Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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May 27, 2009

I got hooked on McVities digestive biscuits the year I lived in England. The plain ones were fine, but the dark and milk chocolate ones were epiphanonious. Dunked in strong tea with milk? Ay ay ay. They could turn your life around, for good or ill -- pull you back from the brink or push you right over it.

Once I returned to the States, my jones for McVities went into remission. It had to: the supply was erratic. Once in a great while I might spot them in a gourmet shop in some place like Harvard Square, but I was shocked by the number of upscale food stores that stocked high-priced but mediocre cookies with no McVities in sight or on order. Occasionally a friend headed for the British Isles would ask if she could bring me something. Guess what I asked for? That's how I acquired the McVities Milk Chocolate Homewheat tin that has been my small-change repository for many years.

A couple of years ago it dawned on me that I could almost certainly find an online McVities pusher. No, that's wrong: It dawned on me longer ago than that, but I didn't type "McVities" into the toolbar of any search engine for the same reason that a recovering alcoholic stays out of bars frequented by his old drinking buddies. Only a fool wants to wrestle bare-knuckled with temptation. It's less hassle to give it a wide berth. Occasional gifts from friends were one thing. Having my own source of supply was something entirely else.

Yesterday I received my third McVities order in the last (almost) two years. This particular vendor also offered the Toffee Crisp bars that I remember with great fondness, so I ordered a half dozen of them too. They're now made by Nestle. They're not quite as wonderful as I remember, but they're pretty good. I had three McVities milk chocolate wholemeal biscuits with my morning tea, a sort of appetizer to tide me over till my oatmeal is ready, all the while listening to Jean Redpath sing songs by Robert Burns. Life is good.

Recently, though, I read an article in which the writer remarked on how much fuel is consumed in flying California strawberries to New England so New Englanders can have strawberries out of season. Point taken: It's too easy to bike or take public transportation to work while ignoring where your food comes from. On the other hand -- I just ordered in a box of McVities biscuits with a side of Toffee Crisps, and they came from Britain by way of Laguna Beach, California. How much fossil fuel was consumed in satisfying my habit? Don't ask.

The article I read -- which, by the way, was written by a guy who, being a builder on Martha's Vineyard, has more to answer for in the fuel-consumption department than a penchant for out-of-season strawberries -- asked why, instead of shipping prepared foods across oceans, we don't just send the recipe. In theory this makes sense, but can you imagine what Nabisco or even Pepperidge Farm would do with the McVities wholemeal biscuit recipe? They'd undoubtedly start by doubling the sugar content and using cheap shortening. Probably they'd farm the whole operation out to China. No, thank you. I want the real thing -- though I do believe I'll try to find a U.S. supplier closer than Laguna Beach, California.

We addicts are cagey, aren't we. We can rationalize anything if it protects the source of supply.


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