when I decide what to buy. I am basically trying to make the best decision, considering some of the following factors:

Unfortunately, thinking about these things might have lead to a starving Bastish, were it not for the Tokyou seikatsu Kyoudo Sougou (THOTO), a co-op group in Tokyo which pays attention to what they stock on their shelves, offering domestic, often local products from small to medium sized producers using sustainable, as-chemical-free-as-possible growing methods. The co-op also offers regular field-trips to the farms, so the consumers can meet the producers, and get a better idea about where there food is actually coming from. The picture below is from one of those trips (I didn't go on the trip myself, though I hope to some time this summer... this photo is hanging on the wall of the co-op)

Best of all, although there is a small mark-up, thanks to dropping meat, poultry (except for an occasional egg) and most fish products, I actually spend less than I used to when I shopped at my old supermarket, and I eat and feel much better. I am able to eat healthier than anyone I know, and yet my monthly expenses are less than 90,000 yen, including rent and utilities.

There is a branch of the co-op about 10 minutes from my apartment, so I'm lucky enough to visit there once or twice a week to do my own shopping, and so far this year, I have not needed to go to any other supermarkets. If there is none near you, have no fear. They also deliver. If anyone is interested in ordering from them, leave me a comment and I can check to see where is closest to you.

Below is a run-down of our weekly grocery purchases and bill. ( Our staple is rice and various beans which we buy bulk online. )

Item Yen USD Note
Milk (1L) 198 1.88

Produced by milk cows in Chiba fed with locally grown feeds.

Pasteurized with 75-degree heat for 15 seconds. Normally milk is pasteurized at 120 degree for 3 seconds. Generally leads to better flavour (or so Tomoe says. I generally only have a bit of milk in my tea, so don't notice the difference)

Natto (135g X 2) 156 1.48

Small cups used to make my own natto.

Made with domestic, non-GM soy beans. (less than 10% of soy beans consumed in Japan are domestic.)

Domestic Flour (900g X 2) 296 2.81

Locally grown, no post-harvest chemicals. (Imported flours use lots of chemicals to keep pests away during transport.)

These two bags of flour will last for about a week's worth of bread.

Domestic Whole Wheat (1kg) 260 2.47

Cheaper than white rice, but much healthier. Tastes great mixed with the gen-mai (brown rice) we buy bulk online.

Despite the health benefits, great taste, price, and texture of this, it is often frowned upon as being for "poor" people. This view comes mostly as a result of the rice shortages after the war, when only "successful" rich people could afford rice. Now it's just a fashion thing.

Because I always mix it with brown-rice and beans when I cook it, this should last for well over a month.

Grahm Crackers (2 pkg) 284 2.70

This is one of the convenience foods we allow ourselves, but have been phasing out by making our own bread in the mornings to eat with hummus and jam.

Onions 180 1.71

Organically grown in Hokkaido

Ganmodoki (2pkg) 336 3.20

These are round spongy things often found in oden. Made with donmestic soy-beans, and vegetables.

Carrots 180 1.71

Organically grown in Chiba.

Cucumbers 336 3.20

Organically grown in Saitama.

Eggplants 208 1.98

Reduced-checmical from Chiba.

Cabbage (1/2 head) 180 1.71

Organically grown in Chiba.

Daikon (big white radish) 188 1.79

Reduced chemical from Ibaraki.

Green Onions 198 1.88

Reduced chemical from Tokyo.

Coconut Crackers 180 1.71

Another convenience weakness we really should cut out... We needed something sweat to eat with tea.

TOTAL 2,994 28.51

Comments about Breaking Thumbs

It's great that you're conscious about the food you buy and can get so much locally and organically grown produce. Regular supermarkets here are stocking up on more organic produce and foods than before, although I live near some farms so I just buy from them if I can. Do you know if there is any raw foodist community in Japan? I suppose that there isn't, although the health situation probably isn't as bad as in the US. I'm a raw foodist, which cuts out most packaged foods (or as other people would say, most food in general) among other things. I do it mainly for health reasons, but there are a lot of environmental aspects of it that I don't often think about.

Posted by: Robyn at April 12, 2004 04:04 AM

Woow i got to say that your site is great... Your blog regarding food and enviromental is great too. I guess i should try to cook myself... Keep up the good work! i will link my site to yours :P I really love all those photos ^^

Posted by: Seraphan at April 12, 2004 04:28 PM

I really had never heard of raw-foodists until this December. When I went back to the US, I was looking for an organic grocier for a gift-certificate for my brother in Chicago. Searching the web I saw bunch of raw-foodist sites.

I don't think I can go so far as to only eat raw food, although it would probably save a lot of energy used in cooking.

I do however prefer my veggies raw. Recently we have been enjoying a heap of hummus on a nice fresh cabbage leaf for snacks. The hummus is cooked though of course. I'm not sure how to make raw hummus, or bread for that matter...

Posted by: kevin at April 16, 2004 02:18 PM