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The Cost of Good Baking

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Sitting on my couch, enjoying my freshly baked Carrot Spice Muffin, I noticed the different textures and colors looking back at me from my first bite. This diversity seemed friendly. I was reminded of the first time black children and white children sat in a classroom together. Men hugging men and women hugging women for "one second too long," with people looking on only smiling. A shared tone was felt. "Isn't that just wonderful?" an old woman said. Things were nice.

I began to ponder the resources that came together to create my treat. After a quick look at the packages of my ingredients and Google Maps, I came up with this:

*Silk Vanilla Soymilk - WhiteWave Foods, Broomfield, CO 80021 USA
1026 miles, 15 hours

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*Whole Grain Flour - King Arthur Flour, Norwich, VT 05055
2962 miles, 1 day 21 hours

*Pumpkin Pie Spice - McCormick & Co, Hunt Valley, MD 21031-1100
2673 miles, 1 day 15 hours

*Vegetable oil - Unified Western Grocers, Commerce, CA 90040
10.2 miles, 13 minutes

*Vanilla extract - ACH Food Companies, Memphis, TN 38016
1796 miles, 1 day 2 hours

*White flour - General Mills, Minneapolis, MN 55440
1930 miles, 1 day 4 hours

*Baking powder - Clabber Girl, Terre Haute, IN 47808
1998 miles, 1 day 5 hours

*Sea salt - The Hain Celestial Group, Uniondale NY 11553 (apparently i bought it in 2001. eek.)
2823 miles, 1 day 18 hours

*Walnuts and pecans- Diamond Foods, Stockton, CA 95201
339 miles, 5 hours 7 minutes

*Egg replacer - Ener-G Foods, Seattle WA 98124-5787
1137 miles, 17 hours 27 minutes

*Carrots - The Kroger Co., Cincinatti OH 45202
2179 miles, 1 day 7 hours

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*Turbinado sugar - Trader Joe's, Monrovia CA 91016
27.5 miles, 30 minutes

My, I thought, Look how many places my ingredients came from! And from such distances! I pictured the number of employees working at each of these respective companies grinding, chopping, bagging, and chilling my food. I began to see myself as a major economic force, like China or perhaps Big Steel.

Including the number of road miles was an important choice, because the cost of transportation for food in the United States contributes significantly to the money we pay for it at the grocery store. I had learned this from a book I read. "What we eat is no longer simple" the book said. "The number of resources that are involved in getting something as simple as an apple to your hand is staggering. The cost of gas, refrigeration, special packing materials, driver's pay, not to mention specialized fertilizers, pesticides, and harvesting technology all contribute." The words resonated in my mind like a lecture from a parent.

"And it's all to guarantee that you can buy your favorite Granny Smiths at Ralph's for $1.99 a pound. The quality of our food is no longer a concern so much as its cost. Only recently have the words 'organically grown' become an important selling point."

I began to feel guilty about my muffin. I had originally seen it as a wholesome, hearty, guilt-free treat. I had made it myself, with care and love, using animal-product-free ingredients. But now my innocent baking experiement suddenly had far-reaching and perhaps viscious implications.

I got anxious and paranoid. I pictured the water I used to clean the mixing bowls dumping into the Pacific out of some huge rusted tube, choking fish. The gas heating my stove being sucked up from thousands of feet below the earth's surface in some third-world country. The pot holder on my hand being sewn together by an overworked, underpaid, disrespected resident of said country.

This type of realization can be dangerous when made alone on a couch in the middle of Los Angeles. I felt I was a criminal, and the only way to repay for what I had taken was to not eat. To not drink. To hold my breath and let a raccoon outside have some extra air. "Thanks," he would say, and move on to cure cancer.

And that's where my life has stayed: right there in that moment. I have discovered the secret to freezing time, and it is to realize the enormity of your impact. Everywhere I go, every step I take, I see myself as some sort of gluttonous king. All resources are being diverged from their original destination to satisfy me. All exists for my pleasure. Unlike my mental community smiling at homosexual partners, I am not able to be proud of my species' accomplishments. The water cycle ends with us. The nitrogen cycle ends with us. We are nature's disagreement.

Good Lord, I just realized my TV was on the whole time I was typing this.