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“I also think there is a lot of elitism in food . . . there is a new elite that says it has to be local. It has to be seasonal. It has to be organic. And yes, there are very good health concerns, and yes, there are very good ecological concerns, but at the same time there is always someone trying to feel better about how they eat and trying to make other people feel they are making the wrong choice, and so I think that snobbery can creep in . . . and no one changes by being made to feel bad about what they do. It’s not a productive way of going about it. So being enthusiastic about the many splendors of cooking in that way is much better than wagging a finger.” —Nigella Lawson on The Splendid Table in May 2018
The internet is full of bloggers debating what is best – to visit the farmers market or pop into your supermarket – but when I heard the above interview with cookbook author Nigella Lawson, I took a moment to digest what I was hearing.
Here on The Simply Luxurious Life and the newly debuted The Simply Luxurious Kitchen cooking series, one of the pillars to living well is enjoying seasonal food, and local when possible, to improve our health, improve the flavor, decrease the time in the kitchen and ultimately, improve the overall quality of our lives.
However, understanding the role of culture, society and a secure sense of self, interestingly enough, plays a part in our perceptions and determining whether or not what we are doing is because it is best for our quality of life or an effort to try to project a particular “air of importance” to the world around us.
Let’s examine culture and society. America and communities and towns around the country have gradually begun to offer more and more farmers markets. As the public has begun to become more educated about the benefits of eating fresh, local and seasonal produce, farmers – especially small farmers – have been better able to make a sustainable living from participating in local or nearby farmers markets.
Contrarily, in France, the agrarian culture has been at the country’s core of commerce since well before the Industrial Era which in fact was why France was one of the latter countries to become part of the Industrial Revolution: They had a thriving economy that was largely dependent on the abundance the farmers could produce year-round because of the fortuitous location of their country’s terroir – land, sea, temperate climate, four seasons, nothing too extreme, etc.
The history of where one lives most certainly plays a role in the traditions and routines a society has become accustomed. America dove into the Industrial Revolution, as we know, and especially after WWII investing in factories and quick food options to encourage the women of America to step back into the home after supporting their country in the factories while the troops were fighting abroad.
Making a switch from shopping for convenience to taking a breath – noting the day of the week the market will be open and ensuring time in your schedule to visit – is a cultural shift that took and is taking time. But this shift is happening as we begin to discover the value in investing in quality food to improve the quality of our health and our lives in the long-run.
Nigella is right that depending upon how one talks about food, markets food and presents food, it can be elitist and snobby to suggest there is only one way to eat, only absolute types of food to welcome into our homes and market/grocery baskets. And to do so is counter-productive, wrong and unkind.
There are certainly times and items that I refrain from buying a particular item at the farmers market because I notice the price is exorbitant compared to what I can purchase it for in the grocery store. And since the grocery store stocks locally grown produce as Oregon is fortunate to have an abundance of large farms, I can feel good about supporting local farmers when I shop at the grocery market as well so long as I read and learn about the produce I am buying.
However, there are many more items that when I purchase food at the farmers market, there is no comparison – the flavor is robust and exceeds anything I have ever purchased in the grocery store.
Nigella goes on to talk about the issue of only eating seasonally. Easy to do for certain parts of the year in England, but not always a joy or possible in the winter months. True, but this is when we can get creative. This is when we can remind ourselves to refrain from eating a tasteless tomato or bland strawberry in January and begin to learn what is available and how to cook with it.
Part of the issue is education – so many of us just do not know what is available at different periods of the year, and if we do, we may not know what to do with, for example, Brussels sprouts in February? (I have a recipe that will help!).
For a long time I struggled with having this season cooking this knowledge, and admittedly, I am still learning. A simple tool is to refer to a chart that shares which vegetables, fruit and even seafood are available during which months naturally – (I have this poster framed in my kitchen and refer to it from time to time; seafood will be unique to where you live, as well certain produce). What I have found, simply by beginning with this chart, is that more foods are seasonal during months I was not aware of than I had originally thought.
So, let’s go back to the original question of today’s post – Is it an absolute must or snobby to buy seasonal and local food? It need not be either. Rather, seasonal and local food shopping is a smart idea when tailored to what is available to you and works within your budget. In other words, a smart idea when feasible. Each of us will maneuver through how to best welcome seasonal and local shopping into our lifestyle in our own way.
Below I have compiled a list of eight things to consider to make sure you are making the smart move when it comes to shopping locally and seasonally:
1.Choose flavor to increase the quality
More flavor reduces the need for excess ingredients. Fresh, in-season produce, offers more flavor, simplifying the cooking process and increasing the satiation, and in turn reducing the intake of unnecessary calories and spending money on unnecessary ingredients.
2. Choose long-term benefits over short-term convenience
It has been argued that going to the farmers market is inconvenient – the parking is often sparse (if driving a car), taking children can be difficult, the crowds are large, and therefore, it takes more time especially since we must adapt our schedule to the select hours and days the market is open. However, if the goal of visiting the market is to improve the quality of the food we eat and if the food at the market has high quality at prices that work with our budget, then the long-term effect of better health and more delicious food on our table that we share with loved ones should be prioritized over minutes saved.
3. Get to know the vendors and farmers.
Sometimes, even in France, the vendors that are selling food at farmers markets are not selling local produce. And as I shared above, often in our grocery markets, there is wonderful produce from local farmers. For both markets, simply gather more information before you buy by asking questions.
4. Know Your Food Budget
Each of us has a budget for our household. The question we then need to ask ourselves, after referring to #1, is are we going to invest in quality or quantity. Yes, sometimes the produce at the market is more expensive than the same items available at the grocery store, but if it is in season, often the farmers market is cheaper if is sourced locally. There will need to be a balancing act that each of us will have to perform depending upon what we are cooking.
Look at your menu. What items are crucial for the quality flavor you need in your dish. If you have to choose, do not skimp on flavor. An abundance of flavor will reduce the need for more food as the palette will be satiated with one serving.
5. Have an idea of what you want to cook that day or week, but be flexible.
Continue to learn about the produce of each season (Nigel Slater’s cookbooks – especially his Kitchen Diaries – here and here too are a go-to favorite for delicious, seasonal and simp,e recipes), and stretch your kitchen prowess by trying new and different ways of preparing the food you find at the market. Watch The Simply Luxurious Kitchen for ideas on how to eat in-season, simple ways to add an abundance of flavor and techniques that sound complicated, but are actually quite easy (sauces, for example).
As you learn how to feel confident in your kitchen and truly enjoy stepping into it, you will also know how to stock your épicerie so that no matter what the seasonal offerings are, you will be able to make delicious meals. Often the items for our épicerie (pantry) will be items that will require us to stop by the grocery market, so in this case, from time to time, visiting the grocery market is a must!
~34 Must-Have Items for Your Home Épicerie, episode #109
~Check out chapter 12 of TSLL’s 2nd Book – Living The Simply Luxurious Life – which shares details tips and ideas “Enjoying Eating and Being Healthy” which includes cooking skills, detailed lists for tools and items for your pantry.
~Season 2 of The Simply Luxurious Kitchen cooking show premiere on Saturday September 7th!
6. Become more comfortable at markets and tailor your visit to work for you
If you want the best produce, go early. I have found this to be true in the states and in France. So long as the farmer or vendor has their stand set up, they will usually sell their produce (only a rare few have said no, not until such-and-such time – okay, only one did this, but it never hurts to ask). The crowds will be smaller (but they do crowd up quickly), the food you are looking for will be available, and you can take your time and not feel rushed.
While some visit the markets as a social outing, I usually spend fewer than 15 minutes at my local market during the middle of the week as I know what I need, I go early, chat briefly with my regular vendors and head out before the crowds get to busy. If I have company with me, I will linger longer. But what I appreciate it that I can make it as short or as long as I desire.
~Post you might enjoy: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to the Farmers Market No Matter Where You Live
7. Discover the pleasure of food shopping
This past June I shared 10 Ways to Enjoy Grocery Shopping , and one way that is shared to increase the enjoyment is to get to know where to find the items you need and choose stores, markets and produce stands you enjoy visiting. In other words, make choices that turn the experience of where you go and when you go into situations that have the opportunity to be more pleasurable.
8. Embrace, support and celebrate
Some of us love food and preparing it, some of us love to eat it, but not preparing it, and some of us have not found either to be enjoyable. Each of our journeys with food is unique to us, and to presume we know why someone is doing something one way and not the other is short-sighted.
The moment we have a meal that is sourced primarily from a local farmers market (or our own garden) and is bursting with awesome satiating flavor, is the moment that we realize how simple eating seasonally and locally can be. And if we have the opportunity to eat in such a way regularly, and realize we are not gaining weight and are actually feeling better in our skin, we will see the benefit for ourselves.
It becomes far more difficult to return to a way of eating and shopping for food that doesn’t fulfill us when we know and practice a way that does. Experience is powerful, and so it will require curiosity and a bit of courage to try something new if eating seasonally and locally is not something we have become accustomed. But when we taste a simple sauce infused with lemony sorrel (a perennial herb) picked from the garden just hours ago, and realize the succulent chicken it is draped across is catapulted to a new level of flavor, we will be encouraged to discover how to continue to eat in such a way. And it truly isn’t complicated; it is just a manner of learning a few more skills before it becomes second-nature.
~Discover TSLL Recipes