Today I’m reporting from the front lines of the Eat Locally and Eat Seasonally movements that have swept the country, including the mountain hamlet I call home. The best and most obvious path to local and seasonal eating is, of course, to grow your own vegetables, but here at 8,000 feet almost no one does so with any measure of success. Fortunately, fresh-from-the-field produce is now delivered to Mammoth Lakes weekly from small farms located near Fresno. There are countless articles, videos, and television shows extolling the virtues of eating locally and/or seasonally—gold stars and a macramé plant hanger for those who do both!—but it’s not all heirloom tomatoes and tiny, tasty carrots. Below I’ve detailed what I have discovered to be the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly about local and seasonal eating.
The Good: The fruits and vegetables I buy weekly from Abundant Harvest Organics are picked one day and trucked to my town the next. I don’t get to choose what’s in my box; the farmers do that for me. But I can add items I want or want more of. If they’re, you know, seasonal. The melons are sweet, the basil is fragrant, and how about that heirloom white eggplant! In short, buying locally grown, pesticide and herbicide-free produce has never been easier, and cutting out the supermarket middleman keeps prices reasonable.
The Bad: I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but sometimes I have a hankering for something out of season. I know pomegranates rather than peaches are in season, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting a peach. Also, I’m obligated to cook what’s in my box since I draw the line at throwing food away (okay, except for one item—see below). But what if I’m not feeling like patty pan squash again this week? Sometimes the siren song of the local Von’s store is more tempting than others. The plus side of this issue is that I’m learning to use items I normally wouldn’t buy, like lemongrass. And Abundant Harvest provides recipes for whatever’s in the box that week, which is a good thing since I didn’t have a clue what to do with that lemongrass.
The Ugly: Two words: lemon sorrel. In the summer I also buy greens from a local organic farmer, and “tart, assertive” lemon sorrel appeared in my bag week after week. I tried using it sparingly in salads, but it pretty much overpowers all the other greens. According to an article in the Huffington Post, during the Middle Ages, before Europeans had access to citrus fruit, sorrel was used to lend a sour flavor to dishes. And “sour” is by far the best adjective for this leafy green. The article went on to say that “Sorrel has been making a comeback.” Not in my kitchen. I confess that more than one bunch went straight to the trash.
So, lemon sorrel aside, what are the takeaways from all this? Supporting local, family-owned organic farms is a good thing and so is learning to cook with the seasons. Eating locally and seasonally is not necessarily more convenient, though. There are, for example, no prewashed greens in handy bags or plastic containers. But perhaps putting convenience ahead of health and taste is where we started going wrong years ago.