I bought this wonderful, cheesy, overpriced toy at Seattle’s legendary Archie McPhee. I’ve decided to make it my blog’s mascot. I’m rooting for broccoli (easy for me – I’ve always thought corn dogs were pretty gross), but it’s still early in the race. And the race is complicated. Corndogs may not be hard for me to pass up but I’ve got a long list of my own favorites that are far from sustainable; mostly things that travel thousands of miles to reach my doorstep.
I don’t expect, or plan to give up every type of food that isn’t grown in the Northwest. But I think it would show real progress if there comes a day when I recognize these items for luxuries they really are.
I know a lot of people see the sustainable eating movement as an elitist, and it certainly can come off that way. Part of it has to do with a non-compromising attitude, also the ever-present ethos of our dieting culture, that giving things up, doing without, is a virtue in and of itself, and that the act of self-depravation gives us the right to judge other people’s choices.
Prices and convenience play a role too. I was surprised to read in King County’s recent Farmers Market Report, that higher prices were listed as one of the popular misconceptions that the markets are working to overcome. And interestingly, they had the statistics to back this up; these numbers are certainly a great argument for canning your own tomatoes and fruit at the height of the season. Even if it is currently trendy, canning really isn’t elitist, no matter what the New York Times says.
But I also know I paid $3 a bunch for 3 bunches of sorrel last weekend. And it was totally worth it. But if I had three kids to feed, and worked long hours that wouldn’t let me take the time to make soup, I’m not sure I’d think so. And I doubt I’d have the time to buy local potatoes from the farmer, and then make a separate trek to the grocery store as well.
I read a cookbook this week, The Sustainable Kitchen, by Stu Stein, with Mary Hinds and Judith H. Dern, filled with recipes I want to try. I even enjoyed the introduction which explains what sustainable cooking is, and how to approach food from this localized perspective.
But you aren’t meant to take that part of the book literally, clearly. The very first recipe, in the spring section, for halibut cheeks, calls for zucchini, yellow squash, a red bell pepper, and a lemon. At some point, the book’s introduction should have mentioned, that the writers were comfortable with compromise –that the main ingredient of each dish would hold up the their ideals of local, sustainable cooking, but then, for the sake of flavor, they’d follow a more conventional path. (Stein has long since fallen from grace, and been accused of plagiarism, which I didn’t know when I picked up the book. But this book isn’t the only one I’ve seen with the unexplained selective definition of seasonal ingredients.)
I’m relishing the dregs of a cup of coffee while I’m writing this. I had a banana smoothie for lunch, and over the weekend, I came up with a chicken dish which features pineapples and mangos. So who am I to criticize?
I was at the Pike Place Market early last week, and I was really surprised by how little there was on offer that was really local or seasonal – I’m talking about the produce, of course. The tulip vendors were out in force, and the flowers were gorgeous. But, I was disconcerted to see bananas, grapes, oranges, strawberries and lemons at every produce stall. One the one hand for most people, this makes the market a more practical place to shop. But something is lost too – shopping at the Ballard Farmers Market every week has been fun, and really an eye opener in terms of how much is available in a shoulder season. And there’s a foraging type of thrill to it too – I got more sorrel last week, but missed out on the first asparagus of the year. Visiting the market every week has put me back in touch with the natural rhythms of food.
I think that for sustainable food to work, at least for me, there has to be room for compromise. I’m hoping that I see a progression when I look back on these entries. So far, the only thing I really regret making last month is a lemon strawberry cheesecake. It was delicious, but, will be so much more so in June, with strawberries that have real flavor. This past weekend, I made a lemon blueberry coffee cake –the blueberries were frozen, holdovers from last season, and they really worked well in the cake – along with my luxurious organic grocery store lemons.