Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You Are What You Eat

Oh, it was one of those weeks. Things started off so swimmingly last Monday, with me knocking out most of my weekly errands there at the onset, and getting through most of the paperwork that I had designated as imperative. Then, on Tuesday, as the kids and I were driving back from the farm with our weekly CSA box of produce just brimming with basil and parsley, Swiss chard, tomatoes, potatoes, squash and zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, onions and garlic, The Auto From The Inner Circle of Hell overheated. Not just a little, mind you. The kind of overheating that involves turning on the heat full blast so as to bleed the heat out of the engine, in no less than 90 degree weather. And even then, the needle went into the red and so I searched for a safe place to pull off the road with my precious cargo of children and produce. Before I could make up my mind about what to do (and one of the options included moving back to town where a car would be a less necessary part of our existence), there was a loud explosion and fluid sprayed out from under the hood. It was turning into one of those days.

I pulled over in front of an assisted living facility, calmly climbed out of The Auto From The Inner Circle of Hell and furiously dialed The Carnivore on my cell phone. When there was no answer, and Little Miss Piggy started to cry (no doubt from the heat) and The Big Boy started to fuss (because he wanted me to “take the car to the hospital”), I lost my cool. All of it. Every last shred. I jumped up and down in fury and kicked a tire, and then I called my mommy.

My chagrin was palpable when I saw all the retirees sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of the facility, quietly watching me pitch a big fit.

In the days that have followed, as The Auto From The Inner Circle of Hell sits in front of my house, in the same spot the tow truck deposited it, with its unrepentant hood up and its bumper splayed out upon the ground beside it, I have done little more than fume. It was paid for, you see, and I do not relish the thought of getting a new vehicle even though it is painfully that this might be my only option.

I wanted to spend my week playing around with all the beautiful vegetables from the farm, trying some new recipes and putting up sauces for the winter, but everything has been overshadowed by the glowering hunk of metal taking up space in my yard. When I should have been finding new uses for squash, I was running amortization schedules in my head to see how much I was willing to spend on a new(er), less offensive automobile. And when I would have rather been turning those beautiful onions into sinful fried rings of glory, I was comparing the gas mileage and cargo space of different vehicles.

We did eat, of course, but there were no spectacular new recipes last week. I sautéed slices of squash with garlic and onions, and I made more of those crazy-addictive crispy flattened potatoes, and I froze some more batches of pesto to get us through the long, hard (4 ½ weeks) of winter we will have to endure in a few months, but I have no breakthroughs in cooking to share.

This is such a lonely feeling. I love to share recipes, and yet here I am, and I have nothing. Nothing but a broken down, fully useless Auto From The Inner Circle of Hell to grumble about.

I reached a new low on Friday when I realized I had no transportation with which to get to the Saturday morning farmer’s market. I flopped on my mother’s sofa in abject misery (after she came to pick me up, of course) and contemplated borrowing my grandmother’s car. The market would cheer me up, for sure, especially since I knew there was going to be live music (something I have heard far too little of since becoming a family woman), and I was feeling most desperate for more potatoes – because one can never have enough of those Crispy Flattened Potatoes.

My mother raised no dummy though (in my case, at least) and when I saw an opportunity for redemption, I jumped up and wrapped myself around it. Mom was trying to coerce my visiting uncle into joining her and Grandma at yard sales on Saturday morning, and Uncle Jim (God bless him AND the horse he rode in on) made entertaining little scoffing noises at Mom before saying, “I’d rather go to the farmer’s market with Sarah.”

Yes, yes, yes. THAT is how one erases a perfectly annoying week.

My Uncle Jim is only about 13 years older than I am, and I have always adored him. I knew he would be, without a shadow of a doubt, the ideal farmer’s market date. He’s hip, he knows food, he already understands why I’m so infatuated with the farmer’s market, he’s well-versed in what goes on politically, and he’s a lot of fun. He has always been fun. Mom and I shared a house with him in New Orleans for a few months when I was a wee thing, and there were always delightful impromptu visits when he would pass through Georgia in the years before and since. Even more than usual, I was excited in my anticipation of our trip to the market.

Truly, I look forward to the market every week now. We have had other incarnations of farmer’s markets in Athens over the years, but this spring a very well-planned and eclectic market came together at Bishop Park and was an instant success. There are maybe 10 or 12 stands of organic produce, a truck with eggs (that always seem to – grrrr – sell out within 5 minutes) and grass-fed meat, a couple of tables piled with fresh breads and other baked goods, Free Trade coffee that is locally roasted, and some crafts as well. It is beautiful and friendly and not the least bit elitest. You don’t have to be a card-carrying hippie, you don’t need to be able to converse on the merits of The Farm Bill, and you aren’t required to sign a statement that you will never eat anything grown out of state. The farmers at the stands are more than willing to answer questions about their goods, and you’d be hard-pressed to not find smiling people on every side. It would pain me greatly to think that anyone isn’t shopping there because they are intimidated by it in any way.

Everything is grown (or raised, in the case of the meat and eggs) organically and sustainably, within 100 miles of Athens, and there is even a table with information about PLACE, an organization that works to promote the idea of eating locally. The variety of produce is just lovely to behold, which, of course, is the best draw of all.

Uncle Jim, Little Miss Piggy and I arrived at the market only a minute or two past 8:00 this past Saturday morning, and my dour mood improved considerably before we even had his car parked. The weather was pleasant, the music was a great addition to the ambience, and Jim happily ambled off, scoring some blueberry juice and some hand-made soaps. There were people milling around everywhere, tote bags bulging with their purchases, and, even though the egg people were, of course, already out of eggs again, I gleefully filled my bags with potatoes, green beans, a gloriously fragrant cantaloupe, yellow onions, and two bags of dried tomatoes. The dried tomatoes were a particularly pleasing find, since I usually buy mine in jars from the supermarket, and I can’t wait to cook with these. I was also thrilled to the top to come across some fingerling potatoes. I have been trying to find some in the stores for a couple of years, and always came up empty before now.

For so long, one of the loudest arguments against local, organic food was the exclusionary high prices, but with the inflation at the supermarket checkout, I’m finding the costs of my summer CSA subscription, along with my weekly farmer’s market purchases, to be only slightly more than what I had formerly paid in the stores. Naturally it is all a matter of priorities, and since I’m vegetarian, well, it isn’t a big leap for me to buy my groceries locally and to be willing to spend a little more on them.

It can be daunting, I know, to go from buying processed food at the supermarket to joining a CSA or getting up at the crack of dawn (on a Saturday, no less) to get to the farmer’s market before everything is gone. The thing is though, it isn’t necessary to change one’s whole life in one fell swoop. If anything, that would be a recipe for disaster. But you have to start somewhere, and the benefits of eating locally and seasonally are too many to name. The flavor is the biggest and most obvious difference, but there is also a lot to be said for keeping your money in the local economy, for supporting small local farmers, for really knowing where and from whom your food truly comes from.

Start small, if it seems easier: go to the farmer’s market even just once a month, or make a pact to only buy produce at the supermarket that is grown in this country (hey – it uses less energy than transporting veggies from Chile), visit a pick-your-own-berry farm, read that Barbara Kingsolver book that brought local eating to mainstream America. Just do something. Food should be a source of joy, eating should be a thoughtful experience. It just makes sense that dinner should come from somewhere other than a box or a can.

After all, you are what you eat.


Anonymous said...

I love our local farmer's market but the parking situation is horrible! Supposedly they are adding more parking in the fall.

I am also going to look into a CSA for next season.

we did go ad pick strawberries a few weeks ago and I have a few bags of them frozen for smoothies in the winter.

and we have been snacking on fresh blueberries that we picked at another local farm last week.

And as I type this, some red potatoes are boiling on the stove, to be flattened and baked!

Your mom has to try these if sh hasn't yet!

Cindy said...

Nope, her mom hasn't done it yet. I think I'm daunted by the amount it would take to feed my probably 200 pounds of potatoes for one meal as we are such hogs.