This past weekend I flew to Providence to see my friend Danger J's play. The last time my college friends convened was under rather unfortunate circumstances, so it was wonderful to spend time together on a more joyous occasion. Danger J directed the hell out of Moliere, we caught up on each other's lives, we gave and received great big hugs, and we ate food. Lots of it.
Now, I was a guest, and with a big group, so I wasn't about to get too picky about the food or restaurant choices. Still, I wanted to do my best to remain as faithful as I could to my local food challenge. Local food has infiltrated many of the good restaurants in California, so I was hoping we would end up at a restaurant that touted its farmers' market produce or some such.
Unfortunately, if any of the restaurants we patronized do use local produce, they keep it on the down low. I was a little too embarrassed to ask where my tomatoes came from, so instead I just ordered food that SEEMED like it would be local. Mussels in New England looked like a decent bet. So did pancakes with maple syrup. And instead of ordering a California wine, I opted for the local Narragansett beer that at $3 a pint, was a surprisingly tasty and frugal choice.
I admit that just a few weeks ago, I was that person who could not tell you when asparagus was in season. But since reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I was looking at menus with new eyes. The effect was rather jarring.
Bananas, kiwis, limes, avocados. Strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkin, kale. All flung together higgelty-piggelty, seasons be damned. My friend Annie once referred to Los Angeles weather as Stepford Weather- creepily perfect year-round. Most people I know claim to love the changing of the seasons, myself included, but we prefer Stepford Produce- eerily good looking and perpetually in season. Sure we may sacrifice a little flavor, but pshh, who cares about that, right?
I have mixed feelings about eating locally. On the one hand, I hardly feel we should be consigning New Englanders to avocado-free banana-less lives. I refuse to give up my Indian spices, and if you told me I could never have another mango, I'd cry. On the other hand....
For the past few years I've been trying to do my darnedest to eat more fruits and vegetables. It's odd, because I LIKE fruits and vegetables. I know I do. And yet, every time I buy produce, I'm disappointed by the bland, watery taste. Eventually, I decided that I just wasn't good at selecting produce. Or something. I stopped buying most fruit, and purchased my veggies frozen. And I live in CALIFORNIA. What the hell?
Then I visited the farmers' market. It turns out that I am remarkably good at selecting produce when the produce is all high quality. Strawberries, asparagus, snow peas. Everything was so good, I just ate it all raw.
I got home from Providence last night. Because I was gone all weekend I ended up missing the farmers' market, so today I wandered over to the Gelson's on my lunch break. I picked up some local bread, and then headed to the produce aisle. After all, California feeds the rest of the nation. Surely a grocery chain that caters to a wealthy Los Angeles clientele would have some tasty local produce.
What I found? A few local tomatoes, and a spattering of produce from the Central Valley. But mostly, the produce seemed to come from elsewhere. The most bizarre find? Asparagus, which is in season almost everywhere in the United States... from Chile. Where it's fall.
In the end, I decided to forgo the produce. Because the truth is, Stepford Produce may be nice to look at. But that's about all it's good for.
5 weeks ago