A couple of years ago I found myself in a Whole Foods Market holding a bunch of bananas with guilt and trepidation. My grocery list had bananas on it yet I couldn’t bring myself to put them in the cart. I called Christian.
“I can’t buy the bananas.” I said.
“Seriously? Lauren, I eat a banana a day. I need bananas.”
“Can’t you find something else to eat instead? Something more local?” Despair was creeping into my voice.
“I’ll think about it. But really, please buy the bananas for now- at least for this week, before we begin our anti-banana campaign.”
I answered in the most non-committed way possible and hung up the phone. I found the bananas labeled “fair-trade” and begrudgingly placed them in my cart. Barbara Kingsolver would be so disappointed in me, I thought. I was in a stage of complete reverence for this woman, after immersing myself in her book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and learning of how her family ate only local food (growing much of it themselves) for an entire year. In my opinion, she was (and is) a complete bad-***.
I knew our family ate well, buying organic food whenever possible, not eating too much meat, and loading up on fresh fruits and vegetables but I also felt we weren’t doing enough, particularly in our efforts to support the local food movement. I was looking for that place somewhere in the middle of moving to a farm and living off the land (BK style) and buying food at the local chain grocery store (real-life style). Christian backed me up on this but he is also a realist and a creature of habit. He liked his bananas.
My answer to this dilemma came weeks later, when a close friend of ours discovered an organic food co-op, also called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) serving our area of Northern Virginia. Basically, we had to pay up front for a weekly share of seasonal, organic, local vegetables grown on nearby farms. The price breakdown seemed reasonable and we jumped on board, excited to get some good food and support the local farmers in return.
And let me tell you- it’s been pure bliss ever since. Our children have no signs of attention deficit disorder since they are only eating food without pesticides or preservatives. We have gourmet, home-cooked meals every night and my skin has never looked better. Christian claims to have more energy than ever before from the plant-based protein he’s consuming. Life is good.
Okay now the truth. Getting a box full of dirty, sometimes inconspicuous vegetables every week trying to make magic out of them again and again takes effort. Getting children with discriminating taste buds to try these strange-looking vegetables takes even more effort. There are occasions when life is so busy and you just can’t “manage” the gnarly looking celeriac root in the bottom fridge drawer that week, or the next, or the…..
BUT, yes of course there’s a but, these are only minor inconveniences at the end of the day. Because, truthfully, the value of being members of a farm co-op goes far beyond eating well and helping the environment. Yes, we are eating better and likely feeling better as a result and yes, we feel good that most of our food has not traveled thousands of miles to get to our plates. (We still buy bananas) Things do go to waste on occasion, though we really try not to let this happen and our children have learned to try new things, without starving in the process. The reasons for joining a farm co-op must outweigh the inconveniences. The amazing thing though is the magic that happens beyond these reasons and inconveniences, the added value that takes the shape of some really incredible life lessons.
Here are some “life lessons” I’ve learned from being part of our local CSA.
1. Do not be intimidated to try new things.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I learned how to cook. I was intimidated by cooking- by selecting the right foods, by cooking it the right way, and actually serving it to someone other than myself. The more I cooked, the better I became. My confidence increased and my intimidation dwindled. Having a few unknown vegetables entrusted to me on a regular basis has forced me to look up recipes and try new things. Some meals have failed, but most have soared. I would like to believe this willingness to tackle the unknown has seeped into other areas of my life as well.
2. Follow your gut, rather than follow the rules.
Part of what I never liked about cooking (and math for that matter) was the idea that you had to follow a set of scripted rules to arrive at the desired destination. Recipes can be daunting in this way. I like to use them as a foundation to jump off of, getting the general sense of how to prepare something and then using creative license, or my “gut” instincts to pull off my own unique version of a dish. Sweet potato black bean enchiladas with collards? Yes please!
3. Focus on the here and now.
Cooking is an act of the here and now. It engages all the senses. I’ve enjoyed the simplicity of chopping vegetables with the sunlight hitting my face through the bay window on many occasions. I’ve also enjoyed time with the greatest two sous chefs in the world, as they pull over a stool and ask, “What can I do Mama?” I give them the simple jobs of washing and cutting the vegetables. I’d like to think they are developing grit as a result since cutting a carrot with a butter knife is not for the faint-hearted. Eating is also an act of the present moment. Because I tend to not follow a recipe, I always try to remind myself, and Christian, to enjoy it because this exact meal with these exact ingredients will not likely happen again. Sometimes that’s a good thing.
4. Sharing food is sharing love. There are weeks when we have more food than we can eat- First world problem, I know. If I have time, I will make a big dish of something and invite some friends over. If I have limited time, I will desperately pawn off my vegetables to some grateful and enthusiastic bystander who hasn’t been eating turnips every week for weeks on end. Either way, it’s a win-win.
5. Sometimes knowing what you don’t want in life can help you define what you do want.
Speaking of turnips, I know, with absolute authority that I don’t like turnips. Braised, roasted, pickled, it doesn’t matter how they are prepared, turnips are not my forte. On the other hand, I do know I love beets, especially golden beets, and swiss chard and brussel sprouts. Oh, and roasted cabbage- cut in wedges with a little olive oil and lemon- heaven. I am open-minded but being able to form an opinion, articulate, and act upon what you may not want out of life, even when it starts in the kitchen, is one step closer to working towards and attaining what you do want out of life. I’ll let you know how this theory pans out. Sounds about right doesn’t it?
So I’m no Barbara Kingsolver but I like to think we’ve landed in a place somewhere between the extreme and the apathetic. It’s a good place, sustainable and rewarding, especially at this time of year, when we can put the tumultuous season of turnips behind us and look ahead to all the spring time has to offer.