Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Local Yokel

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from the gym this morning because I needed produce.  When DON'T I need produce?  I belong to an organic co-op which is great but I often need things between order windows.  By the way, if you live in the Cape Coral/Ft. Myers area, click the link to go to the co-op's web page. 

There is a lot of fuss about buying local these days.  Living in Florida, we're fortunate because our climate is normally temperate enough to have local crops year round.  This year Florida's Ag-industry has taken a spanking from mother nature!  The crops can withstand some cold but not the kind of sustained cold spells we've had this year.  The impact on our economy and our gastronomy is great.  The selection in the produce aisles is abysmal.

Not one to hold back, I generally find the produce manager and give him/her an earful about having half rotten stuff on the shelves.  Honestly, the other day I saw a papaya in a grocery store that looked like a shrunken head.  I picked it up out of morbid curiosity and turned it round in my hand several times because I couldn't believe it was sitting there like a football sized PRUNE right under a sign touting "fresh Maridol Papaya" ...ON SALE for $1.99 a pound!  What pin-head leaves that there with nine million fruit flies buzzing around it and doesn't get the irony?  FRESH...WHEN?  Two years ago? I guess I'm just a cantankerous old coot because that really bothers me.  I walked over to the garbage can...past the guy who was shuffling old bags of spinach to the front so he could hide the new ones in back...and ceremoniously slam dunked that nasty thing.

Later on at home, I was thinking about this experience as the subject of an article for one of my publishers.  That piece of fruit SHOULD have been pulled and tossed 2 weeks ago and NEVER should something like be on the shelf to be seen by a consumer.  But the profit margins are just too narrow.  I think I remember reading that it's like 1 or 2% on groceries.  Its certainly slim enough to influence a produce manager's decision to leave old, nasty, rotting, expensive imported produce on the shelf in the off chance that someone will buy it before it becomes an bio-hazard!

So what's the solution?  I'm not sure there is one because as Americans we are used to getting what we want when we want season or not, and we are willing to pay for it.  If you don't happen to live somewhere that produces some kind of crops year biggy...they'll get you a cantaloupe in Fargo, in the middle of February for a price. 

One of the principals of Ayurvedic eating is to consume whole, fresh, in-season local foods.  Ayurvedic practitioners believe that the "prana" (vital life energy) and "chetana" (living intelligence) are strongest in foods grown from your local area.  I'm certainly not an Ayurvedic scholor and do not know all the reasoning behind this principle but it makes common sense to me.  Foods that are picked green, irradiated to induce ripening and kill fungy jungy jungle diseases, tossed around on ocean freighters for weeks, in and out of cold storage, held up in port for inspections, transported by semis across the entire country to land in your local supermarket just CAN'T have much left to offer nutritonally...IMHO.  Did you ever buy a piece of fruit that looked beatiful on the outside only to get it home, cut it open and find that the inside is four different color gradiations and none of them are NORMAL??  Bad juju.  Step awayyyyyyy from the Casaba sir...and nobody will get hurt!

So this whole local thing has been on my mind lately and I've decided this isn't just another trendy bandwagon for people to jump on.  Its important to the economy of your state, town, city...wherever.  It makes sense to buy something that was only driven acoss town or possibly state rather than something that got shipped in from some third world country...whose economy is NOT our problem by the way...not when we have double digit unemployment but that's another post!  Then there is the whole carbon footprint thing. consumers, most of us have dont have carbon footprints anyway...we have carbon CRATERS.  It's our "I want it NOW" (like Varucca Salts and the Wonka Golden Goose) attitude.  If we could just learn to use our OWN resources..... 

I've been paying more attention at the supermarket just to see if any of them are really making an effort to get local produce.  Low and behold, today I was not dissappointed.  The Publix market I went to this afternoon had (I'm estimating here) a good 25% of their produce with "local"  or "grown in Florida" stickers on it.  That's actually a pretty high percentage given the severity of the weather this year.  I hunted down the store manager and talked to him about it.  He said it was great to have someone notice and appreciate their efforts to buy local.  He also said the selection was way down but that's to be expected after this crappy weather.  The next month or two will give us a better indication of just how bad Florida farmers had it this winter. 

For more information on the importance of buying locally grown food, check out the resources listed below.

Look at these beautiful local items I bought today.......

Plant City Strawberries

Beautiful baby watercress which I used for a strawberry and watercress salad.

I encourage everyone become a "local yokel"

(c)copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet

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Fort Myers, Florida, United States