January 25, 2010

Eating Locally

I have to admit, I never really think about where my food comes from. A picks out recipes every weekend, we make a list, and we go shopping. Tomatoes? Check. Apples? Check. Zucchini? Check. Wait, it's January. None of these things grow in January. At least not anywhere near Philadelphia. Which means somewhere in the land of Far Far Away, someone is growing these things and then putting them on a gas guzzling truck to bring them to ShopRite. On one hand, I have to say, this sounds super. We have the technology, its the 21st century, why not be able to get any possible food item we want? Two (main) reasons. 1) Gasoline use. I'm not your typical left-leaning young adult, but even I think that driving an orange 3000+ miles seems slightly absurd. We complain about gas prices, but our consumption is only pushing us along the whole Econ 101 supply & demand principles. 2) (and most important) The taste of said shipped foods. How is a tomato supposed to make it all that way? -- they always look so perfect in the store! Genetics, apparently.

I recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's "memoir" Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingsolver happens to be my all-time favorite author (Poisonwood Bible=best book ever) so when I spotted this book at my friends place at a New Years Eve get together, I was immediately intrigued. The concept of the book follows Kingsolver, her husband, and her two children as they attempt to eat locally (ie food grown on their own farm, or purchased from neighbors) for an entire year. A mix of amusing stories as well as tons of information regarding the WHY of this endeavor, I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the kinds of things they put into their bodies (which should be everyone...). It all boils down to one main idea- our bodies need a variety of nutrients, and the annual growing cycle provides an ever-changing variety of foods for this purpose. And those perfect tomatoes have been purposely bred to maintain good shipping properties, with no real regard to taste. No wonder the best tasting tomatoes are the odd-shaped ones that come straight from Grandma's garden in the summertime...

In the interest in not seeming like a nutritional Nazi, I'm going to focus this more on the idea that out of season vegetables & fruits don't taste all that great. As you all know, we like food. Delicious, fresh food. One obvious way to accomplish this is to take the Kingsolver route- eat locally (and therefore seasonally). So... dig a tomato bed in the back alley? Don't think so. Fortunately, Philadelphia is surrounded by farms. Some of the food from these farms is sold at Farmers Markets across the city. However, another option is to participate in a CSA- community supported agriculture. The concept is to support local farmers by signing up for a food "subscription". Instead of paying for gallons of gas and a tasteless tomato, you could be getting a box of fresh, local (and organic, if that matters to you) vegetables delivered every week.

A and I recently signed up for a half share in the Lancaster Farm Fresh Coooperative (http://www.lancasterfarmfresh.com/csa.asp), which required a $150 deposit. By April, we'll have to shell out another $300, but we will eventually start receiving our weeks worth of vegetables (enough for two people) for 28 weeks (roughly six months). We broke it down to cost per week, and though we probably aren't saving any money, we are going to be eating super delightful fresh produce for half of a year- and I can feel better about where my money is going (not to the Middle East).

Here's an example of one (full) share's weekly delivery:
* 1 sugar baby watermelon – transitional
* 3 candy onions – certified organic
* 1 bitter melon – certified organic
* 1 bag tomatillos – certified organic
* 3 green bell peppers – certified organic
* 3 jalapeno peppers – certified organic
* 4 yummy peppers – certified organic
* 1 bunch herbs or 1 bag okra – transitional
* 1 box cherry tomatoes – certified organic
* 5 heirloom tomatoes – transitional
* 10 red and yellow slicing tomatoes – certified organic

Even though it won't arrive till May, I'm already looking forward to the first delivery.

For more info, check out Kingsolver's website: http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/


  1. That book sounds rather intriguing, I might have to pick it up at the library (I just checked...it's available). Patrick and I found this website and it looks like it would be helpful to figure out "seasonal availability":


    Your list of CSA gems looks Amazing...please share photos come May.

  2. M and I are actually thinking of signing up for one of these (shocker, right?). Not so much for your reasons (although they are good ones!), but I'm attempting to broaden my eating horizons and I feel being forced to come up with recipes for foods I wouldn't normally buy would be a step in the right direction! Hopefully my favorite food duo will have some yummy suggestions for me :)

  3. I agree, it is a super way to be "forced" to try new things!! And the good thing is, if you don't like one vegetable or another, you probably won't be getting it in your box for long. We'll be prepared with recipes for you :)