Sunday, October 5, 2008

Little Garden in the City

In the past month I have found out that two of my friends have vegetable gardens and neither lives out on a farm. This doesn't just seem novel right now, but almost necessary. I recently picked up Thomas F. Pawlick's The End of Food. If you want to know what the book is about, well, let's just say Pawlick's title is right on point. I actually picked it up, though, because of the sub-title: How the food industry is destroying our food supply--and what you can do about it. 

Personally, I have never been a hardcore environmentalist. I mean, I try to recycle and to reuse and other things of that nature, but it's not a cause I've ever been passionate about. I am trying to be better about it, especially after reading an article in the New York Times about the slow food movement, which Deborah Madison (aka culinary saint) is associated with. In the article a proponent of the movement said that you can't be a foodie and not an environmentalist because if you want the best product to work with you have to make sure the environment gets the best possible chance. I can't argue with that!

Aside from being environmentally responsible, it seems that we need to take matters into our own hands in other respects. For example, you make think that jarred tomatoes and peppers have always been a part of the italian diet, but this is not true. Since Italy has a temperate and hospitable climate for staple crops, such as the tomato, Italians in the Old World did not need to preserve their vegetables, yet once Italian immigrants came to the United States, the different temperature did not allow them to enjoy great produce year round. Consequently, Italian-Americans, distrustful of supermarket canned goods, began to jar their own. Perhaps it is time we kicked it old school--Italian style.

Incidentally, I have tomato on the brain because Pawlick begins his book with said subject. As my dedicated readers will note, I have always had a love affair with the tomato and Pawlick's railings against supper market tomatoes made a lot of sense to me. I've always been shocked by the vast difference between an ordinary super market tomato and what you get from a home garden or a farmer's market. 

Pawlick explains that it's not just a matter of the super market tomato losing taste, but also nutritional value. Basically, living in the capitalist driven market, taste and nutrition don't end up factoring into the bottom line for tomato producers in the United States. The disappointment of super market tomatoes, in fact, is what inspires Pawlick to write the book. After living in Italy, he cannot stand for the rubbery red balls hacked off as tomatoes in the United States. We have a responsibility to save the tomato, especially since it's our native berry--yeah that's right--the Italian's took it from us, well before we were us, sort of like retroactive globalism. Anyway, this is clearly larger than tomatoes. It's about access to good food that will keep us nourished, satisfied, and--dare I say it? Delighted.

I think the best way to start to reclaim our food is one step at time, like actually planting a patch of cucumbers or a tomato plant. When my friend, Sue Ferranti, told me she was growing cucumbers, I asked her how she ate them and she said, "Just like that, just the cucumber." It makes sense to me; when something's awesome it doesn't need much else, which is why that's exactly how I enjoyed Sue's gift.

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