Supporting Sustainable Food in the VeloKitchen

February 18, 2012

Cycling Chef picking up our CSA share

After watching Chipotle’s television ad, “Back to the Start” played during last week’s Grammy Awards, I reflected how our family’s eating habits have improved over the past few years to support sustainable food. A few years ago the film “Food, Inc. made a huge impact on how we began to think about the food we consume. After seeing that movie, it occurred to us that although we often cycle on low-traffic, rural roads, we rarely see cows grazing in pastures, a familiar site from our childhoods. I came to the conclusion that, even though I had thought I was doing a satisfactory job of supporting local farming by shopping at farmers’ markets, I could do more to ensure our family eats foods free of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and genetically modified ingredients. So I started on a self-education journey beginning with the fascinating book by Michael Pollan THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA, A NATURAL HISTORY OF FOUR MEALS which he wrote to answer the question my husband asked me every single day when we were getting to know each other via e-mail, “What are you having for dinner?” (For more on that story see my post “A Curry Love Affair in the VeloKitchen.”)

We had been consuming organic fruits and vegetables, organic dairy products, grass-fed meats and wild caught fish, but after reading publications by Jeffrey M. Smith, a leading consumer advocate on non-GMO foods who publishes the practical non-GMO shopping guide, I banned non-organic corn, soy and canola oil from our kitchen and educated my husband and son on suspect GMO foods. At home we cook our meals from scratch, but the awareness of GMO ingredients in our country’s food supply makes us think twice when we make decisions about the food we are consuming.

Two years ago we joined a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, which is, essentially, a co-op where we and other families buy a season of crops grown on a local farm and pick up our share of each week’s harvest. Our CSA Zestful Gardens is run by Holly and Valerie, dedicated organic farmers whose farm is about nine miles from our home.  Our first year’s experience opened my eyes to the difference in flavors of locally grown vs. store bought produce. Not only were the vegetables more intense and vibrant in flavor, I was surprised by how long just-picked produce lasts in the refrigerator. After I picked up our first CSA share my biggest shock was finding a giant, slimy brown slug in a head of lettuce. I screamed and my husband and son came running, laughed at me and then reminded me that finding critters in the produce means that no nasty pesticides were used to grow it.  Last year I added another level of eco-consciousness to my CSA share pick-up routine. In the spirit of The Slow Bicycle Movement I rode my Townie bike the eighteen miles round trip to pick up many shares. I love the feeling of pedaling through my town with my bike basket and panniers filled with produce that had been harvested earlier that day.

My newest resolution is focusing on eating in-season foods during our non-CSA months. Living in the Pacific Northwest means fresh and colorful fruit from Chile in February is very tempting, but we are finding that in-season fruits grown closer to home are equally satisfying. For Mother’s Day last year my son gave me the cookbook CLEAN FOOD, an “encouraging, easy-to-understand guide to eating closer to the source and benefiting from the rich nutritional profile of the freshest, in-season, locally grown ingredients.” This cookbook’s recipes are organized by season and are easy to prepare.

Our family feels healthy and satisfied that we are doing our bit to help support sustainable farmers and the environment. My eight year old son has watched the Chipotle video many times. I hope our experience shows that going “Back to the Start” is an attainable goal, family by family and farm by farm. And, for me, this lifestyle change began with wanting to meet the chickens who lay the eggs we eat.