Maggie and I like to eat. One of our favorite things is to take fresh produce and turn it into a delicious dinner to share with friends. When we lived in Glen Ellyn we’d often ride our bikes to the French Market in Wheaton to stock up on summer fruits and veggies. Now that we live in the city we frequent our Logan Square Farmer’s Market during the summer and the Green City Market year-round. This is a photo from last fall after visits to the market and an apple orchard.
While books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle have provided us with sensible reasons to eat locally, taste has been our primary motivation. Local food just tastes better than anything that had to be shipped across the country (or world!) to make it to our table. No offense Washington, but your apples are positively tasteless after their westward journey compared with our local honeycrisps. And salad-in-a-bag has nothing on sweet Midwestern winter spinach.
One of the benefits of local eating is the knowledge of where dinner really came from. We buy corn from the folks who picked it the night before. The man who sold us our Christmas steaks was the same person who raised and harvested the beef. As a recent article in Gourmet points out, knowing where our food comes from is more than conversation fodder over dinner. In “Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes”, Barry Estabrook writes about the tomato fields of Immokalee, FL. A short drive and a world away from affluent Naples, the workers who provide the labor in these fields could easily be considered modern-day slaves. Of one such laborer Eastbrook writes,
Lucas’s “room” turned out to be the back of a box truck in the junk-strewn yard, shared with two or three other workers. It lacked running water and a toilet, so occupants urinated and defecated in a corner. For that, Navarrete docked Lucas’s pay by $20 a week. According to court papers, he also charged Lucas for two meager meals a day: eggs, beans, rice, tortillas, and, occasionally, some sort of meat. Cold showers from a garden hose in the backyard were $5 each. Everything had a price. Lucas was soon $300 in debt. After a month of ten-hour workdays, he figured he should have paid that debt off.
But when Lucas—slightly built and standing less than five and a half feet tall—inquired about the balance, Navarrete threatened to beat him should he ever try to leave. Instead of providing an accounting, Navarrete took Lucas’s paychecks, cashed them, and randomly doled out pocket money, $20 some weeks, other weeks $50. Over the years, Navarrete and members of his extended family deprived Lucas of $55,000.
Not all commercial farmers should be lumped in with such shady characters, but there are enough of these stories to take a lot of the fun out of a trip to the grocery store.
With spring in full swing this might be a good time to consider adding some local food to your grocery list. Almost every town and city has a seasonal farmers market and some of us are fortunate enough to have shops like the Green Grocer that stock local produce and products. The Local Harvest website is an excellent national resource for markets, farms, and CSA subscriptions. From my vantage point, the economic and environmental benefits of eating locally are too many to ignore. And did I mention how delicious fresh, local food tastes?