The big news around here is that I’ve been invited on board at Ethicurean as a regular contributor — and amongst ourselves, we’ve been having a lively discussion about how sustainability, seasonality, and locality (how food miles play into the whole SOLE food equation).
For those of us who don’t live in California, or even, I’d argue the whole west coast (my stepmother gets some pretty gorgeous local produce in Seattle even in the dead of winter), the question of eating local in the winter is a vexed one. I manage to source most of my food pretty locally — I put up a lot of greens and veggies in my freezer this summer. I’ve got all those jars of cherries and plums from my garden. I’ve got a refrigerator drawer full of apples, from my neighbors’ yard actually, that have kept remarkably well. The spuds are organic and local, and when I want something fresh, there are some folks growing greens locally.
But I do buy some fresh produce that’s not local — oranges, for example. I really really want an orange with my breakfast in the winter. And so I try to buy as carefully as I can — I draw the line on food miles at North America — I’m not buying an orange that came from Australia. It just seems wrong to me on any number of levels. My other fresh produce item I can’t live without are green onions. I try to find ones from California, but often, the only ones available are from Mexico.
I also have an advantage which is that I don’t really like salad. Especially in the winter. Too cold. Too crunchy. Ick. Cooked greens, I’m all over those, but I dont’ want a salad in the winter, and keeping a garden has kind of ruined me for lettuce that’s been on a truck anyhow. Where did it come from? How many people have touched it? And don’t even get me started on those bags of organic salad leaves — if those bags are so great why does the salad always smell, in the words of my dear brother, like silage? So, for me, the no-fresh-produce-in-the-winter thing isn’t such a big deal. I don’t like salad, and I have plenty of broccoli rabe, endive, chickory, and chard from my own garden that I put up.
Tomatoes are the thing a lot of people seem to get stuck on — again, having a garden has ruined me for store tomatoes. Why bother? They don’t even taste like a tomato. I’d rather use good organic canned tomatoes than one of those bouncy things from the store. And then last weekend I remembered that I’d put up a bunch of tomatoes in October — I wrapped the last of the garden tomatoes in newspaper, and put them in the basement to get ripe. I pulled out a couple of bundles, and although some of them had gone off and had to be thrown out — there was a nice handful of little tiny Principe Borghese tomatoes, just waiting to be cut up into a nice little tomato salad with some of that basil puree I have in the freezer — it was delicious on a tartine for lunch with some leftover lamb and a little cheese (I’ve been all about tartines this winter — open face grilled sandwiches).
I realize that everyone doesn’t have the option of keeping a garden, and a lot of people don’t have room for a freezer, and it is a problem finding local produce in the north in the winter. (And no, I don’t think Alice Water’s blithe exhortation that we all just have “little hoop houses” is going to work either.) But with a little forethought, and by demanding local produce from our food co-ops and Whole Foods and even regular grocery stores, we’ll build a market, and start to have access to better local produce.