Friday, June 24, 2011

Where does our food come from?

Yesterday I did the family food shopping. I generally tend to be a bit better at staying on budget then mom so it is a role I have assumed in the household. Although this time I did make the cardinal tri-fecta of mistakes ...being:
A. Not having breakfast
B. Working out in the hot sun on my first paddle-board lesson therefore making me...
C: Hungry at the grocery store.

Not always the best scenario - however with the heat and humidity of the day rising exponentially every 10 minutes as it does here in South Florida - I pressed on.

After wolfing down a banana to help with the leg cramps and ice coffee in hand I entered our local Publix. With it now being summer I find myself yearning for all things fruits and veggies these days so I headed to that section to go to town. One of my favorite things is photographing fresh produce in open air markets, there is just something so delicious about stacks and piles of fruits and veggies in season.

I do miss having multiple farmers markets options weekly as I was spoiled to have in California (note to my LA friends left behind - you have NO IDEA how lucky you are in terms of fresh produce options - keep those farmers markets thriving!)

Here in Fort Lauderdale, we have one tiny small farmers market down the street from our house on Sundays which mom diligently attends to pick from the limited available fresh produce, fish and homemade sauces. Mother always raised us to be conscious of what we put on our plates and in our bodies, and loves to tell the story of how she "picketed for lettuce" in the 1960's. I jest but really my sister and my love of fresh produce and support of "locally grown" stems just as much from her a-typical way of raising us in the 1980's which was fresh and home cooked meals when she came home from work every night of our lives -I never even saw a hot dog until a friends sleep over in grade school - as it does from 15 years living in the heavily eco-conscious environment of Southern California.

So back to I am in the produce section and in the back of my mind are all the recent postings online, in blogs and on Facebook by some of my - mainly Venice, CA friends on the state of affairs in our food industry. Tips on how to shop organically and locally. The news on the big bad Monsanto/Whole Foods debacle of genetically engineered food . The terrible state of the fishing industry and contamination of our oceans, the demise of our honey bee population....the terrible list goes on and on and as the caffeine was buzzing through my nutrition depleted body I stood there in the tiny little overpriced organic section with a bunch of carrots in my hand and froze as the meaning of what I was reading sunk in.

Grown in California


I mean it's no secret to my family, my friends here, hell anyone who talks to me that I miss a LOT about my adopted home state. I miss the fresh locally grown food the most - but I live in FLORIDA! Which means these scrumptious, organic carrots had to travel over 3,00o miles to be in my hand!!!
(OK for those of you who know I like to exaggerate a tad it is actually 2,715 miles by car....)

I then began wandering around the produce dept, past the one shelf of organic choices and seeing the signs.

Grown in Mexico, Chili, California, Costa Rica, FRANCE for god's sake! This is Florida, the sunshine state, I KNOW we have farms here, and the orange juice industry was STARTED here!! Interesting note - the ONLY orange juice in Florida that actually comes from Florida oranges is the brand Florida's Natural. Yep in the state made famous for Orange Juice there is only one locally sourced brand.

Last summer I visited my oldest and dearest friend in the New Jersey suburb of Pennington, near Princeton. She belongs to an organic farm co-op called Honey Brook Organic Farm and goes weekly to pick fresh in season produce like the beans above and the eggplants below to cook for her children and husband for dinner. How jealous am I of THAT? By the way dinner that evening was one of the best I had in a long while. There really is something to picking the food yourself that goes on your plate later in the day, and she is raising her triplets (yes 4 year old triplets) to be involved in what they eat from picking fresh produce from the farm, to planting their own vegetable garden! Yea Jen!

When they have surplus as they do with these amazing tomatoes, she makes sauces to freeze for the winter months so her family is still eating as much produce that is organically and locally sourced as possible, because even in the Garden State of New Jersey you run into the same problems in the grocery store of having to search for locally sourced, and in the winter having to make do with what they have if you want to eat a fruit or vegetable. In fact I am certain that anywhere you live - when you look at your choices for produce it is difficult to buy only locally sourced produce. Some states it is harder then others, but
Florida - for SHAME ON YOU!

So the dilemma I was faced while standing there was the following:
A. Continue to buy fruits and veggies for my family regardless of where they are grown and be a part of the problem.
B. Stop buying produce that isn't locally sourced and leave the department with nothing but a few large Florida Avocados (which are so strange looking and I am completely unsure how they taste or what to do with them) and Mangoes - which you can find all over Florida in backyards but are not organic as they are sprayed with pesticides. This option would obviously and severely limit my families fruit and veggie consumption.

Neither option is a win, so I chose organically while I could, and seethed with annoyance as I picked up other offerings and pondered if there is a 3rd option that benefits my families health as well as our environment. I have yet to find that option.

So with limited choices I do what I can for the health of my family and what we put into our bodies. I wait for 20 minutes at the deli for fresh sliced Boar's head meats and cheese that I can pick for its lower sodium content etc, as opposed to the quick pick pre-packaged varieties that are higher in sodium nitrates and preservatives. I choose organic produce, meat etc whenever possible - although it is a VERY expensive way to feed a family of 5 - as my sister and her boyfriend eat with us several days a week...well 6 if you count that sis is now eating for 2. We search for loally sourced fish that is healthy and not on the "bad fish" list, something that is getting increasingly difficult as the health of our ocean continues on it's downward spiral, but that's a rant for another day...
and Mother continues to go to the Farmers Market to support locally grown, even though the beautiful peaches she picked up last Sunday rotted by Monday.

Finally I continue to educate myself, even though the news out there gets scarier with every article, blog post and Facebook update you read.

Some of the best are blogs by friends of mine in California. Jason Stroh, chef, prior owner of Strohs Gourmet in Venice, CA and now Food blogger. Jason is into educating people as well as delighting them with healthful recipes with his blog FreeRangeTuna

Also my friend Elisha Reverby, owner of Elique Organics. While Elisha is an organic Skincare purveyor, she is also an advocate of the fate of the honey bee, and all things healthful and organic for our bodies inside and out. Check out her blog here.

Meanwhile - here in Florida I continue my quest of healthful and affordable goods to feed my family. All advice welcome!

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