I just read Joan Dye Gussow’s book, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homemaker. The subtitle is kinda misleading in today’s climate because Gussow is not one of the dozens and dozens of trendy folks who have recently begun growing (and writing about growing) food in the city. Gussow started growing all her own vegetables in a suburban plot outside New York City way back in the 1970s. She has a doctorate in nutrition and spotted the disconnect in the way Americans eat and grow food way before it became hip and cool to talk about eating locally. Fast forward over thirty years and folks are finally catching up with her message. At least some folks–and the trend seems to be growing, which is a good thing since the growing of food is going to become more controversial with each passing decade.
Gussow reminds us that we are what we eat and if we choose to eat blindly by going to the grocery store and picking out whatever is offered, then we deserve what we get. Yes, you can get oranges in Maine in June and peaches in Texas in January but to do so means that the food has been shipped thousands of miles and likely grown in a place with an underpaid labor force, which is often malnourished. And if this isn’t enough, that beautiful tomato you’re slicing today tastes TERRIBLE. It’s not been bred to taste good but to look perfect for several weeks while it travels from an exotic place that you’ve never even likely visited.
Is it worth it? What if we all started by just eating what was in season, appreciating the beauty of eating certain foods at certain times of the year. If we boycotted those tomatoes at Wal-Mart today, the big chain would stop purchasing them. That would encourage the purchasing of local foods that were in season and that, in turn, would encourage more local growing. It seems that this kind of boycotting would set off a chain reaction that would eventually lead to more local, small, sustainable farms.
Gussow doesn’t argue that everyone has to grow your own food but if you aren’t willing to grow at least some of it, then you should be supporting people locally who will. Get to know your food and your food grower. Eat locally. Eat seasonally. So when you see a tomato know that it shouldn’t be in the store in February. Pass it by. There’s plenty of time in July, August, and September for tomatoes. And when you eat them ripe, fresh, and from only a few feet away, you’ll know the wait was worth it.