Where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Reading, writing and thinking about food―and cooking food!—are such a significant part of my life now that it’s hard to believe I’ve only been sharing recipes and food thoughts here at MetaCookbook for eight months. The importance of food and food issues have been a long and slowly simmering topic for me (kind of like an excellent pot of chili), and one of the sources of this interest was “the 2001 Discover article on Gary Nabhan and his quest to eat locally sourced foods to save the planet.”:http://discovermagazine.com/2001/may/feateatlocal

Nabhan’s views, as presented in the article, started the process of challenging how I thought about food and how I eat. I will come right out and say that reading the article didn’t change my food habits right away―but Nabhan’s ideas and experience lodged themselves in my brain. “Eating local” started to be something I was hearing and idly reading about from other sources, too. And one day I found myself shopping at the Socorro Farmers’ Market and not finding much I wanted to eat. I wanted to buy food from them, but either it was all green chile (“which I wasn’t interested in until I left New Mexico”:http://metacookbook.com/permalink/red-chile-bible.html), foods I didn’t have a clue how to prepare or honey. And I already had a ton of honey at home.

While I wasn’t yet embracing eating local, my food habits were changing, rather significantly, in other ways:

# I started cooking more because I had to; my then-husband and I were realizing we had to be responsible for our diet. There was no one there to nag us not to eat a pile of pizza three weeks straight. We had to figure it out for ourselves. Which included eating vegetables, something neither of us was good at. (Maybe my friend Claire will come along and tell you how she decided to only serve broccoli as a vegetable when we ate at her house. Which was often in our first year of marriage.)
# Also, about two years prior to being married, I “gave up all forms of red meat”:http://www.metacookbook.com/permalink/no-red-meat-cookbookhtml prompted largely, though indirectly, by the “mad cow” scare. I didn’t drop red meat like a rock as “mad cow” stories hit, but rather when a professor I deeply admired revealed giving up red meat because of BSE and because, this professor contended, cows were being fed cow meat even here in the U.S. and it continued despite the headlines. I wasn’t the researcher I am today, so I didn’t look up those claims; I simply believed this person I admired so much and who clearly knew so much. And I didn’t eat red meat again for six or seven years, except while I was in Kenya.

Aside from those two big changes, three if you count reintroducing red meat to my diet, my eating habits have mostly changed incrementally. And they’re not done changing. What I have done, though, is start learning more. My deeper interest in these issues stems in large part thanks to Brian Halweil, author of “Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket.”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393326640?ie=UTF8&tag=metaco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0393326640 While I was conducting my M.Sc. research at the National Zoo, I found out Halweil was doing a presentation on his book at the zoo one night. I’d since forgotten the name “Gary Nabhan,” but remembered the impression the long-lost Discover magazine article had made on me. Thinking this might be the same guy, I dragged my then-husband along to the speech. It was illuminating. We purchased the book, which Halweil kindly signed for us, and I went home and devoured it.

Halweil’s words and figures put me on a path to eating as I do; he made me ask, “What can I get near me?” I subsequently investigated and then invested in a share of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project1 in DC and had such good experience with that program2, I sought out another here in Chicago (last year, coinciding with “the launch of this blog”:http://metacookbook.com/permalink/about.html).

I also realized I didn’t want to give up chocolate, oranges and tea. And it seemed (and still seems) to me that I didn’t have to; I just try to consider where my food came from: If I had a choice between a Floridian orange or a South African orange, I choose the Floridian orange.

I’ve been an idle learner when it comes to the discussions of “local” or “sustainable” or “organic” food. I’m certainly not catching this wave early, but I feel now’s my time to learn more.

Maybe I’ll find it’s all a bunch of hooey (though I doubt it). Maybe I’ll find the food situation is worse than I could imagine (though I doubt it). Either way, I want to know.

So, I’m learning. I’m reading more books, more articles. And I’m jumping in with both feet and going to a conference on local foods. At the end of this month, I’ll be in Santa Barbara for the “Edible Communities second Edible Institute.”:http://www.ediblecommunities.com/content/edible-institute/edible-institute-2011.htm

I’m looking forward to hearing Joan Gussow speak, especially since I just read her book, “This Organic Life“:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1931498245?ie=UTF8&tag=metaco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1931498245 and felt a sigh of relief when she admitted to buying Coke (my food confession: I still enjoy a Hostess cupcake!) and when she said she wasn’t sure if there was any better way to source grain than we’re doing it right now.

I’m looking forward to hearing Nabhan speak because he planted this whole idea for me, and I wish I had the opportunity to hear Halweil again, since he was so deeply influential to my thoughts.

Undoubtedly, there will be frustrating parts and parts that don’t add up. But I’ll learn a great deal, I think, about this “movement” I’ve come to believe in and that learning has value.

I’ll post about it here, for you all to read about. I figure it’s something I need to do, since it’s food and I’m getting in on it.

fn1. You know, sometimes a really poor name or phrase catches on and sticks. I think of this as one of them. Yes, “CSA” is catchy, but when you think about what it stands for, it doesn’t make sense, exactly. I always feel the need to upend “project” or a similar word when I have to call out the acronym. I think it’s a sign of a bad acronym if that happens. Still, it’s probably impossible to change to something better now. Kind of like “missed opportunity cost” in my old life.

fn2. If you live in the D.C. area, I just found out that CSA still exists. It’s the “Fresh and Local” CSA from Farmer Allen. Contact me if you’d like any other info. Jen.

One thought on “Where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Comments are closed.