Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tracking the Etymology of 'Local' and 'Loco'

The long lazy days of summertime seem to have never gotten the memo that they are supposed to be long and lazy. I'd like to blame some cosmic mix-up, but far more productive to face the truth: I'm the one not getting the memo about being long and lazy. It's no surprise that June flew by of course, with the 30-day yoga challenge and the wisdom tooth removal, but I had hoped that by July things would settle down. Relax, relax...there's still time. In this part of the world September is apt to feel like a gentler August, and October is apt to still offer a few beach-worthy days, depending on luck and how picky you are. Getting out of sorts about it being nearly August is only pushing away the rest of a lengthy season only half-way done. If that.

My favourite way to slow down and take stock of the moment along the yearly cycle I'm in is with this deceptively simple question: What's in the farmer's market during these days? The short answer is: everything.

Ok, so the asparagus is gone, and the strawberries were all too soon a blissful memory, but you still have time to snap up sweet cherries, more varieties of plums than you can dream of, fuzzy peaches, smooth nectarines, and I'm even still spotting blueberries! This is the time to keep your eyes out for your favourite fruit, pick a preserving method, and make like the ant instead of the grasshopper.
It's not just the sweet and the juicy to tempt us though: the heirloom tomatoes are slowly but surely beginning to make their appearance. I always wait this one out, saying no to the greenhouse varieties, and even the field-ripened small and evenly red specimens, waiting for the absurd complexity of flavour brought on by equally absurd shapes and colors of the heirlooms. Bell peppers are popping up, and starting to costume change from slightly bitter green to sweet, beautiful red. Get your grill on and char those babies up!! The sweet corn is getting close to the 50 cents an ear price I like best to see. So easy to boil it tender and then oven dry it for corn chowder all Winter long! Beautiful string beans for pickling, drying, and freezing, cucumbers for slicing, pickling, and blending and sieving into aqua fresco, summer squash for a quick saute, or if you're brave, an amazing summer-time lasagna!
I get so excited about food, it's the best way for me to slow down and appreciate these languid days. Even in the dark days of February, particularly once my birthday is no longer on the horizon to cheer me up, I turn to my favourite comfort food: flavourful bean soup in a roasted winter squash half! Winter is the season for biscuits, meat and potatoes smothered in gravy...mmmm...nothing like ham with butter-rum gravy. I can pull out those frozen asparagus spears for a taste of something fresh, or cook up some cold-frame greens if I miss those vitamin infusions in my life. So, no, in answer to your next question, I really don't miss the abundance of summertime. It'll be back again before I know it!

And here it is!

Which is not to say that there's no downside to livin' la vida local. Bananas.

My husband reminded me this morning that I can't talk about bananas as an issue without pausing for a lengthy explanation because, like me, most of us were raised with bananas lounging on our kitchen counters, as at home there as the paper towels! I like to think we're turning more toward washable rags and the paper towels don't have such a permanent stake in counter-top real-estate either, but baby steps...lets talk bananas.
You probably know, if you've give it any thought, that bananas don't grow in the northern United States. Or the midwest. Or the southwest. Or the deep south. Not even california! True story: you won't even see these guys in any part of Mexico you're likely to make it to! Bananas are a true tropical fruit, and they can't be tricked by a hot summer and lots of irrigation. Trees are clever like that. Our bananas come from points further south, maybe Central, probably South America. That's a long way to ship a food that doesn't offer nutrition lacking in foods closer to home, don't you think? Or have you ever thought about it? Shouldn't bananas cost a fortune and New Jersey peaches be a bargain? Well, the funny thing is, our tax dollars 100% subsidize the cost of shipping food around this country. Dole has to pay to fly those green, rock-hard bananas into this country, but from there we're footing the bill, so that grocery sticker looks pretty cheap! And bananas are such an agreeable fruit, ripening to yellow and spotty with no help from artificial ethylene gas, and tasting sugary sweet even without extensive sugar-developing time on the plant! No wonder no one questions the normalcy and down-home familiarity of such exotic delicacies as banana bread.

Ok, ok, so bananas may not deserve the commonality of apples in our lives, but what's the big deal? They're here, they're nutritious, and I love banana bread!

I get it, I do too, but here's the thing: you know how oil is a non-renewable resource? Bananas are but one symptom of a food system that is turning food into a non-renewable resource by highly centralizing our edibles so we can only obtain them via lots and lots of oil! Shit!! Seriously, it would be more energy-efficient to crack open a cold bottle of motor oil and drink it then to do things in the current fashion.

I heard that, along with a whole lot of other facts, and knew I could never go back to living in ignorance of how we're marching ourselves right into the maw of famine every day. I was not going to go gently into that dark night. A bare minimum of 50% of everything we eat comes from the Farmer's Market: farms and ranches within a reasonable truck drive of NYC! Let the pipeline of corn syrup and soy lecithin collapse; my family will not starve! I'm constantly working toward increasing that number. I started small and you can, too! One trip a week just to see what you can pick up will make a difference!

With this one step I'm combating global warming, seriously shrinking my energy footprint, supporting my local economy, directly contributing to the livelyhood of families who are working their asses off to stay on their land and do the work they love against monumental odds, safe-guarding my ability to eat well come what may, seriously limiting my family's exposure to pesticides, genetically modified foods, artificial fertilizers,growth hormones, antibiotics, antiobiotic-resistent e-coli, salmonella, mad-cow disease, etc., allowing cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, ostriches, and fish to live their lives with dignity and without suffering in ways that enrich the planet instead of destroying it, connecting to our mother earth and allowing this place I call home to sustain me moment to moment in an incredible real, beautiful, and grounding way, and enjoying some absurdly delicious produce, dairy, meat, honey, wine, beer, maple syrup and sugar, and baked goods.

Converted yet? Ok, ok, I know, what about the bananas?? Don't panic. I'm not a purist and you don't have to be, either. You know fair-trade organic coffee? If you don't, you should. You can get basically all the same benefits listed above through choosing organic fairtrade coffee, minus the ones tied immediately to choosing foods close by, and believe it or not, such a distinction exists for bananas! Look for the "Rainforest Alliance Certified" sticker (there's a picture of it below). You'll often see it on cut flowers as well, but anytime you have a choice between a product with this emblem and one without, grab that frog!! This certification ensures fairtrade, organic, and sustainable conditions were all met for those bananas, or what have you, to make their way to your part of the world. All the delicious taste and potassium (or divine beauty and fragrance, or whatever it may be); none of the guilt! Bread, smoothies, grilled peanut-butter and banana sandwiches with honey...the world is your, banana!

I think we've covered a lot of ground for today. I'll leave you to soak it in. Maybe put down your pineapples for a while in favor of what's available right now, and so close by!

Live Omily-love the gifts you're given, when you're given them!

P.S. All these gorgeous pictures of produce are local excepting the bananas and the glamour shot of peaches and cherries and including the one of the beach! I can't get over that gorgeous tomato, or that amazing spread of summer treats!! Yay Farmers' Market!!!

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