Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Celebrating Strawberries (and How that Relates to Earth Day)

I was so excited today when I went to our local Farmers Market and discovered the first local strawberries of the season!

Our first local strawberries of 2011!

As someone who finds meaning in these things, it is actually perfect that these strawberries first appeared during the week of Earth Day, because they are a symbol for things our family is doing to try to reduce our carbon footprint on this planet.

Readers of this blog know that I love books, and there are many that I carry within me in my heart and thoughts.  However, there aren't nearly as many that I can say truly changed my life.  But one that did is The Omnivore's Dilemma:  A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan.  Of the many gems in this fabulous book, in which the author considers the financial, environmental, social, and even ethical costs of four types of meals in modern America (fast food meal, meal from "corporate" organic like Whole Foods, meal from local organic, and raising or hunting all your own food), probably the one that struck me the hardest is the fact that current American industrial agriculture actually consumes more calories in raising the food that we eat than we can actually get from eating it.  Obviously, that is about as non-sustainable as you can get!

My son and I had already eschewed fast food by the time I read the book several years ago.  When he was six, I had him watch the movie Supersize Me with me, and after 15 minutes, he told me, "I'm never eating at McDonald's again."  I told him that the other fast food places weren't any better, and that was it--in the six years since the, other than the RARE emergency (when we are out of town with no other alternative), he hasn't eaten a fast food meal since.

But I had never considered the energy costs of having all this food brought to us from all over the world, nor never new the energy costs that went into producing our industrialized food.  But after reading that book, I became a committed localvore...ish.  I'm certainly not 100%, especially over the winter when our local produce is limited.  But when our local market is open, I buy all the produce I can from them.  And I have adjusted our eating to try to eat most produce when I can get it locally, and just give it up until comes back in season next year.

Strawberries are perhaps the epitome of that attempt to eat seasonally.  We love strawberries, so at first it seemed really hard to give up fresh strawberries for all of those months of the year that they don't grow here (full disclosure:  I do buy frozen strawberries offseason, since I use them in my breakfast protein smoothie year round.  I'm thinking that is helping to consume food that might otherwise go to waste, and thus converting energy already invested into human use, but haven't actually researched it).   But really, it is a relief to stop buying these things that are called "strawberries" in the grocery home, but to get them home and find them to be hard and white inside and actually tasting more like "straw" than "berry."  Plus, my natural health doctor tells me that strawberries absorb more pesticides than any other fruit, and our local strawberries are raised without pesticides (although these small local farmers typically can't afford to jump through all the hoops the government requires to be certified "organic"), so I feel better about feeding them to my family.

So when strawberries come in, we've been missing them for 3/4th of the year.   So those first strawberries call for a real celebration!  This year, they happened to coincide with one of our Easter-related traditions.  On the day we color Easter eggs, I blow out the insides and use them to make quiche, which I serve with sausage (pork for my husband, turkey for me and my son) and buckwheat pancakes, for dinner.  This year, we got to top off our annual Easter "Breakfast for Dinner" meal with local strawberries, which made the event even more special!
Dying Easter Eggs

Easter Eggs 2011

PS--I have to add one story about supporting local farmers.  The strawberries today were a surprise--even last Saturday, our farmer wasn't sure he would have them.  And at this point, he didn't have many.  During the season, he has a sign that says "Fresh local strawberries" that he hangs by the road.  But he didn't do that today.  He told me that he knew if he had put up his sign, he would have sold the entire crop in half an hour.  But he wanted his regular customers to be the ones to get these first precious strawberries.

All the local farmers I've dealt with have been wonderful people.  They deserve our support, and they give us so much in return.  These are all lessons I'm trying to make sure that my middle schooler grows up with.  I don't want him to be my advanced age before realizing what a difference it makes where his food comes from.

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