The Fresh Table Experiment

You go to the store. You buy a can of soup. Or a pack of Tastykakes. Or a bag of apples. Do you know what you’re eating? Really eating? No. And neither do I.

First, the ingredients list can be puzzling. Look deep and you’ll find ingredients that will clean rust off metal or are used to make chemical foams and plastics. Second, the FDA cannot really verify the ingredients in every single item, it being a woefully underfunded and understaffed organization (one that doesn’t really even have a legal mandate to restrict unhealthy foods other than making blanket “recommendations”). Third, the ingredient chain can be so complex that even the companies that make the products don’t really know where all the ingredients are coming from, draping a giant blanket of ignorance and unaccountability over the whole affair.

So, what to do, what to do?

Welcome to the Fresh Table Experiment.

The experiment will be this: over the next three-plus months, I plan on shopping predominantly at local farms and farmers’ markets. I’m not going to be a total Nazi about this — some foods are foods I just can’t buy locally or are foods that I am unable to produce at my home by mixing ingredients. I can’t make my own soy sauce (well, I guess I can, but I’d rather not), so that’s something I’ll have to buy at the grocery store. If I want to put jicama in a salad (like I did last night), I don’t think I’ll find any local purveyors of the so-called “Mexican Turnip” (or yam bean!). I’m not going to make my own cereal or rice noodles, much as I could.

Sparrow Grass But, this will still allow me to rove free of the grocery store more often than not. Today, I went to the Saucon Valley Farmers’ Market in Hellertown, and I came home with a big bag of ingredients there, all locally-grown: a whole Muscovy duck, watercress, arugula, locally-roasted coffee beans (though, no, the beans themselves aren’t local, shut up), stuffed hot peppers, blueberry jam, a shoo-fly pie, leeks, asparagus, and more.

That’s just a sampling. Locally, I can get pork, chicken, duck, lamb, and bison for meat. Dairy’s easy, too, and I have an order in for raw milk from Flint Hill Farms. I can get all manner of vegetables, including some you might not expect (tatsoi, for instance). Fruits are mostly what you’d expect — no citrus locally-grown, of course, but apples, strawberries, and the like. Even the stuff I can’t get locally, I can get at local, organic markets (I can buy organic oranges from various local markets).

What’s the reason for all this craziness? I’ve a handful.

Okay, one, as I’ve already stated, I don’t know what’s in the foods I buy. Hormones, pesticides, chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes, and a mega-shit-ton of salt, probably. It can’t all be bad, and local stuff can’t all be good, either — but, in general, local generally means “organic.” I can go to the farm. I can see what’s up. They make certain claims, and they’re verifiable. I buy a can of soup from the grocery store, I have no way of verifying anything about that can of soup other than, “Is it soup?”

Two, and this leads in from one, is that more and more, we’re seeing food-borne health issues cropping up. Salmonella, e.coli, and the like are running rampant. Plus, you have a growing body of evidence that suggests that many of our health issues are the result of ingredients buried in food. I’m not crazy enough to believe with absolute certainty that the rise of autism or the obesity epidemic is somehow the result of hormone-laden beef or high-fructose corn syrup. But I do know that I’m not smart enough to know of all the potential effects, either. Now, does buying local and organic somehow end the possibility of food-borne illness? Hardly. But it does mean that, if I get sick from eating something, I can knock on somebody’s door.

Three, and this leads in from two, I don’t trust corporations. Maybe I’m nuts, but look around. The recession exists because corporations have run roughshod over the common man. I know that “business ethics” will forever be apart from “ethics in general,” but as of the last ten years, it really feels like we’ve reached a breaking point of unregulated mouthrape by big companies. Now, we know the FDA is underfunded and understaffed. We know they don’t check everything, and are actually only capable of checking a fraction of what happens. The FDA doesn’t even have any real power. So, isn’t it safe to assume that large corporations — like, say, food-producing corporations — might have their own interests at hand above and beyond the interests of the common man? Local farms are far more desperate for your dollar. They fuck up, they’re out of business.

Four, this’ll allow me to cut back on processed foods.

Five, it’ll help me get my kitchen-fu on. I’ll need to up my game to combine these ingredients in delicious ways. Yesterday, I made a mango viniagrette. Just made it up on the spot. And it was tasty. It was like an angel ejaculated on my tongue. Quick recipe:

Dice a mango

Slice up some shallots

Chippity-chop a red pepper

Toss all of that, plus a dollop of honey, a dollop of Dijon mustard, one garlic clove, and 1/3 cup of rice wine vinegar, into a food processor and puree the unmerciful shit out of it

Drizzle in 1 cup of olive oil as it purees

If it’s too thick, toss in a little water

Done, boom, game over, pour it over salad, and enjoy the sweet taste of angel semen.

Six, it pumps money into the local economy. Plus, I come from farm-stock, and farmers are good people.

Seven, it might help me lose weight (though this is not the immediate hope — I understand that by adopting some local-only foods, I actually might intake more fats, but ideally it’ll hold true that processed foods really can be a weight-gainer).

It’s funny, because up until recently, the “local food” arena was hidden in plain sight. I drive by farms, not really realizing that I can actually just… go to them, and buy things. I found a number of local farmers’ markets and their schedules and vendors. I found a site called LocalHarvest that only multiplied my awareness of what lurks around me (and you can use it too — just plug in your zip code, and go).

Again, I’m not going to be crazy about this. This is a baby-steps thing. I’m not going vegetarian or vegan, but slowly I’m making changes to the way we eat. I think it can only be healthy and economic in the long run.I recognize that the grocery store is not my enemy, but I do need to be smart when I wander, zombie-like, through its colorful labyrinth.

I’ll post updates here as they’re needed (meaning, when they’re interesting). I’m gonna cook the hot shit out of that duck later this week, for instance, so you can be sure I’ll blather on about the successes and failures of that process.

Wish me luck, readers.

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