I like to travel. Especially out of the country. But customs frowns on bringing food into another country, especially produce or poultry. So I end up eating lots of food from grocery stores that I would never eat otherwise. I try to hit as many farmers markets as possible but it doesn't always work out if we're staying in a hotel with no kitchen and on a non-market day. On those days we're subjected to the grocery. On a recent trip to Mexico we found ourselves in a Mega. If you're not familiar, a Mega is pretty much the same as a Walmart Superstore. You can buy everything there. Seriously. Everything. Food, a four wheeler, a swim with the dolphins tour package, a four wheeler, a giant tv, mascara...etc. Since we missed the farmers market day for the area we had to go to the store. Our list was short; veggies, eggs, bacon, fruit, bottled water, coffee, milk, bread, and maybe a chocolate treat. I should preface this story by stating that I do not speak Spanish. I've got "hola" and "taco" and that's pretty much it. Oh wait, "gracias." That's definitely it.
In the Mega we followed the signs (pictures) to the produce section at the back of the store. We walked six miles from the entrance to the back wall, passing all manner of toys, electronics, cosmetics, and clothing on the way. I'm sure that's by design. The first thing we notice is the smell. It smells like rotting fruit. There are giant bins of limes, bananas, oranges, and apples. Giant is not an understatement. These bins were the size of the ball pit at a McDonald's play place. An employee was picking up the most deteriorated pieces of fruit and tossing them into a shopping cart. I assume these discards were the source of the smell.
Moving past the bins and to the shelves of produce in containers we see another employee sniffing heads of lettuce. He sets the good ones back and the stinky ones in a discard cart. Finally we see a third worker opening clamshells of strawberries, pulling out fuzzy ones, and repackaging what was left. I started laughing. In America this would be a 60 minutes special or an expose, here, it was business as usual. We were able to find decent versions of what we wanted but it involved lots of picking through to find things that hadn't started rotting.
The biggest stand out were the peppers. I'm not big on heat. Pablano is about as wild as I get. Yes, I'm the wuss eating bell peppers as the threshold of my heat tolerance. But in Mexico the pepper selection was massive. The grocery store sells habaneros by the pound!
We skipped over to the dairy products. All we needed was milk. But, um, I can't speak any Spanish no less read it. I made my best guess on finding whole milk. The color coded caps are an international code so red was still whole milk, even south of the border.
Coffee and chocolate were pretty self-explanatory. Nutella is the same in every language.
You signed up for a shopper card at the grocery store you most frequent. You might have several, one for each store in your local area. Makes sense. You might get points for gas, discounts on certain products, or earn free items. But did you know that your rewards card might save you from food poisoning? Yep, your store loyalty card could save you from a hospital visit.
Loyal cards are designed to track your shopping habits, not save you money. That's the "gimme" from the store to get you to sign up. Your grocery store wants to know when you shop, what you buy, and how often. But giving away that info isn't all bad. To get the card you probably filled out a form providing your address, phone number, and email in addition to some demographic data if you chose to disclose it. Here's why it's a good thing.
If there's a product recall your grocery store knows that you purchased it and has all of your contact information so they can let you know. Three cheers for big data!
If you want to give yourself nightmares visit your state's department of agriculture website and click over to the food safety page. On it you'll find a running tally of open cases for recalled food products. I just checked Ohio and there are over 1600 open cases on cat food, pasta, lettuces, snack mix, frozen dinners, meat, poultry, canned food, chips, boxed food...etc. And don't think it's all junk foods. Whole Foods is on the list with some kind of tofu cous cous.
Several years ago I purchased potentially contaminated peanut butter. My local grocery store sent me an email to say we should return it to the store for a full refund. They knew that I'd bought it and that the jar I'd purchased fell within the dates for the recall. Since I didn't get online to check the food safety website I never would have known.
Now I hand over my loyalty card even if I'm not getting a discount for something I'm purchasing. Since I know I'm not going to check the recall list every time I go to the store I feel like I've outsourced the task. Whatever your feelings on stores tracking your activities this is one area I'm happy to give away my data.
Bad news. The farmers market near my mother's place in Florida does not sell eggs. They have lovely produce, and fresh tomatoes in February, but no eggs. Not sure if it's their health department's regulation or it's just too hot to have them outside without expensive refrigeration, but there are no eggs to be found. I cannot live without eggs. What does one eat for breakfast without eggs?
Since I was unwilling to give up my protein packed breakfast I ended up with grocery store eggs. There is nothing inherently bad about grocery store eggs. I'm just unused to having my eggs try to advertise to me. We have a basket for our eggs that sits in the pantry and, while we have stacks of egg cartons, we only use them if we're selling or transporting eggs. Most of the time our eggs never see the inside of an egg carton. So seeing a clear plastic container with a dozen eggs is already a walk on the wild side for me.
While the plastic was clear there was a loud yellow label across the top of the container. It told me that the eggs were from chickens fed on a grain only diet and completely vegetarian. Um, what? How is that even possible? Chickens are omnivores. They like to eat protein from insects, larvae, or small animals. I've witnessed our chickens eat mice, frogs, and small fish. Chickens also eat veggies in the form of grasses, flowers, and fruits if they can find berries. Our birds eat kitchen scraps which includes all kind of vegetable matter and maybe a stray pizza crust (which they love). The birds love carbs, so an all grain diet would probably be very satisfactory for them. But I think it's probably impossible to keep every stray insect out of the coop and make sure they never touched a single insect larvae their entire lives. Calling these chickens "vegetarians" is a stretch. I'm sure the marketers meant well. It was certainly a step up from the egg container I saw recently which touted the eggs inside as "nest fresh" which sounds vaguely gross.
Aside from the advertising on this particular dozen eggs the package was a bit of an intelligence test. I poked at it for a while before I figured out that there were two overlapping flaps on top. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to open it. After cracking them into the pan I was struck with the thought, "These are not my eggs." The yolks were lighter, which I was expecting, but after getting a little egg goo on my finger I caught myself racing for the sink to scrub my hands. "I don't know these chickens," I thought. "Who knows where they've been?!" While I'm always concerned with food safety and follow safe handling practices this was a new revelation for me. I trust my chickens. I know what they eat, where they hang out, and can control their food safety. I believe it's called biosecurity but that's really too intense of a word for it. It's making sure their food stays dry and free from contaminants. I've thrown entire bags of shavings and feed away if I had even an inkling that mice had gotten into it or it had gotten wet. Because I control what my birds are exposed to I'm, inadvertently, protecting myself. Moral of the story is this: If it's good for my birds, it's good for me, too.
I made sure to cook those eggs all the way through. No chances on a runny yolk from a bird that I didn't raise. You can call it overkill, or OCD, but I've had my own eggs for so long that I forget how to properly interact with eggs from outside sources. At the end of the day I didn't get sick, and I appreciated coming home to my own eggs that much more.
Yes and no. Chickens do take baths, just not with water. But how could they possibly get clean without using the universal solvent, water? They use dust. You read that right. Chickens take dust baths.
The sole purpose of a bath is to protect the surface of the skin. Humans have it easy, our skin is the final outside layer of our bodies. Rinse with water, scrub a bit with a sponge, and your skin is clean! Cats use their very rough tongues to lick away insects or burs. Pigs wallow in mud to cover up their skin and protect it from the sun. Birds need to get in between all those feathers to clear away mites and dirt that get stuck within those many layers. All birds do this, not just chickens. You'll even see tiny sparrows taking dust baths if you watch for it.
The technique for a dust bath is very specific.
Step 1: Find a patch of lose dirt or shavings.
Step 2: Plop right down in the middle of it.
Step 3: Start scratching at the dirt with your feet until you begin to form a hole.
Step 4: Scoop some of the lose dirt into the hole with your beak.
Step 5: Use your feet to fling the loosened dirt up under your wings.
Step 6: Repeat steps 1-5 for as long as it takes to get completely saturated with dust.
Step 7: Stand up and shake off the dirt. It will come off in a huge cloud like Pigpen from Peanuts.