Bring the market to your home
We hear much noise over the need to buy local and especially, organic. The Obamas are one reason, but the past several years have seen a backlash against processed foods and a surge in combating the USA's hideous obesity problem. Buying organic, however, requires more than purchasing products with a green leaf on the label. I am becoming increasing suspect of farmers markets, which often have more vendors selling junk (from abroad) than actual food--and many of these booths are staffed by folks who, chances are, have never even seen the farm that they are purportedly representing. If I had more gumption, I'd ask the fellow who sells bananas at the Saturday market near our home if they are REALLY from the Santa Ynez Valley, but I restrain myself. Then there is the over-packaging that I see at my favorite store, Trader Joe's--most, MOST of their produce is from Mexico. Whole Foods is overpriced. And with the demand for cheap and organic produce, more farmers are getting squeezed, and standards and quality, in my view, are declining. So what is a conscious consumer, or concerned parent, to do?
Consider a produce delivery service, often called Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. I signed up for a weekly delivery several weeks ago, and I have to say we're very happy overall--especially since it will be a while until my backyard garden grows wild again. Every Tuesday morning, a box full of goodies arrives on our doorstep. I can see what's coming the prior Friday, and our service (Farm Fresh to You), allows us to nix what we don't want (such as lemons, only because they grow like weeds in Southern California). The benefits are many:
You learn about new vegetables. Look, most veggies really only need some olive oil, salt, and pepper for preparation. Recipes are easy to find on the Internet. So you will be introduced to produce you have never thought of trying, from kale to chard to rutabagas.
Save time, money (and gas!). Why stress yourself during the week to pick up more groceries at stores that often only offer marginal produce anyway? Having a weekly delivery saves you the hassle. Chances are you will stay ahead financially, and get a better deal instead of stressing over finding a parking space at Whole Foods on your way home from work.
You will eat healthier. If you are frugal, the thought of produce decomposing in your fridge probably gives you the willies. Having a steady stream of fresh food will encourage you to make better food choices and to eat better grub. You'll take salads to work, have braised chard for dinner, perhaps a weekend breakfast hash of beets and potatoes. Plus the best fast food is a pear or apple not slathered in wax.
Local farmers benefit. Get over whether the farms participating in your CSA are "organic" or not. If you are in New York, buying organic from California, or even Mexico, is pointless--what about all that fuel needed to haul your food across the country? Many CSA farms are organic in practice--they may not have met the standards for organic only because their land hasn't met the time requirements to be "ordained" as an organic farm. Furthermore, farmers participating in CSA programs get much needed cash early in the season, not just at peak harvests, so they have improved cash flow--which means they will stay in business.
You'll appreciate the seasons. We are so used to having our avocados or strawberries available year round that we do not realize how tasteless and mealy most imported produce really is. Look, I love Chile. I love Chilean avocados--in Chile. But the Chilean avocados shipped here most likely have done jail time in a warehouse. Appreciate what's available seasonally--and you'll love your fruits and vegetables even more! Chances are, if you have children, they will eat more fruits and veggies, too.
You will get to know, and love, your food. Some CSAs allow customers to visit the farm once or twice a year--who could resist a field trip to the countryside? And you'll find that the produce tastes better because it has not been serving time in some random warehouse.
So shop around. Many CSAs will let you choose how often you want your delivery, or suspend it if you go away for a long trip. Start with a small batch: I guarantee you will upgrade--once you're hooked, there's no going back!
Speaking of how to use up that produce:Trying to stay healthy? Want to lose weight? Consider having salad for breakfast. I know it sounds crazy, but it's a healthy, vitamin infused way to start the day (for 2 people):
LA-style Breakfast Salad for Two
1/2 half head of lettuce
One apple or pear, cored and cubed
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup pecans or walnuts
1 potato, microwaved for 3 or so minutes and cubed (or baked or boiled if you're ambitious)
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. agave syrup or maple syrup
few drops of cider or white balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
few drops of vanilla extract
1 tsp. mustard (optional--to emulsify the dressing)
Wash and slice or tear the lettuce by hand. Set aside in a large bowl
In a separate bowl, stir together the potato, raisins, nuts, and fruit. Add some chopped celery or carrots if you like crunch, orange wedges if you like more tart flavors. Squeeze the lemon half over this mixture and gently mix. Add some fresh grated nutmeg or a little cinnamon for flavor if you wish.
Add the above mixture to the lettuce.
Then, whisk together the oil, syrup, vinegar, spices, and vanilla. Add to your lettuce and other goodies, toss gently with your hands. Plate it--if you need more oomph in the morning, serve with a fried egg. Glow in the great start you just gave yourself!
Published March 6, 2010, in Green Tea Magazine.