Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fruit Calculus

So, part of my eating local "strategery" is to estimate how much food (in this case fruit) I might need to preserve or store for the part of the year that I can't buy it fresh, which is approximately 6 months/26 weeks between November/December and May in Georgia. I generally eat two cups of fruit each weekday morning (and go for the "works" on the weekend--bacon, eggs and fried potatoes). So, I estimate at the beginning of the fruiting season that I will need to put up X amount of this and X amount of that, which is all very fine and good, but then life happens and I just put up what I can on the weekends and in the odd, wonderful moments between work and play that usually characterize my relationship with my food.

Early this spring, with help from friends, I picked about a total of 12 gallons of strawberries ($10/gallon PYO) at Washington Farms in Watkinsvillege. In one big marathon, I froze about 20 pints. For the rest of strawberry season I ran over to Washington Farms after riding and picked the odd gallon (which took approximately 15 minutes) to eat for breakfast and froze the odd pint or so if they started to get too ripe. That didn't happen too often, though, since I am a stawberry eating machine. Then, blueberries started coming in, and I had the pleasure and privelege of picking blueberries at Covenant Grove Farm (where George lives) for free. Early in the season, after riding George I picked enough for breakfast and then when they really started coming in, I picked and froze about 6 gallons for the winter. Then it was peaches time! Yay! I bought about 24 peaches for $16 each week (for about 6 weeks) at Thomas orchard in Watkinsville. Generally I went on a Monday and a Friday morning after riding at the barn. The owner of the orchard and his father, who sits in a rocking chair by the peach table with his old dog, began to expect me after a while and always asked me if I'd had a good ride. I ate about three peaches a day and froze the ripest ones when they started to get soft. Then this last week, as peaches come to a close, I bought 4 buckets of peaches and canned 23 pints. Pears are just getting ripe now, and there are two trees at the barn that make offerings all night long. I pick a bucket of the not too badly damaged ones in the morning after my ride, and take them home for breakfast. I had accumulated about three buckets today and canned 17 pints.

In a lovely conclusion to my efforts at preserving this fruiting season, I just counted that I have 131 pints of fruit frozen and canned, which is exactly 26 weeks worth of fruit for my breakfasts, which is exactly what I need. I was not really keeping track, just hoping that my efforts would be adequate enough, and if not, I would supplement with fruit from god knows where. Who says the universe doesn't provide when your heart and your efforts are sincere? And for about $240 (plus the huge generosity of friends and my own time and energy) I am able to eat two cups of local fruit each day (some of it organically grown) for an entire year. Who says local is more expensive?

I think people are stopped from making efforts to eat locally because they are blocked by the idea that it can't be done, or that it will be too expensive. I think that it can be done quite handily, and my efforts prove that it isn't too expensive if you are willing to change your habits and patterns--your lifeworld, as it were--to do it. And what makes it all possible are the relationships that surround all these efforts--the Smiths especially who share their abundance for free and all the other farmers and orchardists who share it for very little money, and who come to know me and appreciate me, which is its own wonderful reward.

Eat well and be well! You can do it!


This afternoon, for the first time in a few years, I put up 23 pints of peaches and 17 pints of pears. I am quite pleased with my efforts even though I am now very tired. I picked the pears out of George's pasture this past week and let them ripen for a few days in the house. I bought the peaches from Thomas Orchard in Watkinsville, a family run operation that produces glorious golden globes of ginormous goodness. It rained this afternoon, and I was grateful for the cool breeze from outside as steam from the canner filled my kitchen. I don't use any sugar and sprinkle on a little lemon juice to preserve the color of the fruit before I pack it in hot water. I love the sounds of canning--the perking of the water in the canner, the slinging sound when I screw on the bands, the little cheerful pops when the jar seals. I also love the feels and smells of it all--hot, squeaky clean jars and the fragrance of fresh fruit, lightly cooked. But what I really love is the result, and I will enjoy it even more in January when I open up one of those jars and inhale the fragrance of pure, delicious summer.

Ever since I saw Food, Inc., I have been thinking a lot about how much impact we can have with simply changing our consumption habits (which if you haven't seen it, is the take home message of the film). My friends and colleagues (who won't let me stop thinking about it) point out that we are not all equal when it comes to our consuming power, and our food system is broken and corrupt in a way that only enrolls consumerism of any kind into its project (i.e., big organic). People aren't going to walk away from a movie with a good feeling (read, tell others to watch it) if the take-home message is YOU are fundamentally a part of the problem just because you exist and eat, so change your priorities, not just the store/market you frequent; shut off your TV; put some more effort into getting your food in your body; and take responsibility for the calories you consume that might come at the cost of someone else's freedom or health.

Of course, being a dedicated local eater, (with a blog no less) I can't really say in good faith that we shouldn't change our consumption habits. I think that what we ALSO need to do is change our individual and collective relationship to food and agriculture. Lots of people view eating as something simply necessary for living and thus their food choices reflect a desire for convenience and quick gratification, among other un-self-reflexive and subconscious desires. Food, in this consumer's view, is a means to an end, and it shouldn't get in the way of more important things. I think for this person, going to the farmer's market might be the beginning of a new way of relating to food. As lots of people have pointed out, we have to start somewhere. BUT we can't STOP there. Given how tired I feel, I am having a hard time sincerely advocating for doing more, especially along the lines of what I just did. But I think doing something like this, along with other kinds of action on a variety of scales is essential to changing our food system. Rethinking our relationship to food means prioritizing a different set of values and objectives. I value getting my food from people I know, and I also value tasty food. I have an objective of health, which is directly and negatively related to how much sugar I put in my body. I also don't believe in buying food from people I know or eating tasty food just for right now, when it's in season and easy.

So, I take a weekend afternoon (when I could be doing a lot of other things--shopping perhaps?) and spend some time getting hot, sweaty and a little frustrated, cuting up my hands and burning myself (not badly!) with scalding water. When I'm done, I have a cupboard full of sunshine and a lot more control over what I put in my body for a lot longer than the season when the trees in my world bear fruit. In an interesting twist of irony, the product I have made for myself is not available in any store (so I can't just change my shopping habits), since there doesn't seem to be a market for unsweetened canned fruit. I don't get it. I eat unsweetened fruit with plain unsweetened yogurt and don't feel deprived at all. But I digress.

I'm actually a little sad that canning is over, because nothing in the rest of my week is going to make me feel like I've done something as important as this for myself. And, I probably won't get the same kind of sensual pleasure, measurable result and sense of accomplishment out of writing a paper or preparing a lecture, either. Try it. You might like it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Shrimp and Grits

I have a new favorite food. I also have a fairly unhealthy habit of reading while eating. In the absence of human company, books have always sufficed, I guess. While eating my new favorite food today, however, I was not able to concentrate on what I was reading. Every bite I put in my mouth exploded like fireworks of flavor and distracted me from my reading. I'm not sure what more I can say about this, other than whoever thought of putting shrimp and grits together on one plate was a genius. I also want to thank the good folks at Athens Locally Grown for letting me overhear them talking about putting poblano peppers, corn and shrimp together last week. Right around 8 pm, when our sweaty fatigue hits a peak, we start fantasizing about food, even though not a single one of us is going home to cook with all the goodness we just gathered up. I usually go home and have a mojito. :) The shrimp comes from Tybee Island and the "shrimp guy" shows up at the market and sells fresh caught shrimp for an amazing $5/pound. I made this up yesterday and then went out to watch High Strung at the Terrapin Brewery in Athens. I finished it up today for lunch and it was even better. Apparently the flavors had a chance to do some dancing while they sat together over night.

Southern Girl Shrimp and Grits

Serves 2-4
Time: 30 minutes

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon dried rosemary (if using fresh, add at the end)
1 clove garlic
1 medium poblano pepper (more or less depending on your taste for hot stuff)
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper chopped
2 ears sweet corn
2 larger or 3 medium paste tomatoes (San Marzanos if you got em)
1 pound shrimp
1 cup milk or cream
salt and pepper to taste

Sizzle the rosemary in the butter in a cast iron pan over high heat. When it turns brown around the edges, add the garlic and poblano pepper and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or so. Add the onion and red pepper and turn the heat to medium-low. Cover, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. When the onions are soft and releasing their juices, add the corn and tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes until the tomatoes get soft. Add the shrimp and cook until pink. Turn the heat down to low and stir in the milk. Be careful not to let it boil or it will seperate. Season with salt and pepper. Serve wtih grits and sauteed greens. Collards if you're a real southern girl...