Lunch today: salad. Crisp, emerald chard from my garden. The seedlings came from Sunshine Farms, practically across the street. I grew the radishes and tender yellow squash from seed. Fresh dill and cilantro from my neighbor’s garden in town add zest. (Their three children, who each have their own mini-plots within the garden, win awards at the county fair, love eating vegetables and can tell me about every crawly bug in the neighborhood.)
Down the road at the Osage Gardens farm store, tomatoes were going at bargain prices to keep up with the bushels ripening on the vines in the summer sunshine. Firm, succulent and bursting with flavor, a little chopped tomato dresses up salad greens, also from Osage, tossed with the chard.
To top it all off, even the salad dressing is locally made. Aspen Cornucopia Basil Vinaigrette & Marinade is pretty hard to beat, and Paula lives just down the road. “Try it on everything,” the label counsels, and I’m working on it. It’s heavenly drizzled on salmon.
Colorful, healthy, fresh. In an age when we’re told the average serving travels 1,500 miles to land on an American plate, this salad wouldn’t get me out of the county. Best of all, it tastes delicious.
OK, I threw on a few mandarin oranges from a can that’s been aging in the refrigerator.
Who knows where they came from?
Eating locally is a trend that has picked up so much momentum in the last few years that you can hardly ignore it. The best eateries vie for the longest list of local ingredients and you can schedule your week around small-town farmers markets. Even the most conventional grocery stores give a nod to local produce and Colorado products.
But for me, it was plastic that got me started.
I read an article in a collection of the year’s best science writing. It was called “Plastic Ocean” by Susan Casey. Here are a few of the shocking facts that set my life on a new course: a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and “countless” fish die each year in the North Pacific from eating or becoming entangled in floating plastic garbage that has made its way to the ocean. Lots of it is swirling in an enormous whorl of garbage at least twice the size of Texas. Tiny bits of degraded plastic cluttering the planet are making their way into the food chain, and into us, changing our body chemistry in unpredictable and largely unstudied ways.
How much plastic? Each year, we make 60 billion tons of new plastic, most of it intended for one-time use, even though it will last for centuries into the future, no one really knows how long, littering the landscape of your children’s children’s children.
I know, it’s depressing. After what I’d learned, I couldn’t help noticing that our food supply is swimming in its own sea of plastic. At the national chain grocery store, it was hard to find a vegetable that didn’t come accessorized with its own plastic clamshell. I’d leave with seven items, often over-packaged, divvied up into five plastic bags by the cheery checker, who never thought to ask if I preferred paper.
I declared war.
For essentials like mayonnaise and olive oil, I scoured the shelves for the one product that still comes in glass. At the deli or fish counter, the clerk can still wrap in butcher paper. Often, it means walking away from something I might otherwise buy, if it weren’t for the package.
I planted a garden and started looking for farmers markets, farm stores and produce trucks selling their bounty mounded in colorful, fragrant patchworks. I found locally made products providing a living for local entrepreneurs. Buying them supports our local economy, which seems important after the real estate bust and economic meltdown that cost so many friends and neighbors their jobs. I started to learn how to can and dry and pickle beautiful fresh food when it’s cheap and abundant. A canned Colorado peach is even sweeter in December.
By avoiding plastic, I was eating healthier food grown closer to home.
The real surprise? That lovely local salad on my table was so easy.
Marilyn Gleason will write a periodic column about local food and eating locally.