This isn't the first post I've written about how to eat in this series, but I keep coming back to it because it is so central and potentially so powerful. At Community Solutions last week, a woman from Manhattan asked me and the other CSA farmers in our workshop why it was that she could only get local food for 20 weeks a year or so. It took me a minute to answer her, because the truth is that in one form or another, I can fairly easily produce food from April 1 to December 1, but the CSA delivery season is only mid-June to mid-October. Why is it then, that I'm not selling food 8 months of the year? Or twelve, for that matter, which I could do with a fairly small investment in season extension techniques.
The simple answer to that is that I can grow local food 8 months a year uncovered (longer sometimes), and another four months with cover, but what I can't do is find enough people who are truly committed to eating a real, seasonal diet to make it worthwhile. I've considered it - Eliot Coleman in Maine grows food for sale during the winter only, and gardens for his own pleasure in the summer. But he sells in larger markets than I do, and the CSA model does place some limitations on me - that is, in order for me to offer a year-round CSA, I would have to have a large population that wanted to eat the kinds of things that grow here in the winter.
What grows in upstate NY in the winter? Green stuff. Cole crops like cabbage, Collards, Kale and Brussels Sprouts. Spinach. Some lettuces. Arugula. Asian greens like mizuna and bok choy. Cress. Mustards. Mache. Minutina. Lots, and lots and lots of greens. I can keep some root crops in the ground under cover (carrots, turnips, parsnips) as well. But in order for me to sell those crops, I'd have to have a large population that likes brussels sprouts, arugula and kale enough to eat large quantities of them daily.
I do. My family eats from our garden 8 months a year, and then gardens all winter under cover for our own pleasure. The food is wonderful - the cold weather transforms the taste of the crops, making them more flavorful than you can imagine. We love our greens - my oldest son will devour an entire plate of spinach, and all of my kids adore mee pad, a dish of noodles, greens and tofu. We really do eat greens several times a day, with most meals, and consider ourselves richer for it. We're weird, though.
Most Americans don't derive from a greens eating culture, and we're not sure what to do with multiple bunches of greens - unless you are southern and cook them with pork (not in my kosher home - but I don't feel the loss, since there are plenty of wonderful non-pork ways to cook greens), you probably eat greens once or twice a week - mostly in salad. So changing our agriculture to focus on local food has to start at the table.
And may be the most basic truth about food I can think of. The simple fact is that if we're ever to change our agriculture, the initiative cannot primarily come from farmers - farming pays too badly for your average farmer to subsidize the tastes of their customers. It has to work the other way around, starting at our dinners. That is, if we want a society where our food is safe and grown in a non-violent, non-destructive way, we have to eat in a non-violent, non-destructive way, in tune with the reality of the place we live in.
It is easy to believe that the great transformative acts are about marching and voting, but our power to alter the nature of our agriculture is firmly located at our tables. When we reject corporate food and look locally, when we learn to cook and eat what is native to our place and can be grown by our farmers, when we insist of creating a local cuisine, we not only eat better, but we make what may be the most central necessary change in our lives - we create food security.
More brussels sprouts anyone?
Two recipes for Greens that Everyone Will Eat
1. Any Green with Sweet Soy and Mushroom Sauce
Steam or sautee as much of your favorite green as you can cram in a pan for as long as necessary to get it to the just tender stage. For something like brussels sprouts or kale stems this might take a bit, for tender greens like spinach, just seconds. Add a tablespoon or two each of Mushroom "oyster" sauce (or the real stuff if you like it) and Kecap Manis, or sweet soy sauce. Eat over rice. This is especially delicious with cabbage or kailaan (chinese broccoli).
2. Any greens with lime dressing
Steam a good bit of greens until just tender, or a little longer in the case of brussels sprouts (don't let them get to the grey stage though). Make a dressing of the juice of half a lime, soy or fish sauce (as you prefer), a little water, honey or sugar, and hot sauce or chili garlic paste. You can make the proportions anything you like - more sour and hot, or more salty and sweet. The idea is to create a balance you like. The Vietnamese version of this dressing tends to be salty and sour, the Thai version sweet and hot. We like it both ways. This is the best way on earth to eat brussels sprouts, but is good on nearly anything. And no, the sauces aren't local, but you only use a tiny bit of them at a time.