Friday, July 13, 2007

Local Foods - My migration back home led by spinach

My husband LOVES spinach, and always has, even in childhood. Thus we have bought and eaten a lot of it throughout our 30+ years of marriage. However, 10 years ago when I read that spinach was #2 on the first report from The Environmental Working Group that listed "the dirty dozen" (i.e., the fruits and veggies with the highest amount of worrisome pesticides), I went on a campaign to buy only organic spinach. At that time (1997), organic spinach was hard to find in grocery stores. This specific conundrum is what led me to find and join Tantre Farms, one of the CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) in my area.

The very first time I served some fresh spinach from our CSA share (just simply lightly-steamed, nothing else), my husband looked up from his plate and asked me what I had done differently with this spinach. I asked him what he meant by that question, and he responded by saying it was the best spinach he had ever eaten in his entire life. That was not only quite a statement coming from a life-long spinach fan (!!), but a defining moment for me.

The number one reason why people eat what they do is taste. My husband's experience has led me to wonder if one of the reasons why people do not eat the recommended 5-9 servings/day of fruits and vegetables is that the eye-popping, taste-bud tingling taste as been bred out of most varieties in favor of other characteristics like enhanced packing and shipping ability. This spinach had everything going for it (the perfect trifecta, so to speak!): it was raised organically, it was locally grown plus very recently picked, and it was affordable.

Alas, my traveling schedule these past 10 years made it difficult to always be available to take a weekly shipment of food from our CSA, so I dropped our membership. In the following years, I was pleased to finally find frozen organic spinach by Cascadian Farms available in grocery stores. However, I often gasped at the price (always over $3.00 for a little container). Thus I was thrilled when a Trader Joe's arrived in my city, and they had frozen organic spinach for less then $2.00 for a larger size than what was available by the other brand. I bought lots of the Trader Joe's brand. Then one day, some new labeling caught my eye on the back of the bag - Grown in China. Hmmm.......The next time I bought some, I noticed some new labeling on the front of the bag - Grown on a family farm (still says grown in China on the back of the package).

Now I had many more conumdrums running through my mind.....and this was at least a year before the U.S. spinach fiasco in the fall of 2006. The questions in my mind were more generic than simply related to one specific food. I wondered how in the world I could really be reassured that an individual small family farm in China really had an organic produce production consistent with the USDA standards, how in the world each farm could be inspected and how each shipment could be checked, how in the world that bag of spinach coming frozen from China and being shipped 2/3 of the way across the US could really cost way less than the organic spinach produced in the US......(I was having these nagging worries about the use, cost, and global consequences of the oil needed for cooling and shipping a bag of spinach this distance even before the release of Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth.)

One day my husband noted that I had not bought spinach lately..........What to say, how to sort out all these new thoughts, where were they leading? For a variety of reasons, they have led me to migrate "back home", back to "my farmer" at my CSA. I am still not a full-fledged member of Tantre Farms, but I am at their booth at my Farmers Market each and every Saturday or Wednesday that I am in town, stocking up on their organic and locally grown, recently picked, so tasty that is is "tinglely", and very affordable produce to supplement what is missing from our own garden.

Now of course, we have the former head of China's Food and Drug Agency being executed for taking bribes in regards to drug approvals, plus the multitide of additional problems with pet and human foods and other products imported from China. Good golly.........what has happened to our world? I am not an isolationist, and I don't know if I am ready to take on the complete "local food challenge", but I do know that I am well on my way back home to intentionally be a larger part of my own local community. It feels very good, and it the right thing to do for many reasons. As such, I appreciate and applaud the intention of the title of the new book about consuming local foods, Plenty by Smith and Mackinnon.

I have read and re-read the Hopi quotation in my July 12 post. I find something meaningful in every single line. As I end this post to make supper with my locally grown veggies, I hope you will also get to "know your garden (or your farmer)". At the very least, you may find it easy to increase your intake of fruits and veggies because you are discovering how mouth-watering delicious really fresh fruits and vegetables can taste!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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