Go with the Flow

Now that 2011 has ended, Don and I are free to return to German-owned Trader Joe's to shop. I used to run in there almost daily for everything: milk, eggs, bread, fruits, veggies, sunflowers. On January 3, 2012, Don returned to his pre-CAMJ routine, no problem. He bought a Trader Joe's salad for lunch and never looked back. I've resisted. It's been months since I set foot in the place; why go now?

And so on Sunday afternoon, when I needed to pick up ingredients for dinner, I skipped TJ's and headed over to family-owned and operated Lunardi's. I entered the place feeling downright smug about my one-year accomplishment. Imports are for schmucks with no impulse control. I am so above that sort of behavior. I was the living, breathing embodiment of that time-honored aphorism: Pride goeth before the fall.

Indeed it doth.

In the fish department fresh, gorgeous, caught-in-the-U.S.A. choices awaited my selection: petrale sole, Coho salmon, Dungeness crab. But the crabs were too small (under two pounds each) and the Coho, although a beautiful deep orange color, contained zero fat and therefore (in my opinion) zero moisture or flavor. The petrale sole would have been delicious baked, but Don and I hoped to barbeque since the weather had been temperate and un-January-ish all day. The salmon from Norway beckoned. Nicely marbled, as always. Perfect for grilling. And oh so good with a big dollop of lemon-yogurt dill sauce. "The Norwegian salmon filet, a tail piece, please," I told the guy behind the counter. And just like that, Mrs. Smug said yes to imports.

Pushing the cart toward the produce section--my Norwegian salmon now wrapped in white butcher paper--I justified my purchase. It's not so much impulse buying as doing my part to improve international relations with Norway. It's not so much a betrayal as a mindful choice.

Ah, so it begins. The rationalizations. The denials. The magical thinking. I'll be much better in the produce department.

Looking over the ginger root from Brazil (for the butternut squash soup I planned to make in a couple of days), I reminded myself that there's nothing inherently wrong with buying imports. My own father, the inspiration for this blog, didn't necessarily endorse a protectionist approach. In the early 1970s, when he began writing "Import Backlash and the Unemployment Crunch," he proposed our country create something he called an "Import-Export-Equity-Exchange." This Exchange would, Dad argued, promote a balanced flow of imports and exports to and from the United States. Using his typewriter and a felt tip marker, he designed an intricate flow chart (which nowadays would be a Power Point presentation) that showed how our country's Exchange would work:

Using Dad's system, my Norwegian salmon purchase wouldn't be anything to fret about. Thanks to the Import-Export-Equity-Exchange, somewhere in Norway folks would be buying products (perhaps almonds from California, apples from Washington State, cheese from Wisconsin) imported from the U.S.A. It would all be positive, free flowing, even-steven. Such a lovely concept. In our computerized world (which Dad, with his creative-engineer mind, foresaw), surely some clever Silicon Valley genius could come up with an Import-Export-Equity-Exchange software program, right?

And so I bought the Brazilian ginger and Norwegian salmon--Dad's Flow Chart dancing in my head--but also filled my cart with plenty of American goods: Frost Kissed Artichokes from Ocean Mist Farms in Castroville, California; Gee Whiz Cripps Pink apples from Washington State; a loaf of Pugliese from Grace Baking Company in Richmond, California; locally grown carrots, parsley, spinach, onions and leeks. The butternut squash, given to me by a friend, had been harvested in late autumn on a farm in Woodland, California.

Our Sunday night meal was outstanding. Perhaps because we hadn't had Norwegian salmon--cooked on our U.S.A.-made Weber grill--in such a long time, it tasted better than ever. As we did the dishes, I told Don about Dad's flow chart. Don laughed. "Sounds pretty complicated, but knowing Geno he had it all figured out." So true.

In the meantime, until our country comes up with a solid solution to the half-trillion dollar trade deficit and resultant unemployment, why not take matters into our own hands? If we American consumers could commit to making even 25 percent of our purchases Made in the U.S.A., we could eliminate our country's trade deficit and stimulate job creation. Consumer awareness is our first line of defense. We need to notice where that fresh asparagus or boneless pork roast or yes, salmon originated. If they didn't originate here, that's ok if the rest of our purchases are products of the U.S.A.

Seems simple enough, right? But what if there are no labels, no signs posted in produce bins or on meats telling us those products' places of origination? That, my fellow Americans, may all too soon be a reality. More to come.

PS: A few readers have asked if Don and I like our Made in the U.S.A. EdenPure infrared heater (approximate cost: $400 + tax). Don: "It's great. It's quiet and heats the room really quickly. I don't think it's worth $400--you can get space heaters so much cheaper than that--but if you have little kids in the house maybe it is because it's super safe. Hands down the safest space heater we've ever owned." I, too, like the heater and agree that it seems overpriced compared to similar China-made products (which are not, however, infrared heat). My complaints are that (1) there's no way to tell the actual temperature; it uses a bar system--when all the bars are lit, it's at maximum heat, temperature unknown but I'm guessing around 68-70 degrees. (2) It doesn't heat up high enough for me (the way those cheap but terrific space heaters do); again, you can't crank it up to 80 degrees because there are no digital temperature settings.

EdenPure infared heater update: It's been almost a month since I posted the comments above. As I write this, the now-beloved heater sends gentle warmth toward me. Not too hot, not too stifling. Not too noisy. Just right. What was I thinking back in January, touting cheap China space heaters? Truth is, it's best to live with a new appliance for a while to accurately assess its quality. And so in the interest of honesty and fairness: two thumbs-up for EdenPure. What I especially like is that the heater has wheels. It glides effortlessly and silently from one room to another (a nice feature when I'm sneaking it away from Don). We're thinking of buying a second one. Yes, for $400. And that, my friends, is a ringing endorsement for an American-made product.