Philosophical Reflections… Variety and the Locavore

FYI, long post ahead, so read when you have a little time to dedicate.

Being a locavore is inherently full of challenges, and certain questions commonly arise when the lifestyle choice is discussed.   What do you eat in February?  Do you go out to eat?  Where do you get your grain? Doesn’t it get boring?

I’d like to address the last question for this past week’s reflection on locavorism, and why Laura and I are undertaking this year.  Do we eat the same thing all of the time?  What about variety?  It must be really boring, why are you doing that to yourselves?  I had a very interesting conversation with a coworker who just couldn’t quite understand the logic behind what we were doing at all.  It started when she commented that her apple was bland and mealy.  I told her that apples were not in season yet, and it was probably an older apple from Washington State, hence the less than stellar quality.  I told her I was on a local challenge, and we begin a rather sophomoric discussion of locavorism. The conversation moved from the rational of denying oneself food and the variety I was missing, away to seasonality, back to variety and the torture I was (obviously) putting myself through by not indulging in fruit, or anything else, at the grocery store.  Oh, the nutrients I was missing, the ability to ‘change it up’, sweets, chips and bakery goodies!  I am comfortable having these conversations, though I think that my presentation of my logic could use some work.  Thus, my present post on the locavore and variety came to be.

To start, I feel like I have enough food variety in my life to eat well, healthfully and maintain enthusiasm for food.  I have just had to shift my thinking about what the idea of variety really means.  I suppose, to the average individual, variety is being able to buy whatever you want whenever you want.  Asparagus in December, no problem.  Bananas year round, sure thing.  Berries for New Years, absolutely.  A wide variety of variously flavored pre-cooked frozen dinners in multiple sizes to cater to everyone’s individual needs?  Most grocery stores have nearly a whole row dedicated to frozen dinners, more variety than you can shake a frozen fish stick at.  So why are we doing this? Here are some questions posed to me during my lunch hour that deserve a better answer than that which I gave around my lunch.

Don’t we miss having tomatoes/strawberries/spinach during the fall/winter/early spring?

When we first started eating locally, even just a little, it was the taste that drew me in.  I have yet to meet a person who won’t agree that a sun ripened, fresh tomato is dreamy, and that winter tomatoes are bland, mealy and at best so-so (unless you buy really expensive gourmet tomatoes).  While many people think that I am ‘enduring’ not having a tomato in December, I think that it is pointless to endure having to eat a tomato in December.  I would much rather eat so much tomato during high season, that I make myself sick and not crave tomatoes for a few months.  I would rather spend an afternoon or two canning big jars of tomatoes for the rest of the year than watch television (NPR is great company in the kitchen).  In winter, when everyone else is eating hard, mealy tomatoes, I will open a can that smells like summer and sunshine and tastes like an honest to god tomato.  The same goes for strawberries, greens, melons, corn, etc.

But a tomato is just a tomato.  It may be a different color/size/shape, but it is still JUST a tomato, so that is not variety in the truest sense, right?

This sort of pains my soul to hear.  Produce is not like M&Ms, colors usually matter.  Continuing to use tomatoes as an example, there are over 100 varieties of tomatoes grown in Massachusetts.  Each one tastes different.  Let me emphasize that just a little:  each one tastes different.  Yes, they are all tomatoes, but some are more acidic, more sweet, more tangy, more earthy, more smooth.  Each one is good for a specific purpose, eating, cooking, drying, etc.  If you are not used to really tasting fresh food, you might miss some nuance.  Over prepared food, laden with salt and sugar and fat makes us less sensitive to some more delicate tastes, and it can be a hard weaning process for sure.  It has taken me years to wean off of salting everything to an excess.  But, you know, it was worth it.  I can taste the difference between a cheese made in the spring and a cheese made in the late summer.  I can detect the robust flavor of a Sungold Cherry Tomato from the subtlety of a Yellow Peach Tomato (both good).  I might not be so studious about my food all of the time, or be able to pass a taste test identifying one type versus the other, but it provides variety in the same food, variety in my life.

But the store has pretty decent tasting this or that, its not right to limit yourself to whatever is in season in Massachusetts.  Why not just buy the food?

There are a couple of points here I want to briefly address.  One, I don’t really like have to accept ‘decent tasting’.  So, maybe in one world view, decent is great as long as it is available year-round.  In my world view, decent is not quite acceptable.  Let me practically bathe in raspberries for the month they are in their prime, then enjoy small quantities of preserved berries the rest of the year.  After raspberries, it is blueberries, then peaches, then melons, and so on until the last of the apples in October/November.  I feel that if you really enjoy something in its prime, maybe to an excess, you will be ready to move on at the end of the season.  Also, the produce in the store has been selected by the companies that sell it for shelf life, not flavor.  According to Wikipedia: “In global commerce, by far the most important cultivar is ‘Cavendish’, which accounts for the majority of banana exports. The Cavendish gained popularity in the 1950s after the previous mass-produced cultivar, Gros Michel, became commercially unviable due to Panama disease, a fungus which attacks the roots of the banana plant.  Ease of transport and shelf life rather than superior taste make the Cavendish the main export banana.”   So, not only are there better tasting bananas out there, we don’t get them because they don’t ship well and would make less profit for the company.  I think that I will wait until I can travel to Asia or Africa and taste a really good banana instead of settling for a grocery store banana, picked green and ripened with chemicals.

What about time to relax?  Isn’t cooking hard, tedious, and a chore?

This is a more personal question.  I love to cook. Love it so much, I miss it when Laura cooks for us.  It can be meditative, or it can be an adventure, or it can be a great time to catch up with friends and loved ones.  Sometimes cooking can be taxing.  Knives are sharp, boiling water is hot, and my luck is to be stabbed or burned regularly (usually by my own doing).  But I love it, and would rather spend a day sweating over a canner, preserving all kinds of delightful things for winter than watching television.  I would much rather get up at the crack of dawn, go out to a farm and pick my own food while enjoying the being outdoors than sleep in late.  It is a personal thing, but I love it and it works for me.  I think it is rather hard to argue with that.

What about vitamins, minerals and nutrients?  You’ll get deficient during the winter!

You’ll get deficient eating some of the prepackaged food available.  The collision of pharmaceuticals and food has resulted in some Americans being hypersensitive to the nutrition content of the food they eat.  I don’t like reducing food to some reductionist set of nutrients science has determined we need.  Generally, eating whole foods of a wide range of tastes and textures will keep you well served for nutrients.  During the winter, that becomes harder, but is still possible.  Come winter time, we’ll post some nutritional stats to show that you can live on winter food.

Don’t you get bored? You must eat the same thing every day!

Nope, not a chance.  I heard somewhere that the average American has on the order of twenty meals that they eat time and time again.  Laura and I repeat very rarely, with the exception the stir-fry staple and the mother salad.  But, the ingredients change with the season and what we have on hand.  Never boring, always reliable.  We love cookbooks, and I read recipes for fun (no joke).  And now, we have three new cookbooks to help us on our way. Many, many thanks to my Dad for sending us these three lovely volume to make sure our lives are full of variety.

Three great books for eating local. Perfect choices, Dad!

It sounds like you are trying to cause business to fail by not eating the food that they are producing.  Are you against businesses?

No.  Absolutely not.  I nearly fell out of my chair when my co-worker asked me if I was trying to cause business collapse.  I am not against businesses at all, I am against corporations.  I want my money to go to small businesses, to honest, hard working people who love what they do and take great joy in providing good food to the populace.  I want to be able to see the hands that brought my food into being, and talk to the people who tended the plants and know the troubles and triumphs they have experienced.  I want to know that my money is staying in my community, funding my neighbors and supporting healthy practices that empower people to be independent, not reliant on a large factory.  I have no desire for my money to go to a corporation that exploits both the producer and the consumer, all for the gain of a few corporate suits who will still give themselves raises when the economy starts to crumble.  I don’t want to pay for marketing, for fancy package designers, or for food fortifications that try to replace the vitamins removed during processing.  Is this anti-business?  Maybe.  Anti-capitalist?  Possibly.  This is a whole tangled nest that deserves its own post, so I will leave it here for now.

I know that my coworker still doesn’t quite understand why I am doing a local year.  And that is okay.  Neither one of us is a bad person, and she is entitled to help to world the way that she sees fit.  I have just found that I want to help the world through my food choices, and this is currently the best way I know how.  I welcome any other questions about what we are doing, or suggestions for future reflection on eating local.  Next week, I hope to delve into a more scientific based area, though I am unsure yet what it may be.  Thanks for reading!

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One Response to Philosophical Reflections… Variety and the Locavore

  1. cheryl says:

    Thank you for mentioning the books your dad sent you. He was so proud and wants you and Laura to enjoy them. Maybe even sample some recipes when he comes and visits. Cheryl

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