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Define “Farmers’ Market”

Some people apparently have a pretty loose definition of a farmers’ market.  In my head, the name implies that, you know, actual farmers might be there selling things that came from the ground or off of trees– something that requires the seller of such goods to have some sort of contact with the earth.  I think the photo below is a pretty good representation of what one might expect to see at a place called a farmers’ market.

So, you can imagine my disappointment when I went to a “farmers’ market” in a posh Arizona neighborhood (Scottsdale) recently to find that there were no farmers there.  I wish I had taken photos to show the paucity of agricultural products at this so-called “farmers’ market”, but the whole scene was so uninspiring it never occured to me to pull it out. 

 I saw lots of jewelry, clothing and knick-knacks but NOT ONE thing even remotely resembling fresh fruit or vegetables unless you count the knit scarves the color of tomatoes and eggplant.  I even jovially asked the scarf stallholder if there was any actual food at the market and she did tell me that “the farmer” wasn’t there today.  I thought, “THE farmer? Meaning just one guy?”  Then definitely don’t call it a Farmers’ Market (note emphasis on the plural). 

She also helpfully pointed out the stalls selling chocolate, salsa, pasta sauce and olive oil.  At least it was food.  But even the olive oil was a bit disappointing.  All of it was imported- not from California-but Australia and Spain.  More disappointing still was finding out later in the week that there actually is some locally grown and produced olive oil in the Phoenix area, so why wasn’t it at this market instead?

My point isn’t to harp on this particular market.  I’ve found this lazy defintion of a farmers’ market in other places (like Wichita, KS in the prime growing season last year).  The point is, it shouldn’t be called a farmers’ market if you can’t buy fresh produce there.  Further to the point, the people who run these markets and those of us who shop at them should demand it.  Otherwise, many reasons for a having a farmers’ market (i.e. supporting local farmers, providing healthier food, providing a sense of place and seasonality) are rendered null and void and we might as well head back inside to the supermarket.

What is a winter vegetable?

It’s not asparagus unless it’s canned, and somehow I doubt that President Obama (yes, I said President Obama!!) and the other dignitaries at the Inaugural Luncheon are dining on limp-as-wet-newspaper canned asparagus.

The menu and recipes for the inaugural luncheon are apparently the most viewed item on the Inaugural website. The good news: this is further proof that Americans are becoming more and more interested in food and our food culture. The bad news: they’re being told that asparagus is a winter vegetable, when it is, in fact, a spring vegetable.

Asparagus is available year-round in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean it’s in season; it just means that asparagus served in DC in January probably has an enormous carbon footprint.

There’s still a lot of work still to be done if we’re going to become more local, seasonal eaters.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

This prayer has been tumbling around in my head for a bit over a year now.  I wanted something that truly acknowledges the miracle of food and how important it is that we really care about where it comes from and who is growing and making it.

Dear Lord,
Thank You for the incredible bounty You have put before us and bless it to our bodies.
Just as You have provided the plants and animals for our nourishment,
Let us be mindful that You have given us the responsibility to nourish and care for them.
Bless all those who had a role in bringing this food to our Thanksgiving table:
The farmers, migrant workers, and truck drivers.
The grocery store workers and cooks.
Help us to remember that we all depend upon one another
And each of us is an earthbound instrument of Your Magnificent Grace.

Amen.

Bake sales: The new boogeyman

Is this apple crumble really all that bad?

Is this apple crumble really all that bad?

I am all for kids eating healthier and eating less.  But I feel like political correctness has completely prevailed over common sense and a sense of fun when bake sales become the bad guy of school fundraisers.  I’ve seen this gastronomic nanny state at work in Australia and it’s also sweeping some state legislatures in the U.S. according to this article from the New York Times.

First, let me say that the schools are right in saying bake sales shouldn’t happen during school hours.  But the ban on bake sales at schools seems like we’re heading down that slippery slope of banning bake sales altogether, and that would be a shame for a number of reasons.  One is that it forces kids to do those awful holiday gift tins and knick-knack sales.  What a bunch of crap that is.  I used to run and hide at work when parents would come towards my cubicle with one of those order forms.  Honestly, they’d have better luck trying to sell me asbestos earmuffs.

But seriously, when did bake sales go bad?  Schools and other organizations have been having bake sales for decades and I don’t recall seeing any evidence that they made kids fat.  Kids are fat today because of sugary drinks, too little exercise, and a preponderance of crap food made with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.  No, bake sales aren’t part of the childhood obesity problem.  In fact, I think they could be part of the solution, and here’s why:

1) They are wholesome.  If I were to bake something for a bake sale, I’d probably make something like the ever popular brownie.  The ingredients:  butter, chocolate or cocoa, sugar, eggs, flour, a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla.  I can pronounce every single one of those ingredients.  I know what they are, unlike some of the ingredients in oh, say, the PowerBar mentioned in the NY Times piece as a “healthy” snack which contains ingredients like soy lecithin, soy protein isolate and fractionated palm kernal oil.  In fact, I think wholesome treats made with real ingredients are actually more satisfying than processed food.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I can easily be satisfied after eating a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookes, but could down practically a whole bag of oreos and still want more.

2) They promote community.  When a school or a club has a bake sale, it usually requires parents to get involved with their kids, with the schools, with other parents, and with bake sale patrons.  It requires communication and organization.  In fact, bake sales are probably more trouble than they are worth, monetarily speaking.  But if a bake sale helps build community relationships, then that’s worth more than every cent raised.  Participating in something like a bake sale can make you realize it’s actually fun to get out of the house and get away from the TV and computer and get involved in life!

3) They are a good learning tool for kids.  There is little value for kids in the yearly Christmas knick-knack sale.  Parents take the order forms to work and that’s the last the kids ever see of that project until they hand the order form back in.  On the other hand, bake sales can be used to teach kids cooking skills, math skills (converting recipes, counting change for customers), and customer relation skills when they help man the bake sale table.  As far as healthy habits go, learning to cook is a great way for kids to get a concept of what goes into their food, which is key to healthy eating.  Let me tell you, when I bake and see all the butter I put into a batch of brownies, I’m much more likely to take a small portion because I know just how many calories are in them.

So let’s quit vilifying bake sales.  They aren’t an every day event.  They are not responsible for obesity. Come on people.  Get a life and get baking.

The upside of rising food prices

More bad news today about the cost of food.  Some economists predict prices will go up at least 7% in the U.S. next year. 

But is this really bad news?  For people who are struggling to put food on their tables now, it is bad news.  But for those addicted to cheap food– and I admit to being one of them– this cloud has a silver lining.

The main reason for the rise in prices is the cost of grain which is skyrocketing because a large percentage of the grain crop is being used to make fuel.  Much of the rest of that grain crop goes to feed cows, pigs and chickens.

Until lately, grain has been a cheap way to to feed and fatten livestock.  Now that it’s getting more expensive, the playing field between mass-produced feedlot meat and grass-fed and naturally-raised meat is being leveled.

To most people it’s natural to go to the store and want to buy the least expensive item.  When one package of chicken is $2.99, why would you pay $5.99 for an equal sized package?  But if the prices of conventionally-raised meat and free-range, natural meat come close to (or even achieve) parity, why WOULDN’T you buy meat that was raised the way God intended? 

Also, if the cost of meat goes up, maybe we’ll eat a little less of it and make room on our plates for more vegetables, grains and legumes.

As food prices go up, we’ll start to see the REAL cost of food.

The way I see it, this is great news for the small farmers and ranchers who raise meat humanely, it’s good news for the animals that may not have to spend their lives packed into polluted feedlots, it’s good news for the environment because of the pollution caused by the feedlots both directly and indirectly, and it’s good news for anyone who eats because we won’t be forced to make a choice between what’s healthy and what’s cheap.

Post Election Drinks

A 2006 Kangaroo Island Bay of Shoals Riesling.

Fresh citrus flavors with a crisp minerality and a slightly developed character.  Yeah, that about sums up our President-Elect. Fresh, steely resolve and good character. 

Cheers.

Well, crap…

This is not good news.  Should I have another cup of coffee or be flatter than Kansas? Coffee or Kansas…. coffee… Kansas…

Next thing you know, scientists will tell us eating lots of cheese will make our butts big.