Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Easy to tell why gigantic red California strawberries are dirt-cheap at our Illinois chain grocer this week. They feel like cardboard on my tongue and taste like—well, if I have to guess something besides cardboard, I’d say zucchini. I tossed these strawberry slices with orange juice in our fruit salad tonight, just so they might pick up some fruitlike taste by osmosis. My ruse did not work.

Hard to wait for the little, just-greening, trefoil, notch-leafed strawberry plants outside our back door to fill out, flower, and produce their sweet, succulent, ruby-colored, heart-shaped fruit whose strawberry sensation spreads through your entire mouth—almost melting the moment it touches your lips.

Today I thawed a jar of strawberry jam I made two summers ago when I was picking more strawberries than we could eat then. I hope the jam will tide us over for another month or so until we again have our own strawberries to savor. My husband won’t even eat store-bought tomatoes because their taste is not worth the cost or the bother to even open his mouth and stuff one in. We’re out of the rich, lively tomato sauce he made several summers ago when we were harvesting more tomatoes than we could eat then. It will be a really long wait until we can even begin this year’s tomato vigil in the garden—April to August seems like an eternity.

The Oxford University Press recently named locavore word of the year. Now that I know what a locavore is, I can see I’m gradually becoming one—perhaps not for all the right reasons, but at least for some of them. Every year another vegetable gets added to my list of foods I want to either grow, buy at a farmer’s market, or I prefer not to eat them. Last year, garlic made the list. The garlic I bought at farmer’s markets was robust with a heady fragrance and fresh flavor that called to mind images of rolling Tuscan countryside—and I’ve never even been to Tuscany. The garlic from the store smells spent and tastes “off” by comparison, calling to mind the dank hold of a slow boat from China.

Reasons to be a locavore? Taste is the biggie for me. Broccoli that’s tender and bright and blossoms in my mouth is motivation for my aching bones to get out there and nurture my soil. By the way, you wouldn’t want to put butter on my homegrown broccoli, whereas you need butter or orange sauce or something just to choke down tough store-bought broccoli. When my aching bones have aged to the point when I can no longer grow my own broccoli, I’ll be plenty motivated to join a CSA to continue enjoying homegrown produce.

Eating organically grown fruits and vegetables is my next most important reason. Contributing to a healthy environment by removing myself from the demand for products that take slow boats from China or long truck rides from Mexico to get here is moving up my list of reasons too. Although this next reason is not last on my list, I’m not sure I can explain it very well: The simplicity of digging in dirt, relying on the land, feeling close to nature is quite winsome, and the satisfaction of eating what you’ve grown or people you know have grown is fulfilling in an elemental way.

Two authors who have expressed this simplicity and satisfaction beautifully and better than I could ever hope to are Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow. Also, the French, with their potagers (kitchen-gardens), really do this locavore thing right.

I’m not ready to join Barbara Kingsolver’s family and commit to eating only locally grown food, but I’m happy to be a locavore to the degree that I am and will cheer on this trend in my home and in the food culture of our country.

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