The Playful Plateful

By Kate Pluth '12, Copy Editor

“Hello sir, would you like to participate in a one-time-only game show called ‘Where in the World Did My Cookie Come From?’’ hollered Naomi Bosch (PO ’15) to a passerby on the Pitzer mounds last Sunday.

Bosch, along with Ray Serrato (PZ ’12), Jessica Ng (’15) and Mariel Dunietz (’15), hosted this theatrical, interactive event as a project for the Pitzer course Resistance to Monoculture. Presenting the public with containers of fresh-baked cookies, they invited people to answer questions about where the cookies’ ingredients were produced, as well as questions about organic, fair trade and free-range food certification.

Whether or not they answered correctly, participants were awarded a cookie to eat. An unconditionality of reward which was necessary— a lot of their questions were tougher than one might think.

The ingredients, all of which were from Trader Joe’s and many of which were organic, came from all across the world. The vanilla harvested for the extract was harvested in Madagascar, and the cocoa in the chocolate chips traveled all the way from the Ivory Coast. As participants made their guesses, Serrato marked the actual locations on a map to illustrate the incredible distances that some of them travel.

Other ingredients were sourced much closer to home. The butter, eggs and flour came from Wisconsin, California and Colorado respectively.

The group performed all the research to figure out the locations of these ingredients. They told me how it was extremely difficult to find out more background information on the ingredients than what their labels stated. Ng contacted a manager from Trader Joe’s who had a reputation for product knowledge, yet when she pressed him on the exact location of the products, he often could not be more specific than the country. She said he once shrugged and replied, “Well, it

says here [on the label] that it’s from the United States, so... that’s where it’s from.”

Dunietz also described how processing and packaging make the task event more daunting. “It was impossible to track the brown sugar,” she said, “because brown sugar is white sugar plus molasses,” meaning that the molasses could be from somewhere entirely different from the white sugar, and process of blending the two could be in yet another place.

Despite these difficulties, the students were able to make some encouraging discoveries. Trader Joe’s brand white sugar, a product of Paraguay, came from a fair trade organization that not only ensures certain conditions for the workers who harvest the sugar, like adequate shade, water and pay, but also dedicates a portion of its proceeds to education cooperatives in Paraguay.

Ng found out that C&H sugar (one of the most widely available brands of sugar in the country) tries to source as much of its raw sugar from Hawaii as possible, because research indicates that “that’s where it was first grown.”

“Food is a good way to get people interested in what you’re saying,” said Bosch, “And [we wanted to] make people think about their food.” Bosch described how issues of food globalization overlap a lot with issues of monoculture.

While a number of deeper questions were left unanswered for some players in the game show, such as ‘Why might food from far-flung distances be a bad thing?’ or ‘How does monoculture fit into all of this?’, the group’s project did manage to educate people on the basics of food globalization and to get people interested in learning more about the food they consume. All with a bowl of chocolate chip cookies.

“They’re cookies,” Serrato said, “They’re so simple.” Or so we think.