I've been trying to buy more of my food from local producers. I'm not great about it, to my great shame, but I guess that every attempt is helpful. There are a variety of reasons why I'm making the effort. One is that having local food producers implies a more secure food supply. A natural disaster such as, say, a wildfire in Texas doesn't need to mean shortages in Boston. Another reason is environmental, although I've said it before and will say it again: I am no environmentalist. Still, sourcing food locally means less fuel is used in transporting said food, and energy is in short supply right now. (It's also highly vulnerable to events over which you and I have very little control, like natural disasters or wars.) Blah blah blah.
The main reason to buy food locally is because it tastes better. I come from a place that is extremely urban, but if you drive five minutes outside the city limits you will find yourself on a farm. Folks there are very accustomed to high-quality food available at a reasonable price and they will NOT buy crap. I've had occasion to meet quite a few people from back home who've relocated to Boston and everyone has the same complaint: the quality of merchandise in many of the big chains is simply not up to par. In order to ship tomatoes from, say, North Carolina to Boston the tomatoes must be picked before they're really ripe. They'll ripen a little bit in transit but the flavor will be bland and pointless. Tomatoes bought from a local supplier will have been picked when they are, well, ripe. Like I said, I'm not fanatical about it but I'm making an effort.
One way in which I'm making an effort is by joining a CSA program. Every week during the harvest season I get a box of vegetables. These vegetables were grown either in Dorchester on the program's own land or on other local, organic farms that I can go visit if I want to. (And I have.) I don't get to choose those vegetables, but I get what the local land will provide. This works out to be generally less expensive than buying the same vegetables in the supermarket. I also find that I am more likely to choose dishes that use what came in my farm share than buy out-of-season produce, also reducing my food bill. I also find that my farm share forces me to be more creative and frankly to have more fun in the kitchen. I've been doing a lot more original recipes since our CSA started.
Another way I've been trying to buy local is by going to a local farmers' market. I try to restrict myself to things I either want to buy in quantity - like tomatoes - or things I know my farm share is unlikely to incorporate. I have been trying to can my own tomatoes lately, which reduces the cost from buying quality canned tomatoes in the supermarket and gives me control over additives and quality. I bought a pile of tomatoes from a local farmer for just that purpose, and the price was so good that I bought extra. Those extra tomatoes made it into this easy, fast and tasty weeknight dish.
It's not a perfectly local dish. The chickpeas, which were canned, are not local. They did clear up space for another jar of local tomatoes, though. The onions and chard and garlic all came from my farm share, though. It's a super-quick, very healthy and very tasty dish that makes a great vegan meal served with hulled barley or whole-wheat bread.
Chard with Chickpeas and Tomatoes (serves 4; approx. cost per serving not available)
2 onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1 pound plum tomatoes, chopped (about 4 - 6 tomatoes, depending on size)
1 bunch chard, leaves and stems separated and chopped
1 28-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Large saute pan
- Heat the oil in the saute pan.
- Add the onions and garlic with a pinch of kosher salt. Saute gently until the onions are translucent.
- Add the chard stems and chickpeas. The smaller you've chopped those stems the faster they'll cook.
- Saute until the chard stems are threatening to soften.
- Add the tomatoes and chard leaves. Increase heat slightly and saute until the chard leaves are wilted.