"Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are."
--Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)
Field Research, Part One:
Sunday morning I head over to the local donut shop; an obvious attempt to forget China Factory Syndrome. I'm pretty sure this craving traces back to my days as a Catholic school girl. Every first Friday of the month, right after morning Mass, mom-volunteers set out humongous pink boxes filled with rows and rows of fresh glazed donuts. "Now boys and girls," my second grade teacher, Sister Mary Nina would say, "when you buy your donuts, don't forget the starving children in China." I felt obligated to eat my share of donuts and theirs too. I never really got the logic in it, but it turned food consumption into a philanthropic activity.
Besides, I reason, now minutes from finally getting a chocolate old-fashioned, it's not like Steve Jobs is sitting around (in black mock turtle neck and nicely worn jeans) in his Woodside manse, strumming his fingers against the Zen-inspired furniture, waiting for me to contact him. "Have to pass on yoga this morning, Laurene. Haven't heard from that suburban blogger yet."
The line at Christy's Donuts, I'm happy to report, is out the door. Moms and dads, young offspring in tow, debate cinnamon twists or cake with white frosting and sprinkles or chocolate frosted with coconut shavings. The kids, tugging on their parents' pants legs, are already skilled in the fine art of negotiation. "But Dad gets three, why can't I?" Ah, give the kid another donut, I want to say. Haven't you heard? There are children starving in China. And don't even get me started on the factory-children making Apple iPhones in China.
Field Research, Deuxieme Partie (Part two):
It's 1PM. Don's hungry. He's been to the gym, the hospital, and the golf driving range. I've been at the kitchen table, laptop open, getting to know Steve Jobs. How can I contact him if I don't know a thing about him or his company or, for that matter, the computer industry? Let's talk Shakespeare. Let's talk Jane Austen. John Milton, anyone? I am so out of my depth. This is crazy. My Dad's crazy, sending me messages from the past, telling me to Go straight to the top. What am I doing? Why'd I ever start this Buy-American project? Who cares about Import Backlash? Don interrupts my blogging-induced panic. "It's Sunday. How 'bout you take a break? Let's figure out lunch."
Gentle reader (as Miss Manners would say and yes, please be gentle) will recall we decided to boycott German-owned Trader Joe's. It now beckons. Have you tried their frozen mushroom risotto? Toss some of their frozen baby peas and frozen grilled chicken into a skillet, saute for a few mintues and yum. A meal in minutes. Experts say the key to sticking with New Year's resolutions is pre-planning. Our freezer, refrigerator and cupboards are bare, other than a pre-boycott bag of Trader Joe's organic mini carrots. Was it just eight days ago that we started?
Don spots the empty white donut bag on the counter. Also, I may have chocolate frosting on the tip of my nose. Do you really need to know that? I think not. "Did you go to Christy's?" He's waving the bag in the air. I change the subject. "How about we go out for lunch? Let's try La Boulange. Oh wait. French name. Better check to see who owns the company." Don--my rock, the former water polo champ, the unbreakable one with the indomitable spirit, the one who, with Dr. Phil-tenacity keeps on keepin' on when all about him are crumbling--has had it. "Can't you just wait until after we've eaten to check it out? I'm starving. And honey, you have chocolate right here." He's touching the tip of his nose. I wipe the chocolate off mine. "Christy's. Chocolate old fashioned. Sorry. So you're saying you want to take a 'Don't ask, don't tell' approach. Is that it?" He nods. Off we go.
La Boulange Café & Bakery has rattan bistro chairs and pine farm tables. It smells heavenly: butter melting in pans, garlic bubbling in olive oil, yeast rising in ovens. It’s the embodiment of all good things French. True confessions: I concentrated on Proust in college. My house is filled with fabrics made in Provence. My grandmother, although Sicilian, was a disciple of Julia Child, bought all of her cookbooks, and gave them to moi. Other than a brief frosty period following 9/11, France and I have gotten along rather well. So, as Don and I scarf down vegan split pea soup, a salad of baby spring greens, and a club sandwich made with freshly baked white buttered bread, fresh roasted turkey, bacon, and tomatoes, we aren't discussing anything but how good it all is.
As soon as we return home, I go online. Don's stands behind me, awaiting the verdict for our new favorite place to eat. After skimming the website--and getting sidetracked by NY Times Food Reviews--I can't really tell. The two partners, Pascal Rigo and Thomas Lefort, although French natives, have lived in San Francisco for decades. There's mention of an "outside investor," but no mention of the investor's homeland. In keeping with our mum's-the-word policy, Don and I are fine with not knowing more. Still, it nags at me. I may have to give corporate--the Bay Bread Group--a call. Hope Don will understand.
La Terecer Parte, Hogar Dulce Hogar (Part Three, Home Sweet Home):
On Sunday evening, Don and I make Spanish omelets for dinner. Eggs whites from "California Fresh" eggs. Bit of "Sargento Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Mexican" thrown in for good measure. The bottom of the Sargento package says: "Our family's passion is cheese." Sargento Foods Inc, a family owned business in Wisconsin, employs 1500 people at four different facilities. Their website posts the company's "Code of Business and Personal Ethics." The guiding principals: "We will be legal. We will be moral. We will be honest. We will be respectful. We will be responsible. We will be fair." Good enough for me. When he finishes the omelet, Don throws some La Victoria Salsa Suprema into the pan. La Victoria is owned by Mega-Mex, a company that resulted when Hormel (Minnesota) and Herdez del Fuerte (Mexico City) merged. Looking at the beautiful red and green salsa blanketing on our egg whites and Sargento 4 Cheese omelets, Don and I can't tell which part of the salsa is from Hormel / U.S.A and which is from Herdez del Fuerte / Mexico. Both are all cooked up together in one big pot. A nice metaphor for how American corporations do business in our current global economy. But has anything been lost--an American job or two, perhaps--in the translation? We'll see. Hasta luego.