Monday, January 18, 2010

monday, uh, afternoon, breakfast-for-dinner links, i guess: 1/18/10

Well, this is what happens when the Monkey gets sick the day before her mother has a writing deadline. I'm behind on everything. Moving along...

Lately it seems like I've seen quite a lot of talk about calendars or charts detailing local, seasonal food choices. Sadly, when it came time to type up these post I found that I'd not kept track of these links as well as I'd thought. But here are a few thoughts anyway:

Via Re-Nest, Apartment Therapy's green site, a chart of seasonal foods put together by a London restaurant, Leon.I love that it includes seafood, an overlooked aspect of seasonal food I think. The general outlines do seem to translate pretty widely, but I'm not sure about all the specifics. Some of this is cultural (according to the chart, Spring foods include "Hoggett:" what?), but some of it is simply due to the climatic quirks of different regions. Here in Seattle, for example, prime tomato season is the last smidge of August and early September; last year we were harvesting red-tinged fruits until the beginning of November.

Speaking of different regional climates, Good Magazine and Always With Honor put together a chart of when common fruits and vegetables are locally available in different places around the United States. Of this chart Ezra Klein of the Internet Food Association (where there has recently been a highly entertaining smackdown concerning fresh dill) commented on his other blog (can't find the exact post--dude writes a lot of words. But good ones!) that it illustrates why the local foods movement is based in California.

What this chart made me think of is that there may be a difference between when foods are locally available, and when they can be grown in a particular place. In the United States, the centralization of agriculture in recent decades means that many crops that can be, and once were, grown in a particular place aren't anymore. Iowa, corn and hog capital of the U.S., used to grow an enormous diversity of crops--it was once one of the largest apple-producing states, plus grapes and peaches and, and.... Today, few of these crops are grown in any significant quantity in the state. Though this is changing, people who want to eat locally are up against not just the limitations of climate but also the limitations of the market. And that's one reason why I think that building a sustainable food system can't be accomplished solely by the aggregate decisions of individual consumers. It's not just about what you choose to buy, it's about what choices are available, and how those choices are influenced by public policy.

That said, there are a ton of resources online describing local produce availability in different states and regions. The most targeted one I have found for my area is the set of harvest schedule charts on the Puget Sound Fresh Website. But even that, in my experience, is not all that accurate--perhaps because harvest schedule isn't exactly congruent with market availability.

And for me, dividing things up by season or even by month misses some of the beauty inherent in the seasonal round of local produce: the way different fruits and vegetables wink in and out of farm stalls week by week, almost literally a round, in the musical sense. And getting to know the sequence of local crops throughout the year: here, strawberries, then blueberries, raspberries, and finally, finally, it's August and there are blackberries. So I think I've concluded that the best way to find out what's in season is to go to the farmers market and see what's in season. Sometimes there's just no substitute for being there.

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