Sunday, February 3, 2008

Shopping for Unsuspected Grocery Part 2

Eat Seasonally

We have trained ourselves to plan meals around any food from .anywhere in the world at any time of the year. Eating locally means that we need also to become reconnected with the seasons, to think about meals in the way our ancestorsdid, organizing them around the fresh market vegetables, around seasonal delicacies. An easy way to get started is to eat one local, seasonal meal a week. Make a social occasion of it, invite family and friends to help, organize a seasonal foods potluck where recipes and resources are exchanged.

One way to better endure the lean months of winter and early spring is to preserve the local harvest by freezing fresh fruits and vegetables and leftovers such as organic soups and veggie dishes. Then they can be eaten during the late fall or winter. (It's generally recommended that we eat our frozen leftovers and produce within six months.) Those with the time or inclination can bottle or can foods of many sorts so that there will be a huge variety during the colder months. Some enthusiasts have even started local food clubs where consultants, such as chefs who specialize in local cuisine or experts in kitchen gardens, home canning, and preserving, are hired to teach workshops.

Diet Start

Protect Endangered Foods

Those who are active in the Slow Food and local foods movements agree that it's important to support the farmers and artisans who are.protecting endangered foods. Therefore, it is a good idea to include on our shopping lists those foods from other nations or states that are in danger of going extinct if the producers can't establish a larger market. For instance, the Tohono O'odham tribe plans to make its indigenous food products available for mail order. The Slow Food Web site offers numerous links to retailers who provide endangered foods. We also list international groups working on mail order food preservation in the Resources section.

Of course the most local food you can eat is the food that comes from your own garden. During World War II, many U.S. and U.K. citizens recognized the need for creating more self-reliant food sources. People in all areas of the country, rural and urban, made Victory Gardens to help raise food for their families, friends, and neighbors. Nowadays, there's a resurgence of interest in homegrown foods, as more and more people are concerned about their health, and the vulnerabilities of a more globalized food supply.

If you live in an urban area and don't have land to plant on, you can often find community gardens, sometimes called "pea patches," that offer plots in exchange for nominal fees or volunteer time. More than 10 million urban dwellers raise vegetables this way in small gardens across America. Thirty-eight U.S. cities host community garden projects and one third of the nation's 6,000 community gardens were formed in the past decade. Similar systems have been established in Europe and at least some parts of Africa. (The Resources section directs readers to the American Community Gardening Association for information on finding a local garden.)

Lettuces are a great place to begin; they're easy and immediately satisfying. Tomatoes are another great starter plant because they are so much tastier when grown in your garden. Though it's tempting to want to begin with delicious heirloom tomatoes, more standard varieties are often easier to grow. Cherry tomatoes are especially vigorous, easy, and therefore satisfying. Start small-scale, focusing more on the preparation of good organic soil and just a few plants.

Learn Where Grocery Store Food Comes From

It can be fascinating to learn more about where our food comes from. How far did it travel to get to our plate? How was it grown, raised, caught, or killed? Studying the labels on the cartons or packages at the grocer should help us discover those products that come from a local producer and those that have been transported from far away. Perhaps our vegetables come from a local farm. What do we know about the farm? Does it use a lot of fertilizers and pesticides? If so, do we really want to eat those vegetables? Do we want to buy them for our children, our guests, ourselves? Perhaps the fruit we chose came from a foreign country. Do we know where that is on the map? What sort Of lives do the people there live? These are especially important lessons for children: One of the projects for primary school children of the Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots global program for youth consists of students going through the ingredients of meals they ate at home, then discussing this in their group at school. It is one of the best ways of learning geography, and they acquire a lot of other information also in the process.

We need to build a closer connection with the food we eat because, after all, it does become integrated into our bodies, into our muscles and nerves and blood. We are made up, physically, of what we eat and drink. We must begin to choose our food accordingly.

... andjoyohoxing