Saturday, January 24, 2009

Eat where you're planted!

Photo: Alice Waters, the executive chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., looks over the produce at a farmer's market in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009. Waters has been pushing for seasonal, local food since the '60s, but for the first time in a long time, she sees an ally in the White House.

If Alice Waters has her way the White House will reinforce her ideal of 'eat where you're planted.' She is out to convince the new president that 'change' tastes like homegrown.

This revered chef, owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, advocates to eat locally grown produce. She's put her efforts into what she believes, establishing the Edible Schoolyard. She's after the new president to choose a White House chef who will use local produce, prepare healthy meals, and raise the food in the White House gardens.

My parents told me about Victory Gardens -- people turned their little front yards in cities into vegetable or kitchen gardens. Of course farmers just continued as they had been doing for centuries and maybe just enlarged their already large gardens that were placed near the kitchen door. Raising ones own produce has been a part of every day life for as long as I can remember. My first chores involved picking bugs off of the green bean plants and removing stones from the garden soil.

The Victory Gardens were a shaken fist at the Germans and axis of evils during World War II. American and allied ingenuity would keep food on our plates no matter how much trade was curtailed and shortages pervaded in every aspect of everyday life. Mom gave up nylon hose, rationed meat and made her new clothes out of her old clothes. Her new sweater was unraveled and knit anew from old outgrown knits. There was a certain pride that pervaded the country as everyone pitched in to get by and collectively defeat the enemy.

In today's world the idea of National pride seems a double-edged sword. We are to accept everyone who enters the country as our brothers and yet we must defend our country against some of their home countries. When I was a child, people were still trying to stop hating people of German or Japanese origins. Being a child with a German name, I felt the sting of humiliation and fear of being mistaken for the enemy. But I lived in a small community where my mother's family had been around since the first white child moved in, so I didn't feel any pain or suspicion from neighbors. But the message came across in more subtle ways -- the news, movies, documentaries, and the awful things Germans did to their fellow man.

Will a garden help us come together as Americans? Will they help us win the war? Or is Ms. Waters more interested in helping local farmers sell their crops, helping local commerce thrive, helping keep down food prices, helping people eat healthier, reduce the carbon footprint involved with shipping salmon from Alaska or oranges from Spain?

She makes a valid point, several in fact. And she's right when she says that the president's example goes a long way toward changing people's perspectives concerning food consumption and well, alot of things.

Ms. Waters explains, "It's really important to me that food not be thought of as fueling up and diet and health, and that we begin to connect food experiences with nature and the beauty of culture."

Perhaps because food and culture were so closely entwined after World War II, I grew up on American fare without a whiff of saubraten, kuchen, or bratwurst. I hope we don't feel the need to give up Middle Eastern foods. I'm rather fond of pilaf, pita bread, kebabs, and olives.

I miss my vegetable garden. I haven't figured out the seasons and bugs and ways of gardening in my new southern home. I think it is time to plant -- but a Midwesterner planting a garden in January? Oh my! I'd be glad to plant a garden whether President Obama turns under part of the White House roses to plant garlic and onions or not.

Ms. Waters is totally correct when she proposes eating locally grown produce. For one thing it is at its peak of ripeness. If you have never tasted a vine-ripened tomato, strawberry, cucumber, lettuce fresh from the back yard -- well, then you have really missed a taste treat. Better than ice cream -- unless its homemade. But that's another story!

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