Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The carbon footprint of my cheese

Stopped at the expensive, ultra-affluent Marin county soccer mom-oriented Molly Stone's supermarket in Greenbrae on my way home last night. I just needed some non-boring bread and a spreadable, slightly exotic cheese. I planned to slice bread, spread cheese, lightly broil.

I chose to choose my cheese first.

One of the benefits of living in Marin is, in the west of the county lie genuine pasture lands with genuine dairies. Most of which are organic, hippy dairies, or snooty, fine cheese makers. All of them make good stuff, and they're located within a 25-30 minute drive. Many of the local supermarkets (including Safeway) carry their products. When I shop at Safeway and United markets, I find the local-produced feta and blue cheeses priced at slight and quality justified premium to the national products.

Yet in Molly Stone's, these local cheeses were going for nearly $20/ pound. Nearly twice what I usually pay for them. Meanwhile, in the same store, there were equivalent cheeses from very un-local places, such as Israel, Spain, France, and Italy. And they cost about half of the local cheeses. Feta from Marin: $12. Feta from Israel: $6. Goat cheese from Marin: $10. Goat cheese from Spain: $5.

The green economist in me wonders why.

I believe the answer is the high concentration of affluent progressives who will buy local when they can. Hell, I'm an (arguably) affluent progressive, and I wanted to buy locally. But $12 cheese was insane. Why does being green have to be more expensive? Some times it is, but transportation costs alone have to hamper the economics of cheese from Israel (other side of planet) versus cheese from a place I could ride my bike to. Even if the Israeli cheese is produced on a larger scale. Even if it's inorganic. The trip to California's gotta cost something.

And I wonder: who wins? Does the local farm really get major $$ because rich hippies want their product? Or does the retailer, who's clever enough to figure out they can raise prices with no change in sales volume, simply reap the reward?

I struggled. Principles in play: Supporting lower (judging transportation alone) carbon cheese, or punishing (in my mind) at best irrational and at worst gouging prices.

I went home with Spanish goat cheese.

If only it came with a carbon offset.