Sunday, May 30, 2010

Food For Thought: To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn

What's in season? 

Such a simple question has become so complicated.  In our 24x7 world, where everything is available anytime, is there even such thing as 'in season' any more?  It begs questions about my questions. 

Try the following quiz.  Answer each on a scale of 1 - 10, 1 being absolutely not and 10 being absolutely yes. Depending on what your answers are to these questions, it seems like you can make better choices, and live with them.  , "When you say in season, do you mean...":

A)   ...produce grown outdoors?  
My response:
7.  I like my food food grown outdoors but recogize that sometimes a hothouse is necessary.  A lab, not so much tolerance from me.  
B)   ...produce grown in soil?  If not, can you tolerate hydroponics or other means of production?
My response:
8.  I am hesitant about hydroponics and other unconventional farming methods. This is mostly due to my own lack of knowledge relating to the techniques, and further lack of time to research them properly.

C)   ...produce grown nearby? How do you define it? How do you know?
My response:
7. I prefer my food grown nearby, but recognize that I cannot always get what I want or need, and as a busy mom must occassionaly give in to my own constraints and limitations.  So my rule is, look for local first, and after that anything from the US or Canada goes. 
PS:  This tool from Epicurious is pretty helpful guide to question C; it provides a nice geographical overview of what is gowing, and when.  I recommend it as a simple way of keeping up with the farms.   

D)   ...produce grown without the aid of airplanes, ships, pesticides, sprays, other petroleum products? If not, are you limited by what you can eat?
My response:
7. See C.  I recognize that some of what my family eats comes from a long distance.  I accept that as a means to and end, that being eating fresh food.  I would be more than willing to pay extra for this indulgence.  As for sprays, etc I try to avoid anything that has been through this process, but sometimes do not have enough knowledge to make that call.  I always wash my fruits and vegetables in a special rinse, and take time to make sure they are clean before using them.

E)    ...produce that was picked within the last 5 - 7 days prior to sale? If not, how long can it sit in storage or on a shelf before you call it quits?

My response:

7. Yeah, OK it is important that it was picked recently.  But for things like apples which are naturally shelf stable, I am more lenient.  

Sadly, even after all this soul searching and self-awareness it is nearly impossible to cross-reference this knowledge with the actual choices I make at the market.  For most produce today, there are no answers to these questions.  The information is simply unavailable. And so that brings me to my final point, which is that more often than not, when inquiring about seasonality, we need a better epistological model.  You can know yourself and your limits.  But if the subject (fruits and vegetables) are unknowable, then we are presented with quite a philosophical conundrum.  If I feel strong tendancies toward absolutely yes for any or all of these questions, the only way to confirm, to know that I am adhereing to my own rules is to pick it from the farm myself.  And folks, that is not a practial way to live, at least for most of us in contemporary western society.  So compromises need to be made, controls instilled, and a healthy dose of faith applied.  Without it, we are not only without a sense of season, but an inability to reason. 

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