Friday, August 19, 2016

Eating Local, Religiously

In college, there was a "fine dining" restaurant perched atop the student center. It was certainly not fine-dining by any standards, but in the town of Harrisonburg, Virginia, it answered a call for formality where you could make a reservation and show your date you had planned ahead (i.e. you'd likely have a "fun" evening). But, one day, during the rush of finals, my friend and I decided to blow off steam and sit down for a very friendly and unromantic dinner.

During the course of our meal, I remember a conversation developing around religion. It was not my topic of choice but I recall my friend questioning his former alleigance to Catholicism stating that if he hadn't followed all the tenets of its dogma, he was not, in fact, a Christian. To be clear, my friend had let go of Christianity or any religious mooring years before. However, he did believe in principles and I think felt strongly about choosing a code and sticking to it. I, on the other hand, having been raised in New England, saw religion as a more fluid and secular entity... something you had to "stamp off" so you weren't one of those weird kids in the eighties and then go about your life. For us, with the exception of being denied bacon, religion really didn't inform our young lives. So it was with great shock that I arrived in Virginia and found religion to be a much more dominant and conversational force. Anyways, while formal religion never caught hold, I still think back to that conversation and sometimes begin to understand my friend's point of view.

In Sunshine and Structure, I talked about "high vibrational foods" or those picked (or slaughtered) close to consumption. Indeed hunting and gathering was serious business back in the day (and often included religious ritual). The cycle of life and death seemed much closer to one's daily experience than we currently face. Of course, I have no intention to catch or grow my own food- I've never been very natural, socially or agriculturally speaking.  But I have been trying to eat locally, which I find puts me in better touch with my surroundings.

I've never been too attached to the nature around me. If you had asked me several years if pineapples were in season in January I probably would have said, "sure." Indeed, it wasn't until last summer I learned tomatoes didn't really hit peak season until late July or August. And that's fine, we all live busy lives and don't necessarily need to know the seasonality of food as so much is available due to a new globalized economy. But to some extent, it is a globalized economy that makes getting to know one's local surroundings all the more pertinent.

The original goal of the locavore movement was to save on miles used to ship food, thereby reducing emissions and thus aiding the environment. But according to the Huffington Post, this goal may have been ill informed. In the article Eating Local: Does it Matter?, author Tom Zeller Jr. points out that if if folks in Santa Barbara (where produce is abundant) ate in a strictly local sense, it would, "[reduce] emissions from the agrifood system by less than one percent overall." So it may be well intentioned but ineffective it eat locally in a direct, environmental sense. But, eating locally can indirectly lead to the best environmentalists.

Two Summer's ago when I arrived in Connecticut, I became set on eating locally, religiously (or without exception). And when I did, a few strange things happened. For one, I began to think about the function of food in addition to its flavor. While lemons, limes and grapefruits were unavailable to add an acidic component to dishes, tomatoes could stand in as a worthy substitute. Meat became more important (as it often does when I eat more naturally). But perhaps the biggest change came when I began to care more about my local environment, knowing it was the place that provided all these fruits and veggies I was consuming. Hitting up farm stands and developing a relationship with local farmers gave me new knowledge about the seasonality of food and made me appreciate more what was available. I also felt good about giving my dollar to the local community as opposed to a more faceless corporation. Plus, although farmer's markets often make one reach a little deeper into the proverbial pockets, relying solely on local foods actually saved me coin as I simply used what was available as opposed to purchasing a melange of ingredients called for in a dish. So, when able, I would encourage one to eat as locally as possible... perhaps not religiously but as a creative challenge to get to know your food... and community better.

And... If you happen to live in New England (or any temperate climate for that matter), Martha Stewart's current issue of Living magazine offers tips on how to preserve the local goodness of tomatoes for Winter. Enjoy!

An odd picture to a great song... bout a lil' farming.

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