Recalculating tree juice economics

It’s hard to get food more local than this: Maple syrup tapped from trees about half a mile from our kitchen.

I was running by the woods one day when some guys were collecting buckets of sap. I asked where I could buy some as I jogged past, and they directed me to Heyerly’s Market, where I picked up a bottle a couple of weeks later.

It tasted fantastic, of course. And maple syrup is better for you than ordinary pancake syrup, with fewer calories and some actual nutrition — potassium, calcium and Vitamin B — built right in. The deal breaker for us has always been the cost. That and the fact that it would vanish in a matter of minutes once the bottle was opened.

Not this time, though. Now that just about everybody is measuring their servings, we actually got two pancake meals* out of this one bottle — something that would’ve been unthinkable in the past.

So now I’m thinking maybe we could buy maple syrup more often. Which is a stunning thought for a cheapskate like me to have, when you consider that I paid around 5 bucks for this 8-ounce bottle — whereas I can make the same amount of my homemade brown sugar syrup for just a few cents.

Given the cost differential, and given that I don’t believe it’s practical to withdraw from the industrial food chain in one fell swoop, why make this change instead of something else?

Well … anytime we can cut down on sugar, that seems good. Anytime we can buy local, that seems good. Anything we can do something to replace empty calories with nutrients, that seems good. So when you start having multiple reasons to do something, then it’s easier to make that move.

Also, maple syrup feels like a precious, rare thing — much more of a treat than sugar, which is everywhere. Walking around the industrialized world, you practically have to open up an umbrella to keep from being smothered by all the sugar raining down on your head.

Speaking of sugar, Jon Pontzius, my interview subject from a few weeks ago, wrote to recommend a 60 Minutes episode he saw the other night, Is Sugar Toxic? It’s a pretty interesting segment that looks at some recent studies suggesting that problems with sugar may go way beyond weight gain and diabetes. The link above lets you either watch the episode or read the transcript. Thanks, Jon!

*Can that possibly be right? We’re talking about a cup of syrup. At one point I was getting the kids to measure out ¼ cup of syrup, and they felt like they were “cutting back.” But I’m pretty sure I held them to a tablespoon on this, and so that would’ve been a total of 16 tablespoons. And it looks like there’s still a tablespoon or two in the bottle.

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