Friday, November 1, 2013

Guest Post-Food Nation

Food Nation

By Suzanne Taylor, erstwhile farm blogger, nosy foodie, and inept topical jokester.

It has to be said that some of my opinions on local eating are….controversial, and that I get a little ornery-assed when people don't get it, as my southern friend Susan likes to say.

I ran into my neighbours a few weeks ago at the farmer's market. They're nice people and very kind to my husband and me. But….they belong to a certain generation; they're kind of classic boomers who retired from well-paying unionized factory jobs, and always vote the same way. It's just a different point of view than mine, and I don't want to be rude. But with such a generation, I often find a particular mindset when it comes to food. 

The neighbour lady came over to say hi and inspect my purchases, of which I had many, and inquired about my variety of hot peppers, while I made ice cream recommendations to her. But then she said something that chapped my hide a bit. 

"Well, for 60 bucks spent here, I could have filled up three bags at Food Basics."

It isn't the first time I've heard this sort of remark. All I could reply was that I vastly preferred to eat the local fresh stuff over the imports, but my heart cringed inside. Because this belief, that the stuff at the grocery store, shipped from Guatemala and Mexico and China and wherever else, is somehow just as good as the amazing fresh stuff to be had across the region, is false and exasperates me to no end. 

I am sure if I lived in Mexico, California, Guatemala, Argentina, or any other agricultural community of that sort, I'd love living there and their produce.  I'm sure it's a delight to pull fresh oranges off a tree in Florida in the winter, pick pomegranates in California, and get fresh fruit off the carts in Baja. I know that the produce is good and that the locals enjoy it very much.

But this is the thing; for all the cheapness of the marked-down fruit and veg at the local Food Basics, I don't take any delight in waiting for that right moment for my avocados to ripen to use them for what I bought them for, which is always on a night when I don't have time to cook. I mostly gave up on bananas, since there is like a four hour window of time in which those mealy little fruits are at the correct ripeness to enjoy. Rock hard green mangoes break my heart. Variety in Canadian grocery stores has slowly improved over the years, but in the depths of winter, I still finger the imported produce and sniff haughtily. 

Here's the thing. A few weeks ago I dropped my husband off at work and drove back on Highway 8, as my husband had told me that there was a guy with squashes for sale on a cart on the side of the road in Beamsville, and told me to buy $20 worth. 

The cart was there, and it was one of those classic "throw your money in the bucket on the honour system" unattended produce stands that can still be found throughout the region, god bless the trusting farmer souls. There were about 10 varieties of squash, and I began loading up my car and toting up my purchases; getting a lovely mix of various Hubbards, Russian blue pumpkins, red Kuri, grey ghost, buttercup and sweet potato squashes. 

I now have a big storage bin in my basement full of about 15 different squashes that will last me through the winter. I threw my $20 in the bucket and drove on home, and thought about what my neighbour had said, and the next time I was in Food Basics checked out their squash section. Sure enough, there were anemic-looking butternut squash from Mexico that ran for 2.99 a pound, which is certainly far more than I paid at that stand in Beamsville when you do the math, if cost is your only motivator for grocery shopping. 

I am, truth be told, a wee bit tired of people just appending the words 'artisanal' and 'heirloom' and 'organic' to their offerings, be it farmer's market goods or restaurant dishes, and just using that as a way to mark up their grub without any meaningful commitment to sustainable local eating. Sometimes you can look at your plate when you eat at a farm-to-table style resto and see the care put into each dish, but sometimes it just feels mailed in, nothing more than an upmarket Jack Astor's.  

This is why I like the food trucks, hot debate topic that they are these days in Niagara, because they are bringing fresh innovation and adding fun to winery events in staid old tourist areas overrun with more traditional eateries, where the most imaginative menu item is something that has the word "Supreme" in the title. (A good rule of thumb is to never order that dish, I find). 

I think the only debate that is being had is at the hands of the sorta lazy restaurant owners in Niagara-on-the-lake who are used to marking up their dull and poorly made tourist grub and making easy cash through the summer months, and don't want anyone cutting into that, and that in actual truth people who like good food will happily support both the trucks as well as the good restaurants that put their heart into imaginative, fun cuisine. I mean, sorry you have to compete, guys, but that's the business. 

I realize my neighbours aren't going to come around to my way of thinking about food, anymore than the people I see at the grocery store with carts filled with margarine, factory-made bread and frozen dinners, whom I desperately want to clutch to my bosom and whisper that there is better, real food out there. For them, food is about a number on the bottom of a grocery bill, little more, and their idea of a fancy night out is probably The Keg, even though for the same amount of money much nicer local fare can be had. 

Fortunately there is a growing movement of people in Niagara who see food differently; who understand what food should be and is worth, who get why it's important to shop locally, and who turn such offerings into amazing dishes, be it at home or at a restaurant. You can feel the very heart and soul, the commitment, and the joy emanate from every dish, the creativity it inspires and the delight people take in it.

So, since I have all these squashes, it's time for me to put my locally spent money where my mouth is, and whip up a batch of pumpkin-sage polenta, thanks to the site"> Kitchen Confidante.


Pumpkin Sage Polenta
YIELD: Serves 4-6
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
COOK TIME: 20 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 25 minutes
A hint of pumpkin and the taste of sage brings the glow of autumn to a simple polenta. If pumpkin isn't your thing, any autumn squash would work nicely, or if you prefer, leave it out for a more straightforward polenta.
3 cups water
1 cup polenta
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (can be canned if you don't have fresh)
1 teaspoon sage, chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, polenta and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking periodically. Lower the heat and let the polenta simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the pumpkin and sage, and continue stirring for about 15-20 minutes, until the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. Stir in the parmesan cheese and butter. Serve immediately while hot and creamy, or if you prefer, place in a square dish to cool and serve in slices.


See? A dish for us all, local eaters or not. 

But since you read this blog, fair readers, it's likely you feel the same as I do, and shop carefully like me to support your local farmer. I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here and that you are nodding along with my wee rant. All you can do to convince others is probably share your polenta and explain that the squash and sage came from that amazing veg farm back in Wellandport, and that the pumpkin was a lovely Amish Pie heirloom pumpkin, made with lovely purple sage? Or show them your CSA basket some week and explain what the vegetables are?

So, carry on, Food Nation. Support the food trucks and the farm to table restaurants. Eat local. Visit your farmers. Make eating more of an experience than just cost. It's up to the foodie generation to lead by example, and we're vastly less likely to be caught in an ugly drug scandal, despite today's news of>pumpkin cocaine smuggling.


Social Media Services said...

Great write -up. India used to be a country like that where we rely mostly on fruits and vegetables and healthy foods. And today not even fruits and veggies are safe to eat. Enormous amount of artificial fertilizers.

In fact non vegetarians are healthier here..

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