One of the points I wish to make, which is also one of the main reasons for this blog's existence, is the importance of acquiring locally produced meat, fruit and vegetables (and whatever else you can get your hands on). In this household we make a conscious effort to purchase fruit and vegetables that are in season and grown locally (except for Porcini mushrooms, I get those bad boys back home) so for us, for example, cherries are gone until next year. The season in California ended 2-3 weeks ago, so be it.
I enjoyed them while they were here, perhaps more than usual as it is the first year we decided to do this, with the pleasure and relish that comes only from knowing that something will soon be gone, until the season returns.
Maybe it strikes a familiar chord in me as when I am back in Italy, I eat the same three or four dishes again and again, as I know the moment I get back on the plane for the States, I won't have them again until I return in 1, 2 or in the worst case so far 3 years.
Let us remember that the majority of food in supermarkets in not selected for taste, but by how it will look on the shelf after an average of a 1,500 miles trip (gas cost for that lettuce to get to your table, anyone? Anyone?). That means they choose strains that will not bruise, will not discolor and will (hopefully) look great in a week to ten days from picking. Remember: it is not chosen for its flavor. Tasted a supermarket tomato recently? 'Nuff said.
I rather buy something fresh, and store it myself until I have the time to shop again, which could be in a few days. That way it's still relatively fresh, not 2 weeks old. After a few days from picking most nutrients from produce are long gone.
A question I often get here in San Francisco is how to cook a great recipe people had back in Italy. Ok, let's get straight to the point. The exceptional taste of Italian food is given by the alchemy of few ingredients, oftentimes the best known recipes are fairly simple and truly harmonious. Think of it as a perfect chord. 5, maybe 7 flavors come together and make that dish that stuck in your head for years. How did they do that?
Well, I can tell you, because they picked 5 or 7 near perfect ingredients. The best extra virgin olive oil, the best tomatoes and so on. If you start with a supermarket tomato (I know, I am particularly disgusted by supermarket tomatoes) you wil NEVER creat a good tomato sauce, or salad, no matter how much you work at it, cook it, spice it... whatever. It is just not going to happen.
And no, I am not one of those snobs that say you cannot make good Italian food here. Trust me, you can. I do all the time. You just have to learn what to buy. It's not even expensive. Remember: Most food we think of as Italian was the people's food, what most Italian ate, not just those who could afford it.
Another important element is that farmers can give you information about what you are looking to buy. They know what is good this week, what you should wait for, what is at its peek and will stir you in the right direction. I was just lamenting the peach crop a few weeks back to the guy I buy them from, and he poined out that the extreme heat caused them to be soft near the skin, yet unripe in the core, too crunchy. So I waited and was rewarded for it.
Nothing like a perfect peach, I don't care how long I have to wait.
One more thing: buying locally is extremely important to mantain local farmers and biodiversity in existence. Family farms are progressively disappearing in this country, as commodity prices fall year after year and money is made in value-added services (processing any ingredient into a product, like corn into high-fructose corn syrup into Coke, the real profit is in selling Coke not corn). Currently the average farmer makes 10 cents out of every dollar a retail supermarket makes in selling their produce. When you buy directly they get the full amount. This ensures their continued existence, the fact that we don't have to pay in oil the transportation of food from elsewhere to our market, and that we have access to food that is fresh, picked at the right ripeness and delivered to our plate in a timely manner, still laden with nutrients, color and flavor. Want to give that up? I didn't think so.
Lastly, we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, very close to some of the best produce-growing regions in the country, maybe the world. We have access to a diversity of fresh produce that some people cannot even conceive of. Year-round.
If we can't make the effort...
There is a good NPR story you can listen to about organic vs. local. Check it out.