My love of Joan Dye Grussow‘s work, particularly This Organic Life, is well documented on this blog. Her experiences over the years growing and storing most of her own food was absolutely inspirational to me when I built my garden, and it’s still a book I go back to again and again.
This video has been kicking around the blogosphere for a while now — it’s Joan Dye Grussow, Michael Pollan and Dan Barber of Blue Hill discussing ethicurean issues and trying to figure out how to eat in ways that are good not only for their health but for the health of their communities.
What I found hilarious was Joan Grussow’s grilling of Pollan about what to eat in the winter. One of the points Pollan makes in In Defense of Food is that the western diet has turned almost exclusively to eating the seeds and fruits of plants at the expense of leaves. So, Joan Dye Grussow had taken this to heart and was saying how she’d been really trying to eat more leafy greens, but it was winter, and her garden was now frozen and what is she to do? (I was particularly amused by her wonder at how good chard was for breakfast, since my favorite Breakfast of Champions relies heavily on chard.) I’ve also written before about the prejudice against greens — they’re the food of poverty, they’re food that black people and immigrants eat, they’re slimy and weird — these are the charges. Myself, I learned to love greens in Asia — I spent a few months in Taiwan in my 20s and because they use night soil for fertilizer, you can’t really eat raw greens like salad. But I don’t recall a meal that didn’t have some sort of delicious cooked greens on the table, and I came to love all of them — spinach, tatsoi, gai lan, and a million others I didn’t actually recognize.
As for Grussow’s query about what to do in the winter — either put them up in the summer like I do, or find someone in your area growing leafy greens in the winter — Eliot Coleman has pretty definitively proven that with hoophouses and cold frames, you can grow greens even in the depth of winter in Maine. Personally, I’m all for putting up your own in the summer — it’s not hard. It does require that you spend a hot summer afternoon in a steamy kitchen blanching veggies, which can be kind of a drag. But like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets — a quick boil in the largest stockpot, a dunk in an ice bath, a spin in the salad spinner, then put them in absorbent clean dishtowels which you roll up and twist to get the last of the water out before packaging them using the indispensable vaccuum sealer. Yeah, it means you spend a Saturday or two putting up food, but it also means that for the rest of the year you get to eat your own clean organic veggies.
I’m a little bewildered by the folks who think that seasonality trumps locavorism. Although yes, I’m eating broccoli rabe and endive and chard “out of season” in that it grew last summer, it was put up at the height of the season and there are no food miles. It couldn’t get more local. Eating my own cherries and plums all winter that I put up, instead of eating fruit flown in from Australia or Chile is, as far as I’m concerned — that’s absolutely seasonal — I’m not insisting on fresh food out of season, but rather, I’m participating in an age-old process of self-sufficiency.
It’s why it was so much fun to see Joan Dye Grussow on that video. Her book was such an inspiration to me, and seeing her in action, watching how Michael Pollan seems to defer to her a little bit as his elder, and hearing her voice which is as straightforward and slightly cranky as I’d always imagined — well, it is one of the few times I was sorry I’d left New York all those years ago — what a fun evening that must have been.