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Garden Notes: 'Slow Food' Is Better Food

Although I’ve never seen statistics on how much we eat over the holidays, I’d hazard a guess that Americans eat more per capita from now until the New Year than in any other comparable time period. Family gatherings, office parties and celebrations of all kinds incite us to eat more than is good for us. I’d like to suggest that we all think about offering healthier foods for the holidays, that we slow down and really enjoy the food, and that we try to serve as much local food as possible.

As a gardener, I store and preserve much of my own food for winter. My freezers are full of beans, broccoli, kale, leeks, peas, peppers, tomatoes and more. In cool, dry storage I have winter squash, onions and garlic. In a second fridge I have potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, kohlrabi and beets. In the garden I still am picking Brussels sprouts, carrots, late lettuce and kale. I have homemade pickles in the pantry. If invited to a potluck dinner, I have plenty to choose from that will make a healthy and tasty dish.

If you haven’t put up food for the winter, think about supporting local farmers. Winter farmers markets are all the rage, and for good reason. I believe that local potatoes and carrots taste better than those shipped to the Mega-Monster Food Emporium. Yes, they may cost a little more, but not much more. Going local is about a mindset. One must plan ahead and make a commitment to do so — just as most of us have committed to recycling for the good of the planet. Buying local food eliminates all those miles in a diesel-powered refrigerator truck, carrying California to us. And buying local foods supports the farmers in our community.

I recently sat down with Robert Meyers, co-owner of Three Tomatoes Trattoria in Lebanon, to talk about the Slow Food movement, and about an event called Terra Madre he attended earlier this fall in Turin, Italy. Terra Madre is held every other year to allow farmers, consumers, educators and activists from 150 countries to meet, eat and talk together. The Slow Food Movement is an international organization that promotes eating “good, clean, fair” food.

At Terra Madre there are numerous workshops by food producers and cooks. There is second event, Salone del Gusto, held concurrently, that allows attendees to sample foods from all over the world. Want to try fried bugs from Burkino Faso? There were representatives there who, if they did not bring bugs, advocate for eating local insects. Might be worth trying. Deep fried Japanese beetles anyone?

And to me, the Slow Food movement is about slowing down to really enjoy food, family and friends. It is the opposite of fast food, which we all know about — and which I avoid as much as possible. We gardeners grow our own food — slowly. We should share it, and eat it slowly, too.

So as we head toward the end of the year, what can we do? We can buy fair-trade coffee, chocolate and bananas. The Fair Trade label guarantees a minimum fair price to Third World farmers. Most food coops are still selling local produce including potatoes, carrots, onions, beets and much more. The big supermarkets generally don’t bother with local farmers. And instead of bananas and avocados, we can eat local apples and kohlrabi.

We can pay attention to where our meat comes from. I don’t buy meat that was produced in mass quantity on a chicken ranch or cattle feed lot. I don’t want to ingest the hormones and antibiotics that many meat animals are fed. I buy directly from farmers, and I interview them about their techniques raising their animals. I don’t insist on organic, but I do want humane — and no antibiotics or hormones, thank you.

That means that my Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys cost me a lot more than frozen supermarket birds, but the difference in flavor is remarkable. Instead of looking only at the price tag, I think about the price per serving. If I am going to feed a dozen people and eat leftovers for days afterwards, the cost per person per meal is very reasonable.

As you plan your garden for 2013, focus on crops you know always do well for you. If you’ve had bad luck with tomatoes recently, think about expanding your plantings of beans or broccoli if you did well with them last year. They are both pretty easy crops to grow, have few pests (at least in my garden) and freeze well. Think about planting and re-planting more lettuce — a crop that does well for most gardeners.

And what about those elusive, blight-plagued tomatoes we all love? There are people who grow them well, generally in plastic high tunnels (greenhouses). Many fungal diseases are soil-borne, and spread when it rains due to splash-up. Some spores are wind-borne; a greenhouse helps to keep them off the plants, too. Maybe we should just buy some of our tomatoes in season from local growers.

So do some planning this winter about what you can realistically expect to be able to grow — and store. Think about letting go of crops that are a frustration — after all, gardening is supposed to be fun. And check out Slow Food International (www.slowfood.com). As they say, it’s an idea, a way of living and a way of eating.

Henry Homeyer has a new children’s book: “Wobar and the Quest for the Magic Calumet.” For more info go to www.henryhomeyer.com.