Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Local Food: A Preferred Choice in the South

Peaches sold by local farmer:
$20 for 23-pound basket ($1.15 a pound)
One of the worst cultural changes in the American South is how many residents neglect the availability of local fresh fruits and vegetables when once local produce was a mainstay of the Southern diet. Such produce today is easy to find and buy, particularly because farmers’ markets where local farms sell their crops have experienced a resurgence as well as community-supported agriculture programs have gained in popularity.

The following video illustrates how the buy local effort has even spread to college campuses:

The local produce available throughout the year is amazing, and my home state of North Carolina is one of several states in the South that provides a quick reference guide about the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. In the summer months, one of the favorites where I live is peaches, which are available from May through September.

Farmer stand at state farmers' market
I occasionally visit the N.C. State Farmers’ Market in Raleigh, which is impressive with its selection and availability of peaches in season. In addition, because I live in the peach-growing Sandhills area of the state, I also have the opportunity to go to a you-pick-it farm as well as get local peaches through a community-supported agriculture program.

In fact, imagine the additional ways in this area for buying fresh peaches:
  • Local farmers’ market
  • Roadside stand operated by a local farm
  • Neighborhood grocery store that promotes local produce

However, the shock for me recently was a neighborhood grocery store that was promoting peaches – not locally picked but shipped from California – in the middle of the local peach season. How much expense is involved in transporting peaches from one side of the country completely across to the other side? It’s like “carrying coal to Newcastle” and is a complete waste of energy as well as a detriment to the local food economy (and the out-of-state peaches were 10 cents a pound more than local peaches being sold by a local farmer at a roadside stand about 2/10ths of a mile from the store).

Regional food chain has window display
that advertises fresh peaches ...
... but the small print indicates
that the peaches are out-of-state
(and cost 10 cents a pound more than local ones)

Several businesses, schools, and local communities have joined in an effort – known as the 10% campaign – to buy at least 10% of their food budgets from farmers in their local areas. The campaign, an effort to rebuild a local food economy, also helps to educate the public about food choices. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables as a regular part of a diet provides many long-term health benefits. Although the increasing obesity rates are a national problem, they are particularly troubling for the American South. Most states in the South exceed the national average for both adult and childhood obesity. 

Roadside stand with fresher, cheaper
peaches (less than 2/10ths of a mile
from regional grocery chain)
Even with the example of peaches being shipped across the country, the effort to buy locally is gaining support as many across the South are recruited to become a “locavore,” a word used increasingly by local food advocates. It was the word of the year in 2007 for the Oxford American Dictionary, even though it had only been coined in 2005 when residents on the West Coast were encouraged to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Although later in 2008 Congress defined “local food” much broader -- food marketed in the same state where produced or less than 400 miles from origin -- the “buy local” effort focuses on growers much closer.

What a shame that a regional grocery chain in the South (owned by a Belgium corporation), where peaches are grown with so much success, sees fit to ship them completely across the county and that local shoppers buy them. Be more selective, and enjoy produce that your area grows. Become a locavore.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Banana Puddin' for Real

Don’t tell me that mamas and papas no longer have time to make banana puddin’ for their babies! Have you seen “trendy” grocery stores such as The Fresh Market selling pre-packaged banana puddin’? Is this where the Information Highway with incessant demands to stay connected to our smart phones, send irrelevant text messages, and check Facebook updates throughout the day has taken us?

Ready for sale at The Fresh Market
It’s bad enough that stores have sliced or cubed cantaloupe, watermelon and other summer delights to make them so easy to enjoy. All we have to do is open a cover: no messy slicing — but isn’t that half the fun of eating cantaloupe or watermelon? The joy of eating banana puddin’ is knowing that it’s homemade (and who made it).

Fortunately, these packages do include bananas unlike some places such as Smithfield's Chicken 'N Bar-B-Q that makes banana puddin’ without bananas. (Of course, this extends the shelf life by avoiding the chance that a banana slice can turn brown, but how they can call it banana puddin’ without its primary ingredient?) Any decent mama or papa never chooses banana puddin’ without bananas for their children when ordering fried chicken or pork barbecue.

Warning: A Connecticut
Yankee has made these 
cookies and hoodwinked 
Paula Deen.
What else is needed beside bananas? Nilla Wafers, of course. Even Paula Deen has screwed up this Southern tradition by substituting Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies for genuine Nilla Wafers. In her recipe on the Food Network, she wants you to use two bags of these high-falutin’ cookies by a company that traces its roots not to the South but to a Connecticut housewife (and is still based up yonder). At least Paula Deen has the decency to title her approach as “Not Yo’ Mama’s Banana Pudding,” so you know that you are making only a pretender. If you really want authentic banana puddin’, just follow the recipe on a box of Nilla Wafers or use the original recipe online by Nabisco World that calls for 45 wafers — and real bananas, of course (five sliced for this recipe).

What happens if you can’t eat all the puddin’ on the day that it’s made? Not a problem. Even day-old puddin’ is desirable because it’s “bold,” as Southern Culture on the Skids sings in “Banana Pudding”:
Banana puddin'
Yeah! It's day old and bold, baby.
So give me something funky with the skin on top
Something funky, that's what I've got.
Authentic puddin' just made for my classes
When I make banana puddin’ for my classes, no student ever asks, “Did you buy it?” Of course not! No self-respecting Southerner would dare to offer banana puddin’ that was not homemade. Stay true to Southern foodways: Put down your smart phone and start slicing fresh bananas.