Meatless Monday: CSA Edition

I am reposting this because I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what CSA means, especially from other people doing the Project: Food Budget with me. I made some minor edits to make it more current.

I’ll just state upfront that joining a CSA is one of the best things I have done for my family. The quality of the produce we receive is incomparable to store-bought produce. We also get coffee and cheese, and I am exploring the possibility of getting beef and chicken (which we would share with my in-laws). I can’t think of enough good things to say.

If you don’t have a CSA in your area, another way to get the freshest produce is to frequent farmers markets. Just an idea if you are trying to go local and/or organic in the produce aisle.

It’s Michael Pollan‘s fault I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.

I am sure I am not alone in declaring that.

In the summer of 2009, I ended up on the waiting list of Kretschmann Organic Farm. That winter they contacted me, and I started receiving winter boxes, which were chock full of winter veggie and fruit goodness (apples, squash, potatoes, carrots).

I started receiving their summer season boxes in the summer of 2009. And I love them.

As Dan stated one other day at dinner, “This is how salad is supposed to taste.” Flora, likewise, has declared salads made with their greens, “the best salad I’ve ever tasted.” [Kate, too, loves her salads now.]

This pleases me to no end, for obvious reasons. We’ve gotten mesclun greens, bibb lettuce, arugula, and green leaf lettuce, as well as spinach. So, so good.

The trickiest thing about receiving so much tasty, fresh, organic produce and herbs is, simply, using it all. [To solve this problem, I’ve started splitting my boxes with my sister-in-law and her family. Often my MIL will also get some goodies, like basil, blueberries, and soon beef.]

I’ve twice had to ditch the Swiss chard because it wilted before I could saute it with garlic. I wanted to make pesto with the sweet pea greens I got the first week, but they wilted before I got to them too.

Much of this, of course, is not having tons of time to cook throughout the week, or for that matter, the weekend. I’ve started making it more of a priority, though, because it’s too depressing to lose these fresh greens. We chow down on salads pretty steadily Thursday through Monday (Thursday is the day I pick up my box), which means eating more at home, which in itself is a relief.

I was hoping to have some new recipes, too, but really, you all know how to make a salad.

I’ve also been getting beets, and here’s what you can do with beets (to my knowledge): roast ’em or boil ’em. We had boiled beets this past weekend (the kids won’t try them yet), and they were so good and sweet. Neither Dan nor I even put anything on them, no butter, no salt, no pepper. And they are super easy: cut off the greens, leaving about 2 inches of the tops; boil for about 40 minutes; cool and peel. [Update: Kate loves beets. LOVES. Asks if I am making any. Eats about a whole beet when I do. I’ve also made a beet soup with sour cream that is delicious.]

Heavenly.

We’ve been getting strawberries, too, and all you need to know about strawberries is they don’t last a day in my house. Between the four of us, we pretty much devour them instantly. I barely get them washed before the kids are eating them — straight, no sugar. [I am betting that Michael will like them too.]

I’d love to get some and have them last long enough to make muffins, but so far, I haven’t managed to hide them fast enough.

I’ll try harder with the blueberries, due to start showing up this week.

I not going to get up on any type of locavore, organic foods soapbox here — there are plenty of activists and authors out there who have intelligent, interesting things to say (Michael Pollan being right up there). I’ll just leave you with the first line from Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, which is pretty much all you need to know:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Do you shop at farmers markets or get produce from a CSA? What’s your favorite thing to do with produce?

What I Am: Reading This Week

I have been making my way through The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, for six weeks now. I finally finished it yesterday. Which is good, because it’s due back at the library.

It is books like this that make me wish I could still ride the bus to and from work. I suppose I could try books on CD, but I’m a “visual” learner — frankly, my attention wanders during a two-minute NPR story. I’m not sure I would make it through an audio chapter. It’s probably akin to reading the same sentence ten times in a row.

Back on point:

How many times a day do you think or hear, “What’s for dinner”? As a mom, and the primary shopper and meal-preparer in my house, the answer for me is A LOT.

Michael Pollan set out to answer that question by examining from where our food comes. Over three sections, he surveys the way we get our food in this country, from factory farming, organic farming, and hunting and gathering (yes, there are people who still fall into this category). For more of an overview, see this review from the Washington Post.

This is my first time reading Pollan, but it will not be the last. My inability to actually sit down for an extended period and read this book is directly inverse to my desire to do the same. His writing is compelling, accessible, and honest. He takes a hard look at the way we eat as a culture, a species, and as individuals.

The first section, “Industrial: Corn”, makes me very glad to be a vegetarian. To sum up: If we are what we eat, then we are corn. And maybe some petroleum.

The second section, “Pastoral: Grass”, examines the movement of organic food; plus Pollan spends time on a small farm. The first part of the second section exposes organic industrial farming, and briefly made me consider giving up food altogether.

Then I got hungry.

The second part of the second section made me want to get a few chickens and maybe a goat.

The third section, “Personal: The Forest”, about his experience hunting and gathering, was my favorite. Probably because it’s much more removed from what I could ever see myself doing to get a meal. (Well, maybe I’d gather mushrooms.) It’s very entertaining to be taken along on Pollan’s experience and read his writerly reflections. I especially enjoyed reading about how he decided to cook and serve his foraged meal, and his thoughts about it.

One aspect about Omnivore’s Dilemma that I especially like is its lack of assertion. Pollan doesn’t declare of any one process: This is how one should eat! He recognizes the pitfalls in our American society that have led to the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), McDonald’s Happy Meals, and high fructose corn syrup, as well as the industrial organic complex. He condemns neither General Mills nor Whole Foods. Nor does he exhort us all to return to our hunter-gatherer roots.

The book is written in such a way to make you think about the way you eat, and to make you decide how you are going to eat. As for myself, I will continue to buy organic from my grocery store, but I think I will try harder to find local meat for DearDR. I will strive harder to go to the local farmers market regularly, or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). In time — like, 10 years — I want to get into the Slow Foods movement, too. (As a mom of toddlers, I’m aware that right now there is no space for Slow Food when it’s time for dinner.)

I especially appreciate the work he did deciding whether or not to be a vegetarian. Although he ultimately decides to remain omnivorous, he consciously chooses it, after reading such vegetarian advocates as Peter Singer and John Berger. In every section he is respectful, thoughtful, and honest. He buys a steer in the first part, and meets the animal at its CAFO before it is slaughtered. He works at a grass farm. He goes out into the woods to shoot a feral pig. Over and over Pollan literally looks his dinner in the eye.

His book asks us to do the same: “…[I]magine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost… [W]e eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world.”

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How do you eat? Where does your food come from? And what are you reading right now?