What to eat for breakfast

This morning, I had a simple breakfast of tea and toast with apricot jam.

toast for breakfast

Could this be a 100% local meal? Almost. I could have made the bread myself, with flour grown in the Hudson Valley, used a friend’s sourdough starter, butter from a local dairy and jam from the summer’s abundance. The tea would have been a bit trickier, but a local herbal tea could work. I’d be out of luck for sugar. The nearest sugarbeets are in Michigan, and the closest sugarcane is in Florida. But I could add some honey for sweetness.

That would be a delicious, local breakfast.

Was it local? Not even close. It also wasn’t very close to being small-scale, either.

Here’s the rundown:


Toast ingredients

The bread I got at the Grand Army Plaza farmers’ market, from Buon Pane Bakery in Secaucus, NJ, a mere 8 miles away. The baker is a good guy; the bakery springs from a combination of dissatisfaction with the corporate world and a well-timed trip to Italy. I have no idea where the flour is from.

The butter was made in New England. No word on where, though, or where and what kind of farm the milk came from. The only information on the packaging is that it is “French Style”, was “manufactured by plant 25-18,” and distributed to grocery stores from Carlstadt, New Jersey.

The jam is Bonne Maman’s apricot preserves. It sure looks homey, with the red-and-white checkered lid. It turns out that the company that owns the Bonne Maman brand, Andros S.A., is one of the largest producers of jams, juices and yoghurt in France, and also owns a small stake in Smucker’s. They guarantee that the jam is at least 50% fruit, but no word on where it’s grown or under what conditions. It’s canned in the Lot Valley, in France, so it’s traveled a long way to get to my breakfast table.


tea implements

The tea itself came from Kenya, probably from an enormous estate, one of the legacies of the British agriculture and colonization of East Africa. But, I purchased the tea at McNulty’s Tea and Coffee Company, a small specialty store in the Village which has been open since 1895! So which is the higher moral virtue? Tea is the largest cash crop in Kenya and employs approximately 70,000 people, but this particular tea is not fair trade. On the other hand, I bought it at a small, locally owned business.

Things are a little clearer with the half and half. This half and half is from Natural by Nature, which as it turns out is a cooperative of organic Amish and Mennonite dairy farmers in Southeastern Pennsylvania, who sell under their own brand, sell bulk milk and offer to produce and label in-house brand dairy products for grocery stores.

The sugar, from the classic Domino Sugars, is the most opaque of all. It was distributed by Domino Foods, Inc. in Yonkers, New York, but the sugar itself could be from most anywhere. It’s probably from the United States, given the subsidies given to the domestic sugar industry. In 2000, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that U.S. sugar subsidies cost consumers approximately $1.9 billion annually, up from approximately $1.4 billion annually in 1993. These costs to the consumer went hand in hand with approximately $1 billion in benefits (in 1998) to the growers of sugarbeets and sugarcane, while 1998 losses by other sugar-producing countries due to U.S. protectionism were estimated at $334 million. In any case, let us for the sake of argument say that my sugar came from the sugarcane rather than sugarbeets, specifically fields of Florida, the state that produces the most sugarcane.

So there you have it, the geography of one breakfast in New York, from across the globe:

Breakfast Geography

Do I know which choices, whether small shops or local products, or price or taste or availability are the best for the environment? For you or for me? No, not at all. But I’m trying to work out something that I’m comfortable with, that’s delicious and in touch with the local food-shed without being sanctimonious or too restricted. There are no hard-and-fast answers here.


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