My friend Bev stated her dilemma: obtaining good, healthy, chemical-free food is hard in suburbia. In her case, she lives in a small city that is drowned out by the rest of the SF Bay Area. She has a tiny yard and she can’t really grow much. For me, living directly IN San Francisco, it’s certainly difficult to find space much less anything else to grow your own. However, I had this determination not to eat any more genetically modified (GM) food. These days, over 80% of the corn and soybeans in this country, if not organic, are GM. That’s a frightening thing. Seed companies and their owners, chemical manufacturers, have modified the heck out of everything. However, that’s a subject for another post.
Moreover, I didn’t want to eat pesticides, chemicals, and I sure as heck wanted the farmers to get my money and not the big corporations. My husband’s family is a farming family and I’ve learned a great deal about how much the farmer suffers from big agriculture companies.
How did I start? Well, I feel like I’m still in the process of starting. Or doing. I think it’s difficult but not impossible. My first step was reading. After I started Omnivore’s Dilemma, and finished it, I wanted some of what was out there – good food near me! Next on my list was Marion Nestle’s What To Eat. Wow. If the suburbanite gets no other book, they should get that one. After those two books, I realized it wasn’t that it was difficult to find the good food – once you know about it! The trick was, and is, to know about it.
What was to know about? I started first with fruits and veggies, which seemed to be the easiest thing to change. We have a local farmer’s market but it’s on Sat. mornings and I was rarely home then. Parking was a bear there and when I did go, I wasn’t sure what was organic, what wasn’t, and who was really benefiting from my purchases. I opted to go another route.
I knew nothing about CSAs – community support agriculture groups until I read some of these books. CSAs are basically cooperatives of farmers who provide a variety of organic, locally grown food to different areas. Each state – heck, each city! – has at least one CSA around them, if they are in an agricultural landscape. I started looking into them and found out that there are over five in the Bay Area alone. Each one delivers, once a week, a selection of seasonal, organic, locally-grown fruits and veggies to a location for pick up or to your house. In my links section, I’ve added all the SF Bay Area CSAs that I can think of. I researched and found that for my needs, Eating With the Seasons was the best fit. I order a X-Small Bag (6 different items) and they are delivered to a store near me. I pick them up and do my shopping at the same time. It’s become very convenient.
However, that wasn’t the hard part. Really! The hard part was putting those fruits and veggies to good use. It’s taken me about 2 months to figure out the best things to order, how often to order them, and how to trade off when I think things won’t get eaten. The hard part? Cooking. Yes, cooking.
I love to cook. I thought I cooked a lot. I was wrong. Terribly wrong. I realize now that the biggest change had to implement was to not go out so much and begin to start using those fruits and veggies. It really is the hardest thing to do when you get tired from work, come home, and have a drawer full of veggies looking at you, defying you to do something with them. Luckily, I’ve become the master of the one-pot meals (soups, stews, curries, and all manner of pasta dishes!). It’s helped to rotate to mostly fruit some weeks if I find I have veggies left over.I am slowly figuring it out.
The nice part of CSAs is that they also partner with other home-grown companies; I can get local honey, pickles, jams, and jellies made with these same fruits and veggies and I don’t have to make them myself. I know they come from quality ingredients and the CSA has made it easy to obtain them.
I really love my CSA and it’s taught me to appreciate my kitchen skills that much more. It’s taught me to eat seasonally, that I like fennel, and what a pluot tastes like. It’s taught me that I can really save money being home and that I eat well when I am there. I’ve made zucchini gratin, blueberry coffee cake, and berry muffins – all with my own organic ingredients and to my own standards.
So, you gotta start somewhere. I started with my CSA. I could have started with a farmer’s market but I opted for, what I might consider, an easy way. To me, it made sense. Money goes directly to the farmers, it’s seasonal, it’s fresh, it’s organic, and it’s local. Those are, to me, the most critical elements in eating “good food.”
Next time, I’ll tackle the meat. And milk. Until then, good eating!