2006-10-30

greenling

I prefer my food slow, local, and organic.

Eating at restaurants too often - in other words, more than a few times per week - just does not feel wholesome to me. Eating fast food often at all just feels wrong.

For one thing, I cannot stand the size of portions which are typical at American restaurants. It's absurd. A friend of mine in Japan remarked that it's great when he visits because he can just order one meal and then carry home another entire meal!

The amount of fat, the horrid condition of ingredients, the excesses in packaging - all of these factors make restaurant food unlikely for me, except for really good meals, which are probably 4x food cost anyway and not what I'd care to buy other than for a special treat or a social gathering outside a home.

I prefer slow food. I love to cook at home - and spent a whole bunch on building a nice home kitchen. After those early years where I earned my keep as a cook at times, and after so many fun evenings hosting dinner parties - or "FringeWare Fridays" back when we had the bookstore in the late 1990s - a meal cooked by a stranger just doesn't necessarily sound fun.

Ah, but where do all those lovely ingredients for fine home-cooked meals come from?

There has been a notion of CSA and excellent farmers markets around Austin for a long while - quite appealing. Several years ago I met the couple who run Tecolote Farm... imagine getting a basket of fresh, locally, grown organic vegetables delivered to your doorstep weekly. Then imagine having to wait on a list for a year or two! Alternatively, the Austin Farmer's Market is a treat - I enjoy taking my daughters there on the weekend. For that matter, Austin is the headquarters for both Central Market (which I adore, admittedly corporate but supportive of locals and independents) and Whole Foods (which I detest, ultra corporate green-posers aka "Hoalf Udz"), and the area features some wonderful natural food co-ops. We even have an organic farm inside the city - Boggy Creek Farm, which has sustained since the years when Austin was the source for most fresh spinach in the region.

As a home cook, I've been a fan of growing veggies, herbs, raising chickens, etc., since I was a kid... Growing up on the Central California coast, I had not questioned the idea of "slow food"... Local seafood was abundant - each week we ate the abalone which my uncle couldn't sell from his catch. Many of the neighbors were from Portuguese families which had immigrated there, largely for the fishing - and they showed up everbody when it came to fixing seafood well! Local farms featured fresh berries, apple orchards, all kinds of vegetables - especially artichokes - and fresh dairy. We used to buy a side of beef for the freezer, selecting a steer out on the ranch... ranches tended by families who had gained the land 200 years earlier as Spanish land grants, or often some Swiss-Italian immigrants who brought Tyrolian styles. And of course, what wasn't ranch or farm was soon to become wall-to-wall vineyards, with soil and microclimates approximating a range from Burgundy to Tuscany.

Moving away from SLO, I found the rest of the US held no such values. Especially in Texas, where a "meal" seems synonymous with a drive around the block to Whataburger.

There have been exceptions. One chef transplanted from France to Austin - Jean Luc Salles - teamed up with Boggy Creek Farm to feature local, organic vegetables in season at his bistro. I was lucky enough to catch Salles and author Carol Ann Sayle from Boggy Creek give a cooking course at Central Market, and I highly recommend Sayle's cookbook Eating in Season.

Of course, all of this requires extra time and effort, and probably would seem obscure to people who don't share my values (or half-French blood?)


Which is why I've been stunned to find the wonderful value of a new service called Greenling. They take the notion of "CSA" plus home delivery and cooking foods in-season - and bundle it into a family-oriented package. Wonderful. It convinced my wife, and is convincing my neighbors - about as fast as they hear about it. Greenling delivers an ice chest of fresh vegetables, plus extras - each 1-2 weeks. For our family, we've chosen 2 week intervals at first, but we're switching soon to weekly. We get a surprise selection of in-season produce from local organic farms. We manage our delivery account on the Greenling website, and can take on extras like organic dairy, honey, etc.

We're forced now to cook at home, using whatever is seasonal and local. It's delicious. I'm actually learning to love okra again. We've reduced our trips to the grocery store (I have mixed feelings, because I love to shop at Central Market, but I appreciate burning less fuel to drive there.) We've been sharing with neighbors and friends.

The idea of a CSA is great, but the close pairing of one farm to a set of subscriber families - it comes out a bit awkward. With a service like Greenling, there can be some economy of scale, some buffering and variety, by incorporating producer/consumer relations between many farms and many residences. I could imagine this kind of service hanging around the farmers market just about when it closes - to bid on what's left over.

More importantly, one could imagine this kind of service going national. Soon.

Post a Comment