A Sermon: Shop Local

January 30, 2009

…as in, a long tedious speech, particularly on a moral issue. It may sound trite, but our individual ecological efforts, each and every day, week, and year will make a collective difference to our Earth—so we become part of the solution and not the problem. Like life, this Earth is not a dress rehearsal. So, both environmental and culinary reasons abound for shopping in your own backyard.

Our Daily Bread is now grown and processed in fewer and fewer locales, often requiring extensive travel to reach your table. Although this production method may prove more feasible for larger suppliers, it remains harmful to the environment, consumers and rural communities. In buying local, your community is supported and fresher product adorns your table.

Transit
The average grocery store shelves produce which often travels nearly 1,500 miles between farm to home, and some 40% of fruit is harvested overseas. Those plants, fruits, seeks, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves and flowers that now grace the table were former transients—over land, sea and air—-for as long as 7 to 14 days. Local victuals are usually savored soon after harvesting, requiring fewer preservatives or chemical ripening agents. The trip from farm to palate doesn’t extend for days or weeks.

Vast amounts of fossil fuels are expended to transport foodstuffs with the accompanying release of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and other delightful pollutants—joining hands, nefariously wafting into the troposphere. As a necessary evil, processors use unfriendly paper and plastic packaging to stabilize food for longer periods. These wrappings wind their way into already congested, greenhouse gas spewing landfills.

Apart from the environmental harm that results from processing, packaging and transporting foods, the industrial produce and livestock farms and packing plants are themselves often the birthplace of air and water pollution.

Nutrition
Extended travel and storage often means lost nutrients—so choosing local, fresher products proves a healthier choice. Also, the preservatives necessary to stabilize foods during long trips are not always substances you may want to ingest as part of your meal.

Larger agribusiness farms also tend to use more pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones, all of which can be damaging to both the environment and human health. On the other hand, local foods from small farms—especially organics—usually use fewer pesticides and fertilizers, undergo minimal processing, are produced in relatively small quantities, as they are distributed within a few dozen miles of where they originated.

Community
According to the USDA, over five million farms in this country have disappeared in this country since 1935. Family farms are rapidly going out of business, not only causing rural communities to dissipate, but resulting in a loss of food quality. The U.S. loses two acres of farmland each minute as cities and suburbs spread into the surrounding communities. By supporting local farms near suburban areas and around cities, you help keep farmers on the land, and, at the same time, preserve open spaces to counteract the environmental downside of urban sprawl.

Labels
Beyond the local market issue, there are a number of other labels and designations to keep in mind, including organic, biodynamic, and sustainable. Organic food is regulated by the U.S.D.A. and must meet certain standards to be certified as such. While there is debate over the value of the U.S.D.A. organic label and how much it corresponds to the initial aims of sustainable architecture, you can usually assume that any food bearing the U.S.D.A. organic label is free from artificial pesticides and fertilizers. Biodynamic farming likewise avoids pesticides and fertilizers which renders a sustainable system in which everything on the farm is reused or recycled. There are a myriad of other words used to define sustainable agriculture, but in its basic form, it strives to sustain rather than degrade the environment while also being econonomically viable.

For a local market in your area: www.localharvest.org

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A Cupboard Not Bare

January 19, 2009

Even the most resourceful housewife cannot create miracles from a riceless pantry.
~Chinese proverb

Before traipsing into the kitchen or addressing the grill, some thought needs to be given to the provisions on hand. Not only would it be unrealistic to expect all ingredients to be locally fresh throughout the year, but the time constraints of daily life often demand an impromptu table. Having a well supplied (and periodically restocked) pantry is simply essential for home cooks to produce remarkable meals without a last minute forage at the neighborhood market. Some cupboard items can even prove superior to the fresh versions in certain seasons or preparations while others only come in pantry form.

The list below is not exhaustive, but is intended to be fairly comprehensive for the lay cook. Of course, you will tailor your pantry to suit your palate and home cuisine. However, before you reject this list due to storage size restrictions alone, please keep in mind that almost all of these items are carefully housed in the cabinets of our minimalist urban kitchen with a small frig.

Oils –- extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, grapeseed, vegetable, white truffle, avocado, walnut, sesame

Vinegars — red wine, balsamic, champagne, apple cider, sherry, port, rice wine

Spices & Herbs — black peppercorns, white pepper, green peppercorns, pink peppercorns, mixed peppercorns, cayenne pepper, salt (sea, gray, kosher), herbes de provence, fine herbes, ras el hanout, za’atar, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, tarragon, fennel seeds, fennel pollen, savory, celery seed, mustard, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, pimentón, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, curry powder (homemade) & curry paste, fenugreek leaves, garam masala, caraway seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon (sticks/ground), chipotle chile powder, ancho chile powder, star anise, sesame seeds (black, white), allspice, anise seeds, saffron threads, wasabi powder, rubs (i.e., asian, ancho chili, dried mushroom, rosemary & pepper, tandoori, basic barbeque), local hot sauce(s), barbeque (preferably near home) sauces

Grains & Pastas — rice (white long grained, wild, brown, jasmine, basmati), polenta, risotto, pastas (potentials: taglilatelle, linguini, spaghetti, penne, lasagne, orzo, tortellini, orcchietta, capellini, farfalle, capaletti, cavatappi, cavatelli, fusilli, gnocchi, macaroni, papparadelle, ravioli, vermicelli), couscous, Israeli couscous, rice (cellophane) noodles (vermicelli–bun & sticks–banh pho)

Asian –- soy sauce, shoyu, white shoyu, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce/paste, sriracha, nuoc mam nhi(fish sauce), nuoc mam chay pha san, hoisin sauce, red, yellow & green curry pastes, mirin, sake, coconut milk, miso pastes (white, red), oyster sauce, wasabi paste/powder, five spice, tamarind paste, mirin, rice flour, panko bread crumbs, kochujang, gochu garu, konbu

Garlic, shallots, ginger, potatoes, yellow & red onions, dried chiles

Mustards, chutneys, capers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, tomato paste, harissa, tahini, creme fraiche, pickles

Canned tomatoes (san marzano + homemade), stock (homemade/canned)

Legumes –- lentils (several colors + lentils du puy), garbanzos, cannellinis, white beans, black beans, navy beans

Booze — red & white wine, cognac (brandy), port wine, Madeira, sherry, eau de vie

Baking — flour, sugars (white granulated, raw cane, light brown, confectioner’s), baking powder, cornstarch, cornmeal, yeast, cocoa, dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa)

Flavorings –- almond extract, vanilla beans, vanilla extract, Tabasco, Worcestershire

Dried fruits — currants, apricots, figs, prunes, currants

Nuts –- pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, unsalted peanuts

Honeys (local, raw, unprocessed), mi-figue mi-raisin, raspberry and strawberry preserves, apricot jam, pure maple syrup, peanut butter

Dairy –- whole milk, unsalted butter, eggs, buttermilk, heavy whipping cream

Fruits –- lemons, oranges, grapefruit, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes

Cheeses –- parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyère, marscarpone, roquefort or gorgonzola, feta, fontina, manchego

Meats proscuitto, serrano

Spreads tapenades, caponata, hummus