“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
~All You Need to Know About the Markets in Provence
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
12 thoughts on “Food Shopping in Season & Locally: An-Absolute-Must or Snobby? Neither – Let Me Explain”
I liked the fact that you brought up Nigella’s remarks about the never ending trends of what we are suppose to eat. There is a real obsession with finding new “superfoods” that we’re supposed to be eating to achieve this and that. French gastronomie has stayed put , focused on the quality of ingredients, keeping the family traditions, and being enjoyable, and not run around to exhaustion in the pursue of health/youth/glowing skin/ you name it benefits.
The cooking shows are so intimidating that people watching them, although may be entertained, will very seldom attempt to cook something they watched. What the producers don’t show is the full crew behind the scenes washing, cutting, chopping and wash the dishes and all those gadgets without presumably the dish would never come out so delicious. So I appreciate your effort to bring some sense of normalcy to cooking at home, using fresh, seasonal and preferably local ingredients.
Unfortunately, much of cooking at home tradition in this country has been lost and it’s not because of the WWIi aftermath, but the food industry which slowly lured people into buying what is convenient and cheap, at the expense of quality. That process has altered the joy and value of cooking, the level of knowledge about what to cook, how and when, while it lowered the standard of perceived quality. People who don’t cook are proudly proclaiming that as a glory title these days. I worked with a lot of families and I can tell you that with very few (3-4) exceptions, the majority of dinners were take outs, usually the cheapest out there. Which prompted me to teach the kids in my class how to cook simple dishes.
I admire your effort to bring back that simple joy of cooking a simple meal that is meant to bring family together and be enjoyed.
Niculina, Thank you for your in-depth comment sharing your experience being a home economics teacher. You make a good point – the behind the scenes is quite robust and most often never shown or acknowledged in an effort to project a particular image or primarily to entertain. You are right – sometimes it is only to watch and not to actually cook the dishes shown that people tune in. Now, this is perfectly fine, but cooking need not be complicated as delicious and good-for-us meals can be simple. Thank you again for sharing.
The question of eating local foods is indeed very dependent on where one lives. I live on the Atlantic Coast of Canada, where winter normally extends over nine months. I am lucky in that we have year-round farmers’ markets, but the pickings can get very small in Winter. Our local Mennonite farmers don’t maintain stalls over the winter; the other vendors can do so by using greenhouses, but even so, what can be grown is limited. It can get rather tiresome eating a very small selection of the same vegetables over months; this is particularly problematic with fruit, as apples are the only local fruit over most of the winter. I find that a lot of people who place a high emphasis on eating locally tend to live in temperate climates, at least certainly by Canadian standards (which includes England :)). I shop at the farmers’ markets year-round and do my best, but a locavore diet here can be very difficult to maintain at times.
Louise, Thank you for sharing this reality. There are so many people, including us here in Bend, who do not have a farmers market year-round.
As always I enjoyed this post. I do think people need to except that no two people are in the same stage or situation in this life. I, for example have a husband, two young adult children and their “others” to shop for. In addition to working full time, caring for pets and working very hard to fit in self care. So it becomes a balancing act between wants and needs. Yes I would love to live and eat exactly the way you do but we are in different stages and I except that. I can not afford to shop exactly the way you do however I love to read your blog , books and podcast and take it as a guild. I then modify your advice to my life. I’ve introduced more “whole foods” into our diet and go to farmers markets as often as I can, but when you shop once a week, you need to shop smart. But when I look back on where I started we’re eating far better then a few years ago. I’m sure when my household gets smaller I will be able to make more changes, but until then I’m okay with what I do because we are happy, healthy and financially sound. In other words I’m living the best life I can for where I am.
Daniella, Thank you so much for sharing your journey and how you find a balance for what works. The key is to live consciously, and that is indeed how you are living – celebrating your time with your young adult children where they are in their life, creating memories to savor as this will soon change. Whether or not the farmers market is part of the schedule is just fine, and when you do have the opportunity to incorporate is it appreciated. Thank you so much for your comment.
I love your beautiful blog and books! This is maybe a little off topic but I think it is important to keep the judgement in check of other people’s choices. I think this fits in many areas. We all are learning and doing the best we can in our current circumstances. I see a lot of food snobbery and it is extremely obnoxious and smug. My sister eats a vegetarian diet and my boyfriend eats a gluten free diet by need. We were all at a family gathering recently and I counted at least four “jokes” about what they were eating. They both handled it well but I think people should have kept their mouths shut and worried about their own diets.
Thank you for sharing a few personal examples of how each of us will have different reasons for eating as we do. You are absolutely correct, it is our business to pay attention to our eating regimen and no one else’s (unless we are parents, but that is a journey as well as we get to know our children). Thank you for stopping by and contributing Kimberly.
Shannon a subject after my own heart . There is so much information out there as to what we SHOULD be eating . It’s a minefield. Difficult to navigate unless you have a basic idea of sourcing and preparing food. I am a seasonal shopper at the.market, my local grocery store and my garden. I would never buy tomatoes or strawberries in January but that is entirely .my choice .Eating seasonally for me is pure delight. The first asparagus potato strawberries etc If someone else is happy eating asparagus from Peru in December then that’s fine. I grew up in a British colony in the tropics and remember enjoying eating non seasonal apples at Xmas imported for the Expat community.Nigella is partly correct when she says that”it’s snobby to suggest there’s only one way of eating”. It’s no secret that she does not indulge in French cuisine as she prefers Italian .That’s entirely her choice. Indigenous people have access to certain foods only and eat accordingly.There are so many things’s to consider as to how we choose to eat whether it”s climate ,emvironment, budget or lack of knowledge as to how to shop and.prepare meals. I was taught to shop and cook from the age of 8 years old and in addition I had access to a domestic science class.(as mentioned in one of the other comments) This provided a good basis for meal preparation if you did not have that.opportunity at home. Sadly these classes are not available on the curriculum in the Uk anymore. I think that’s a great loss. In France in the countryside children are exposed to a variety.of local foods from a early age which stirs their curiousity but ir’s an entirely different story in an inner city.area. The world has now contracted and we can have any type of cuisine we desire whether it’s Italian Mexican Indian French or Chinese. The list is endless. Imagine the cost of your shopping list if you wish to cook these different dishes at home. In addition cookery programmes and books fascinate a captive audience leaving them hardly any timei to enjoy actual shopping and cooking. We need to get back to basics and use what’s available either sourcing from the farmer’s.markets or grocery store. I shop at.markets but support.my grocery store because they provide a service and without it our village will lose its heart. It makes sense to shop locally and eat seasonally as it’s better for MY purse. Not all purses are the same size! Just a thought to .ponder the number.one dish in the UK is Spaghetti Bolognese. Loved by all ?
My parents and grandparents always had gardens, so I was fortunate to have experienced what it’s like to pick strawberries, green beans, and other vegetables right from the back yard and have them for dinner. We lived/live in the suburbs, and it was just something you did to be outside in the sun, get your hands in the dirt together, and add something to the table. Back in the day, my mom and grandmothers canned and/or froze tomatoes for sauce and the extra vegetables for winter. My friends’ parents made jam. Everyone traded vegetables, and we all dreaded zucchini “season”! 🙂
Fast forward to today, where it seems to be a status symbol in my corner of the country to say you eat clean, simple, local, organic, etc. I agree with Danielle that everyone is on their own path and needs to make the decisions that work best for them, without judgement from others. It is frustrating that healthy food costs more than pre-packaged, non-local food. Inspired by your posts, I’ve been visiting the farmer’s market shop near my house over the past few weeks, and re-visited my childhood…snap peas to eat out of the bag, blueberries, sweet corn, watermelon…it all tastes SO much sweeter than what I can find at the grocery store (though they do sell some of the produce from local farms). It also costs a lot more, and I am thankful to be able to “treat” myself and my husband, and to support struggling local farmers. (My great-grandparents farmed, and it is a tough way to make ends meet). I have coworkers who participate in a CSA program: Community Supported Agriculture. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, but you buy a “share” in late winter/early spring from your local farm. This provides them with funds at the beginning of the season, and then as produce ripens, it is assembled into a box once a week or every other week for you to pick up your share. While this is too costly for me, I am glad that these programs are in place and perhaps as they gain in popularity, prices for the shares will be more affordable for everyone.
Contrast this with the city where I work, where residents have been fighting for years merely to get a grocery store! I have read about “food deserts” and how difficult it is for some urban residents to access any produce, much less organic, local, etc. They would buy and eat healthier items if they were available to them. I think there are farmers’ markets there in the summer months, so if they have transportation, at least there is something. But none of the cities and towns in my state have farmers’ markets all year round, so what they do in winter is anyone’s guess. Also, in the suburbs, there are a number of community gardens at churches and parks where fresh vegetables are grown and donated to the soup kitchen for those who can’t afford them otherwise.
This is a long way of saying that everyone is in a different place — we should ignore the silliness and make the choices that work best for each of us.
P.S. I forgot to mention that I am experimenting with container gardening on our deck. Until I’m able to install a tall fence around a traditional vegetable garden plot, the deer and rabbits would decimate it.
Goodness, can’t get my head around deer eating the vegies. Being from Australia I’ve never even seen a deer! I have cockatoos scoffing all the apples! LOL Gaby