Fresh asparagus is a treat. I picked my own for the first time this week and loved it. I had never tasted asparagus raw. Such a tender texture and fresh notes of green bean and pea. It will be difficult to go back to dull, woody, out-of-season, grocery-store asparagus now.
Last year I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Until then, I hadn’t considered how or when it grew, and I found the author’s description of it fascinating. I imagined the reddish buds poking out of the ground in early spring, the root systems and clusters of sprouts, or the fern-like bushes that the unpicked stalks will become. Last year I missed the pick-your-own (PYO) season, and this week, after many months, it did not disappoint. And I’m not even a huge fan of asparagus. It’s something I always liked well enough, but now I can categorize it two ways:
- Freshly picked = excellent, worth the trouble to find
- Conventional = good, it’s still pretty healthy, right?
The book inspired me to lean more heavily farmer’s markets and pick-your-own farms as my sources for produce. Prior to reading it, I viewed the weekly markets as a luxury—something I would go to if I felt like it, woke up early enough for, and/or had some cash. Reading the book forced me to reconsider things that I knew to be true but had forgotten or ignored: the importance of knowing where your food comes from and how it was grown; that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are things that should be avoided when possible; and that naturally raised, seasonal food is healthier for our bodies. I grew up gardening and eating fresh produce. My dad had a portion of the backyard blocked off for vegetables, and when I was about 8, I got my own small patch to work. Every year during my childhood we grew radishes, lettuce, Swiss chard, carrots, peas, green and yellow beans, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, strawberries, and probably some things I’m forgetting. It tasted better than what you buy at the store, and it was better for you. These are things I learned and knew, but forgot as things got busier. Farmer’s markets became a novelty and my own container garden on my 4th floor balcony was a half-hearted attempt each year to eat better food. I am happier now using the extra effort to get food that is better. It’s nice to have my priorities straight. I can’t wait for the markets to open back up in June.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle described the economic effects of eating locally as well as the damage that commercial farming causes, two things that I had not thought much about and became intrigued with. After this book, I was feeling on a roll with the subject and started The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I got about a quarter of the way through it and had to take a break because I found it overwhelming. Pollan presents what seems to be SUCH an insurmountable shitpile of problems with the food industry, politics, and consumer habits that I had to stop because I felt helpless and depressed. What can possibly be done to change the things that have gone so wrong? It’s not fair to say much more about the book since I haven’t yet finished it. It was engaging and interesting, but just bummed me out too much. I hope to pick it up again soon.
I think Miracle had the right balance (for me, anyway) of explaining the dangers and damage of industrial farming along with examples of what one family did about it. I was able to extend what they did to myself, finding small steps that I could take to achieve my goals. Plus, it helps when making bread from scratch is fun. Kneading dough puts me in a good mood and fresh bread tastes delicious. Attempting to make cheese was fun. Not very successful, but still fun. Let’s just say I fell in love the idea of making my own mozzarella (using the Cheese Queen’s kit!), but my technique still needs work. Thinking about attempting canning one day is fun. Growing my own food is satisfying and tasty. Are these amusing, old-timey activities going to change the world, or even make a dent in our “national eating disorder” that Pollan describes? Not really…but maybe a little bit. For now, they’re what I can do to eat healthier and they bring me pleasure. I try to do them when I can. And hey, maybe if enough people take these things from novelty to priority, from ideals to practice, from once-in-a-while flings to everyday habits, it will make a difference someday.