It’s a Crude World

The other day, I walked out and got into my car, which takes just plain old regular unleaded gasoline. I drove into town on the asphalt roads, which are a remarkable feature. They’re basically just crushed gravel and tar or pitch (bitumen, technically), which is one of the leftovers from refining oil, and they cover an impressive amount of the surface of the Earth at this point. Less than .1 percent to be sure, but that is still a lot of asphalt.

So I drove on the asphalt roads to my favorite little locally owned organic grocery store and pulled into its asphalt parking lot. It’s a very popular little market, my favorite place to shop, and I was lucky to get the last spot. All the other spots were already taken by cars, nearly all of which run on gasoline, even the hybrids. There was a Nissan Leaf there (let’s hear it for the Japanese!), but it runs on electricity, possibly made from coal, sourced over miles and miles of wires that were made and erected using coal and diesel. They’re not exactly solar powered at this point. And all of those cars are made of steel, which requires a lot of coal to smelt and mold into the car shapes needed to make the cars.

All of our cars were shimmering beautifully in the hot afternoon sun in a variety of dazzling colors. Silvers, blacks, reds, blues, beiges and whites, all made possible by paints derived from petroleum products. And the interior fabrics, growing warm in the closed car interiors, the nylons and polyesters and vinyls, were all created from oil in various processes. (Just think, when you wear a fleece jacket, you’re wearing dinosaurs! Well … more like really old algae actually.)

I dutifully brought my canvas grocery tote bags with me as I walked up to the front of the store, which was lit up like a Christmas tree, even in the bright afternoon sun. As soon as I stepped inside, a nice cold breeze surrounded me, provided by the store’s industrial strength air conditioning equipment, which immediately set me at ease. Cool and relaxed, I picked up a plastic handbasket and languidly perused the organic vegetable aisles, kept cool in open- front refrigeration units.

I love produce aisles. All that teeming colorful bounty of life heaped on top of itself always lifts my spirits. There’s just so much of it in such a small space. So many colors and flavors and textures. It makes me happy. It’s like standing on a mountain top, or being in room full of puppies. I always leave the produce aisle feeling refreshed.

Organic red tomatoes from Mexico, organic green apples from Washington, even some organic yellow mangos from distant and exotic Costa Rica enticed me from orderly piles and baskets. Tractors that burn diesel or gasoline were undoubtedly used to grow all of that produce, which must have been shipped here on enormous 18-wheel trucks that burn tons of diesel and drive on mostly asphalt roads. I picked up a few apples and slipped them into a thin little plastic produce bag to keep them necessarily separated from my other groceries.

After passing placidly through the teeming kaleidoscope of international produce, I turned into the dry goods isles and wandered past rows and rows of nut butters, tahini and even Vegenaise in shiny plastic jars. I picked up a plastic bag of deep-fried potato chips, healthy ones mind you, with the tiny, thin little shrivel of brown skin left on them, presumably for the vitamins. I then made my way down the beauty and health care aisle, full of shampoos, lotions, “natural” deodorants and various supplements from calcium to colostrum, all of which were packed in nice little plastic bottles. Plastics, of course, derive from oil as well. There are styrenes, and vinyls, and propylenes and nylons and countless derivations of those, all of which ultimately come from a barrel of crude oil sucked out of the ground long before they could house something as precious and weird as colostrum pills.

I couldn’t find what I was specifically looking for, so I eventually sought out a friendly clerk.

I asked him, “Excuse me, do you have any Vaseline? Petroleum jelly? I just need a little 2-ounce jar or tube of it.”

His eyes widened, the corners of his mouth turned down, his eyebrows arched and his head recoiled away from me slightly, causing his hair to wave a bit, which released into the air a faint waft of patchouli. Or was it tea tree oil? I get them confused.

He sized me up and stared slightly down his nose at me while declaring indignantly, “We don’t carry any … petroleum products here!” — Jonas Emery

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