Yesterday, I was at my local organic grocery store to get my morning muffin on my way to the studio. As I am dedicated to my new project of producing an image everyday for a year, I had my point and shoot camera with me and was looking around the store for an interesting image. My eye was drwan to the vibrant colors and perfect shapes of the peppers in the produce section. I liked the symetry of the peppers and the visual aesthetic was enhanced by their bright yellows, deep reds, earthy greens and contrasted by an almost unnatural orange. In addition to the colors, they were so lovingly organized on the shelf with all of their tops pointing out, laying on top of one another so that they won't roll away I knew someone had taken their time in setting them up so that they looked their delicious best.
As I took out the camera to get my shot, I was moving around to get myself out of the reflection of the mirror that the peppers sit in front of, giving them the appearance of almost going on forever, when I noticed that the sign said:
"Organic Yellow Bell Pepper $4.99 lb. Israel"
I thought: "Wow! That's expensive!", then it hit me, these very peppers, here in Asheville, that I was so lovingly examining to be part of my 2009 project, had come all the way from Israel to be placed with care on the shelf in front of the mirror and lighted to perfection with high pressure sodium and fluorescent bulbs and surely washed with reverse osmosis water. And I thought... I'm an American. If I had forgotten how spoiled I was, here was my reminder. January 7, fresh peppers from a place so far away, I dread to think how long these little peppers had been on a plane or boat to get here. Stacked neatly for my choosing. Dressed to the nines. All of this was mine for the taking, for a mere $4.99 / lb.
It was then I started to think about what shopping in the place where these very peppers came from must be like. I wondered... do they have out of season fruits and veggies year round? Are their fruits and veggies treated to such care as to be washed with reverse osmosis water? Are they stacked neatly and perfectly lighted with a wondrous blend of high pressure sodium and fluorescent lighting devices? Can people there stop in to a comfortably heated, well lighted store on their way to work to get a cup of Joe and foods from thousands of miles away and stroll leisurely over to another aisle where there is fresh cooked food sitting patiently waiting for people to eat it? I don't know. Maybe they can. Certainly in some sections of that country they can right?
From that point forward I was gently disgusted at myself and the pleasures I have available for the taking as an American. What would I do if this store wasn't here? I don't know the first thing about growing an organic perfectly colored pepper. I know it has something to do with dirt, seeds, water and the sun. That's about where my education ends. As I continued around the store I was bombarded with all of the lavish cheeses, delicacies, meats, fishes, wines, breads, milks (both from animals and vegetables), cereals, beauty supplies, nick-nacks, chocolates (my favorite), oils, soaps, and things I know not what they are or for what purpose they serve, and I thought... wow, I am one lucky devil.
I am sure all of these items come at a cost. That cost may be monetary at the very least. I am sure there are more costs involved in getting produce from Israel to Asheville, some of which I am sure would make my stomach turn over, brain bubble and blood boil. I want to know, and in the same moment, I think and feel that ignorance is truly blissful.
These are my observations from yesterday. I am a spoiled rotten, lazy, highest expectation having, throw it away if it don't look right, cold beer wanting, no line checkout, 200 types of cheese exploring, consumer of the American way. I am not going to be a farmer tomorrow. Nor the next day. I feel good having had this epiphany and I know I do my part to make this a better place. I recycle, buy organic, help my community, buy local (unless I need peppers damn it), carpool, walk places and confront my shadows. And I am an American.
I expected to learn something from my project... if you would have asked, this would not have been one of the lessons I would have guessed I would come across... but that's why I am here, now.
America on the shelves.