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What's for Dinner

Yesterday, the front page of The New York Times business section ran an article headlined: "Dow Chemical Raises Prices For Second Time in a Month." Citing energy and feedstock costs, Dow raised prices for its products some 25 percent, following an increase last month of 20 percent, the largest such raises in the company's history. A spokesman said this could affect the price of products ranging from fabric, cushions, and CD cases to car parts. The story goes on to mention similar price hikes by other chemical manufacturers and per shipment fuel surcharges. It discusses rising costs of raw materials for steel manufacturers, and mentions plastic wrap and pesticides. But nowhere does it talk about convenience. Or the string on the chicken I bought for dinner. First the string: It was nearly 7PM by the time I got to thinking about dinner so I walked to the local market for inspiration. Although it induces guilt prompted by having learned to cook from a mother who, as far as I know, has never gotten take-out food in over fifty years of making family dinners, I bought a store-cooked chicken. They're the same chickens raised and processed without antibiotics on all vegetarian feed within a day's drive of my kitchen that I buy to roast myself, and less per pound than the quick-to-cook chicken breasts. When I unwrapped it I noticed the string. Birds are often trussed for roasting with string, but what disturbed me about this string was that it was stretchy. Stretchy means elastic, which means plastic, which means petrochemicals. And broiled petrochemicals are not what I want spicing up my dinner. Being that sort of consumer - and knowing that this market encourages customer interaction - I called and spoke to the fellow in the cooked chicken department who told me the strings were made specially to be convenient. So I thought about the day's headlines and the petrochemical mess we're in. For in part it's the quest for convenience that's encouraged our endless messing about with the by-products of petroleum processing. Non-stick pans, no-iron shirts, stain-repellant upholstery, toys that float and are flexible enough for toddlers to chew, food packaging that goes right in the oven. These conveniences create markets for petrochemical-based persistent pollutants with adverse health impacts while buoying the profitability of burning greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels. I'm not advocating doing away with all synthetics or suggesting we give up lightweight, durable, aerodynamic materials, but we have some serious choices to make. An easy one I'll make is to cook my own chicken and if I need to, reach for the cotton kitchen twine and scissors. It will be worth the wait. ---------- Elizabeth Grossman is the author of High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health.