eat local

Always in Season, at a Price

Last week I was at a wedding. The reception buffet was delicious, including the labeled "Seasonal Fruit Platter." When the person in front of me in line spotted that sign, he nudged me and asked, "In season where?" No kidding! The platter held fresh strawberries, pineapple, watermelon, blueberries, cantaloupe, and grapes, fruits which are currently in season in California, the tropics, Mexico, California, Central America, and Chile, respectively.

Wikipedia comes through with the picture of "seasonal fruits"

Wikipedia comes through with the picture of "seasonal fruits"

Now, I enjoy all these fruits, and you'll find grapes, bananas, oranges, and kiwis in my house right now, none of which were grown in Washington (the apples and pears were, however), but enjoying "never out of season" fruit comes at a price, according to author Rob Dunn.

As I mentioned last week, Dunn notes that most of the food eaten worldwide and certainly in America, comes from fewer and fewer plants. Not only does the number of plants we eat shrink with the passing of time, but the variety of the chosen plants has dwindled as well. Most famously we eat the Cavendish banana almost exclusively, but other plants don't fare a heckuva lot better. California mass-produces a few strawberry varieties that they ship all around. Unless you hit the farmers market, you're likely to be offered just two to three kinds of potato at the grocery store, and so on.

So what, you ask? So, this: in winnowing the foods we eat and then growing what are effectively clones of the same few plants all over the world, we make our food supply uniquely vulnerable. Think Irish Potato Famine vulnerable. Plant a whole country with the "lumper" potato, and when potato blight finally hitches a ride to Europe, there goes the food supply. 

Dunn traces a familiar pattern through history: a few seeds get chosen for planting in a whole new environment, they outrun their natural predators and diseases for a time, then the predators and diseases catch up and threaten to wipe out the whole crop. We respond with pesticides, more furious breeding, or moving everything to a "clean slate" to buy more time. If and when we return to the plant's original habitat to look for different varieties to grow or to cross with our familiar ones, the plants and their original habitats increasingly have ceased to exist! Beloved crops like cacao (eek!) and coffee face these threats, by the way, so we all should find this an alarming trend. There are still some botanists and other scientists trying to gather and preserve not only the wonderful variety of plants that have covered the earth, but also some of the places that yielded them, and you can imagine their rate of success (not super promising).

Our love's in jeopardy, Baby. (Cacao fruit)

Our love's in jeopardy, Baby. (Cacao fruit)

What can we do? Unless we're adventurous botanists who want to collect specimens from marginal wildernesses (because we want plants that grow where it's hotter and drier, to prepare for our climate future), Dunn makes the following suggestion:

You can buy diverse varieties of local crops...By increasing the proportion of food that is purchased from locally grown and diverse varieties of crops, we increase the incentives farmers have to plant those varieties. We increase the incentives farmers have to find unusual varieties. And, importantly, we increase the willingness of farmers to experiment, whether with unusual crop varieties or even with the breeding of novel crop varieties...In parts of North America and Europe...local food movements have already increased the diversity of crop varieties available in seed catalogues and stores.

And where best does all this happen? At the farmers market, of course, where we can have an immediate impact with the dollars we spend. Can't wait for Opening Day! We have one more week to go, which is just enough time for you to grab a copy of Never Out of Season and get yourself inspired!

There's No Place Like Home(made)

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Right here, right now. This is the moment, folks. If you're at all interested in fresh, perfect, and local--if you ever try your hand at cooking, or even if you open packages, combine them with other opened packages, and call it "home-cooked," now is the time to hit the Market and experience genuine food at its peak.

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Put down the crappy, storebought tomato and make yourself a real Caprese salad.

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This time of year, there is no excuse for sub-par food!

After running out of a friend's homemade jams and my mother-in-law's specialty strawberry freezer jam, we were reduced to trying various storebought varieties, with pretty mediocre results. (How can something look like apricot jam, be called apricot jam, cost like apricot jam, and still be so flavorless???) I'm happy to report that the local fruit came in, and we've restocked.

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We're only waiting on the freestone peaches to hit before my husband puts by our winter-load of peach pies. The blueberries are done and frozen.

Corn, sausages to grill, potatoes and onions, cheese, fruit...all the fixings of a quintessential summer meal are waiting for you this week at the Market. Find yourself half an hour to drop by and find yourself in summer food heaven.

If You Find Yourself Hungry in Hawaii

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Last week was spring break, and we found ourselves on Maui for the first time in four years. Prior to going, I tried to do some research on local food, since food prices are notoriously high in Hawaii, most of the goods being shipped (ridiculously) from the Mainland. Could no food be grown in paradise? Who (besides my mother-in-law) wants to go on vacation and eat the exact same food they eat at home? Many vacationers in our resort had the Costco strategy and lugged loads of sodas and plastic-packaged apples and such up the elevators, but I wasn't in Hawaii to drink soda and fill the landfill with plastic that enclosed fruits I'd eaten all winter. No, Hawaii for us is all about POG:

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Lots of POG, starting on the flight over and not ending until the flight home. Yes, we can get it here, but the ambiance is half of the experience, so we make it a rule only to drink it in Hawaii.

The first night there, some friends grilled up a local fish which I hope never hits the big time and gets overfished into rarity or nonexistence. This would be monchong, or "sickle pomfret." Firm in texture, mild and unfishy in flavor, white in color. We had it in an Asian, soy-based marinade, and then ordered it at Kimo's in Lahaina a few nights later, that time grilled with a citrus sauce. Oh yum. Forget mahi mahi and opakapaka and other rhyming Hawaiian also-rans. It's all about the monchong.

Monchong

And while we're breaking up with foods, skip the non-tropical fruits when you're in the tropics. Even the checker at Safeway told me how she grew her own mangoes on a little tree she bought from flipping Home Depot. We had Maui Gold pineapples and papaya and mangos, and when we weren't eating the fruits themselves, we enjoyed treats like lilikoi (passion fruit) cheesecake and guava cake from bakeries, and mango shaved ice from Olowalu Shaved Ice's little cart by the Hyatt on Ka'anapali. The proprietor told us it was "just like biting into a fresh mango" because they used actually mango juice for their syrup, and he was right.

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Speaking of goodies using local ingredients, Ono Gelato in Lahaina had delicious Pina Colada flavor, as well as the usual fruit suspects and fun flavors like "Sandy Beach" with graham cracker crumbs. Two more honorable mentions: if you find yourself in Kihei, don't miss Sugar Beach Bakery, with their tasty little pies and the oh-wow-to-die-for Chocolate-Banana-Macadamia-Nut-Coconut muffin. I foolishly only bought one, and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth when it had to be divvied up among five. And as you're driving over from the airport to Ka'anapali, don't miss Leoda's Pie Kitchen along the highway. Great food from local ingredients and so tasty. My next roasted brussels sprouts will be soy-glazed because those were heavenly. And my coconut cream pie? Let's just say, I had to scowl people away when they begged for second tastes. Leoda's happens to be alongside a fruit stand, which sadly closed by the time we were done with dinner. Basically, it was a farmers market every day! Maui did have other farmers markets, but they weren't in places very convenient for tourists, so I never made it to one.

Finally, if you're hungry in Hawaii for food and entertainment, I recommend the Old Lahaina Luau. Over the years I've been to the Marriott luau, the Westin luau and this one, and this one wins hands-down. No waiting in a long line to get in, the greatest food variety (and included drinks), all-you-can-eat and -drink, and a great show. Yes, they had kahlua pig, but they also had some new favorites: Pohole Salad of fern shoots, Maui onions, and tomatoes; Taro Leaf Stew, of which I loved the leaf part was less crazy about the chunk of taro; and Chicken Long Rice, which was glass noodles, chicken, ginger, and onions in broth.

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There is plenty of local food to be found, I'm happy to report, and a groundswell movement to provide more and more of it because it's awesome and because it brings those sky-high costs down a little. (Can you imagine local, artisanal food being competitively priced? That's Hawaii for ya.)

Visitors to Ka'anapali all know about the Hula Grill, and we did a lunch there,

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but down in the underbelly of Whaler's Village you will now find Joey's Kitchen. Extremely reasonably priced (for Hawaii) and dedicated to using local ingredients. I had wonderful pork ramen, the girls got generous chicken katsu, and the boy a chicken quesadilla, which doesn't scream "Hawaii," but he ate all of it.

Bookmark this for your next trip to paradise, and if you have no plans to go, well, remember that the Market opens in a month!