I’ve been reading some interesting articles about how Costco is taking the step into Green. I think it is inevitable that we will see corporate bandwagoning of the Green movement, but have always been skeptical that they could pull it off effectively. Let’s be real…..at this point, there is a major difference between espousing “Green” and true sustainability.
Actually let’s explore that a little, particularly for those who aren’t caught up with their reading. You might think that going green is as simple as buying the “recycled” toilet paper from Safeway. Not even close, bub! To truly understand sustainability one must trace the origins of their consumption all the way to the source, and consider all elements along the way. How much energy does the manufacturing process take? What materials are used at the expense of producing this product? What waste is generated? How is the product packaged and transported? What fossil fuels are consumed as a result? The list goes on and on.
This might seem a bit obsessive-compulsive and, in many cases, impossible. But if we don’t ask, we’ll never know. Corporations have sought to hide these things from us so that we don’t fully appreciate the true costs of our consumption and therefore accept the status quo. One could argue that the nature of the financial structure of corporate-anything is inconsistent with sustainability, but I believe that is a battle for future generations. Our goal should be focused on laying the seed for change. And our first mission is to fully understand the important details of what we consume.
In the age of sustainability, manufacturers who really own the idealism will volunteer this information to distinguish themselves and to help facilitate your decisions. Case in point: look at your eggs in the supermarket. Cage-free this, free range that – it’s all marketing hype in reaction to our growing concern over animal treatment. But……when you come across the real deal, they certainly let you know. Here is what TLC Ranch says about their eggs:
Eggs are certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), as of January 15, 2009.
Similar to the pigs, our laying hens are moved around 20 acres of certified organic pasture using mobile chicken coops. Using electric mesh fencing, they are given about 1.5 acres at a time and moved about 200 times a year so they always have fresh, green, growing vegetation to eat as well as plentiful bugs (chickens are not vegetarians).
Predation is prevented through the use of electric fencing and an amazing livestock guard dog, an Italian breed called the Maremma, named Angel. We strive never to kill native predators as we feel they are a vital part of the ecosystem.
Chicken feed is also from Modesto Milling and is certified organic. Ingredients include corn, wheat, soy, kelp, limestone, and vitamins and minerals. Chickens are also given organic brewers grains and organic waste vegetables to diversify their diet and keep our feed costs down. Granite grit and oyster shells are provided at all times to aid in digestion and keep calcium levels up in the hens.
Hens are kept for about two years then sold live to local folks. We are exploring the possibility of processing the hens in order to produce chicken stock and chicken sausage as well.
Beaks are tipped (which is less severe than clipping) by the farm that broods the certified organic chicks for us so they don’t peck each other severely while they are in the brooding phase. (Brooding is the raising of chicks to about 18 weeks old where they are provided with warmth until they have fully feathered out.) We then get the laying hens at 18 weeks old, and put them out on pasture where they will spend the rest of their lives. We do no other body modifications to the birds. We look forward to the day when we have the land tenure and infrastructure to brood our own chicks exactly how we want.
That’s a bit more information than “free range”. And they make damn good eggs. Another great example is “grass fed”. The term is starting to bounce around a little too freely these days. Sometimes it only means that the animals were fed grass for brief periods of their lives. They still suffer from a primarily, and unnaturally, corn-and-antibiotic-fed diet. But the serious ranchers once again stand out with descriptions like: 100% grass-fed, pasture raised, etc. Over time, you get to know the buzzwords and the bullshit becomes clear.
This brings me to Costco. I decided, in fairness, to give it a visit. It has been so long and just like my Trader Joe’s post, I needed to see for myself. I was actually surprised that their basic language seems sensible. They talk a lot about dye-free, biodegradable, cruelty-free, plant based, etc. In most aisles, there was an alternative to chemical-laden counterparts. They also had a lot of gadgetry such as solar panels, LED lights and such. And even some local-supported brands, like ACME breads.
Don’t get me wrong. I called Trader Joe’s a whore. Costco is a chain of brothels containing thousands of whores by comparison. But I see their efforts as positive. First, the concept of buying in bulk is appealing. I’ve heard a lot of disrespect paid to Costco for selling gallons of this and flats of that….but if it reduces packaging in any way, I’m for it, as long as their isn’t increased waste. And be certain their effort to go green is riddled with problems, most of which likely stem from their manufacturing process, packaging and transportation.
But what does it really mean when Costco is actively touting Green products? It means that Green has a voice. The boardrooms are hearing the cry and finding a way to capitalize on it. It’s a start. Sustainability is a long long long way off, but it has to begin somewhere. If Green is the precursor to sustainability, it’s foothold in the Costcos, Sam’s Clubs, Walmarts and Targets of the world is entirely essential. Not necessarily for San Francisco where we can easily eat in Slow-Food restaurants every night for a year without repeating or shop at a Farmer’s Market just about any day. But for the world outside of this bubble, where the ideals of sustainability are simply unfathomable [for now].
So, while I won’t likely be back to Costco more than a once or twice this year, I encourage those who live elsewhere, and seek to improve their impact, to start by changing the toilet paper, dish soap, laundry detergent to these Green products. Of course it doesn’t end there and the ideals of a truly sustainable food system and manufacturing complex should remain our goals, ultimately, no matter where you live.