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Molnar: Localvore Dilemma

(Host) Shopping for food used to be simple. But since moving to Vermont in 2008, this ordinary task has become highly complex, says commentator Martha Molnar, a public relations professional and writer.

(Molnar) Once I could walk into a grocery store and buy what I needed, looking for freshness and trying to save where I could. It was in and out, fast and efficient.

Then we moved to Vermont , and shopping for food became a mission complicated by ethical, health, environmental and economic considerations. Now it's neither fast nor efficient.

The transformation evolved as we became caught up in the localvore movement. Local food, which was a faint hum in our New York City suburb,is a thunderous drumroll in Vermont .

It started with one of my fantasies coming true. Our property has endless sunshine, encouraging serious gardening. Each year the vegetable beds expanded, and now I grow enough to feed us through fall. But when the bounty ends, it's hard to face the sad supermarket produce.

When a yearning for meat set in, easy answers appeared. Our neighbor raises chickens and turkeys that wander around seemingly happy throughout their lives. At the Rutland Farmers Market I found beef from the cheerfully grazing cows we pass driving north. Both cost considerably more than supermarket meat, but encouraged by the culture around us, we became committed to consuming only happy animals.

Still, the grocery store remains a mainstay for things like fish, and orange juice, and in winter, fresh fruits that require fewer than thousands of miles to transport. And it's a place fraught with complex issues.

Fish is one example. I carry a list that's supposed to make it easy to make the environmentally correct and healthy choice. Problem is, there are three columns of bad choices, and every fish in front of me fits into one of them. It's either filled with mercury and therefore bad for us; or it's a species that's being overfished, so it's bad for the fish; or it's farm-raised, and thus bad for the oceans. I stand in front of the fish counter paralyzed with indecision. I could try the fish store, but that means extra driving and burning more fossil fuel. Veggie burgers, I finally decide, will be delicious saute'd in garlic butter.

Even orange juice presents a quandary. It used to be sold in cardboard containers that disintegrated in the landfills. I don't know when these containers were deemed unsuitable - nobody consulted me - but the result is that OJ now comes in plastic or glass containers, which take energy to produce and recycle- assuming our careful winnowing of the trash is not undone at some point along the long path to the factory.

Recycling presents more puzzles - like the environmental cost of the hot water used to wash a greasy mayonnaise jar. I feel compelled to wash it, since something prevents me from throwing a jar with moldy remains into the bin. And then there's the dilemma of organic, free-range eggs that come in plastic cartons versus ordinary eggs in cardboard packaging.

All this confusion - and I haven't even weighed in on the Green Mountain College oxen!

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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