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Apples? Not now

(article, Kim Carlson)

As a kid, I loved junk food. Ding Dongs, Doritos, and chili cheesedogs (a gut-busting plateful of hot dogs, canned chili, and two slices of American cheese microwaved on a Wonder bun at Sande Karr's house) were all exciting, because we didn't eat those things at home. 

Once I even bought a TV dinner with my allowance, just to taste it.

Meanwhile, ho hum, my parents were busy growing zucchini and tomatoes in the garden, raising — at various times — their own steers or pigs or chickens, keeping bees, and even grinding wheat for the whole-grain flour that my mother baked into bread. Probably they were amused by my tastes, or lack thereof.

[%image "promo-image" width=350 float=left caption="Looking to buy local apples."]

It wasn't until college that I became disillusioned with the cost, the saltiness, and the boringness endemic to processed food. I realized that I didn’t need more Rice-a-Roni; I needed to learn to cook food I wanted to eat. I needed olive oil and garlic, ingredients my parents had not yet embraced. I needed lemon juice and red-wine vinegar.

In my adult life, I’ve settled closer to my parents’ ideal than my childhood one. Like many others I know, I try to eat healthy whole foods; avoid overly processed, uh, crap; and seek out what’s in season, what’s local, and what’s flavorful. 

It’s not always easy. Yesterday, I shopped for my family of four. I chose a supermarket instead of our local co-op, because the supermarket was closer and I needed staples, which are generally cheaper at the big store than the little one. 

We’d already chowed the two pints of strawberries I’d bought this weekend at the farmers' market, so in addition to the t.p. and contact lens solution I sought, I wanted fruit. In a hurry, I loaded my cart with more organic strawberries (this time from California), conventional California cherries (I wish they'd been organic, but I wanted that first taste of the season), bananas (organic, Ecuador), and a Hawaiian pineapple. 

Not so good, those bananas and pineapple, but I justified my purchases by telling myself that bananas are on the list of foods that I make an exception for, and the pineapple was a splurge that I buy only once every six months or so. 

Hastily, I grabbed a few organic apples, too. 

Eve, I was. I read the "Organic" sign, but I didn't read the origin label. Had I read the stickers on the apples I would have seen that these classic Pacific Northwest fruits were coming from Chile. Three organic Galas, all the way from Chile — a distance of, oh, 6,500 miles. The pineapple, which I acknowledged was a splurge, looked good by comparison.

To eat what's best at a given time not only takes learning how to cook, but also learning how to shop. 

I’m not beating myself up (really!), but if I take my time, I know I can do better. I’m enchanted and inspired by Plenty, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon’s account of their year spent eating only foods that were grown within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver, B.C. I know it would be a big sacrifice to do without chocolate or coffee (and I'll indulge my family's love of bananas), but I could certainly go without buying Hawaiian pineapple or Chilean apples. 

Next week we’ll stir rhubarb sauce into our oatmeal, or some of those fabulous dried Queen Anne cherries from our farmers' market. And we'll eat more strawberries while they're here, enjoying fruit that is both in season and locally grown.

On Culinate, we’ve featured two recent stories on local produce: last week's article on CSAs and this week's piece on farmers’ markets. They're fitting reminders to me — to all of us — to stick close to those local sources for food. Supermarkets? Best to save them for household products, root beer, and the occasional bag of potato chips.

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