Monday, March 14, 2011

6 painless ways to switch your menu to local, organic food

Many Central Texas consumers are aware of the benefits of buying, cooking and eating fresh, organic, seasonal, locally grown and crafted food.

It's healthier - still rich with nutritional benefit that is lost when produce is picked green, shrink-wrapped, cold-stored and shipped long distances. It's more flavorful. Money spent locally stays local, strengthening the economy of the communities in which we live. Plus, if we've done our homework, we can trust that our food is "clean" - free of toxic fumigants, antibiotics, growth hormones and other unhealthy additives.

But the reality of buying local meat and produce can be a bit daunting.

Industrialized, mechanized agriculture evolved over a long time to meet our needs for convenience, choice and economy. We lose some of these values when we buy local.

We pay a premium price in terms of choice, familiarity, expense and convenience. We may soon find ourselves balking. So in the vein of Rome was not rebuilt in a day, here are six ways to make the switch to fresh, organic, local and sustainable easy and painless:

1. Be patient.

Recognize that we are all creatures of habit. We like what we like. We often choose what's easy over what's right. Accept that the supermarket habit didn't develop overnight and it won't be abandoned overnight either.

2. Start small.

Don't worry about filling a farmer's market basket every week; just start replacing a few supermarket meat, produce or dairy items you regularly use with local farmer's market fresh as it works for you.

3. Experiment.

I do not like Jerusalem artichokes. So sue me. Swiss chard in fettuccine with brown butter-garlic sauce, yum. Be willing to try unfamiliar vegetables in new recipes. You don't have to like all of them.

4.  Go slowly.

You may not be ready for a CSA your first foray into buying local, seasonal, sustainable products. Grab a couple of babies and hit the local farmer's market for one meal a couple times a month. You'll soon learn what you like and where you like to shop.

5. Share.

In my family, food is love. So I love planning, preparing and sharing great food. Once a month, we share a pot luck supper made with only local ingredients.  Sharing successful experiments (and failures) with like-minded friends is soul-satisfying.

6. Make it fun.

For many locavores, the quest for the freshest ingredients is of itself fun. Once you've made tabbouleh with fresh-picked cucumber, mint, parsley, garlic and tomatoes, it's hard to be satisfied with anything less. But the relentless pursuit of perfection is not for everyone. Do what works. Just strolling an open farmer's market early in the morning is refreshing. Fresh coffee. Hot music. Artisan-crafted bread and pastry. New people. Friendly dogs. Farmer's markets offer a lot of entertainment value and it doesn't cost a dime.

For other painless ways to switch your menu to local, organic, fresh, sustainable, I recommend Ditch the Box written by Kristi Willis, an Austin food writer.


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