Thursday, November 22, 2007


It's Thanksgiving! I'm so excited. This is my favorite holiday of the year. It sort of snuck up on me this year. We're going over to a friend's house for a potluck dinner, so I won't be doing much cooking today. We've just finished making bread dough and peeling the potatoes and veggies for our contribution to the meal, and now we're done except for the boiling and baking steps. I am having a hard time resisting the urge to keep going; I love holiday cooking. We'll be making our own turkey with all the trimmings tomorrow, so I'm sure I'll have my fill of kitchen time then. Can't miss out on the leftovers!

I've been amazed at how many people that I know are dreading the holidays, want to skip the traditional meals, just stay home, not exchange gifts at Christmas, etc, etc. It's so sad that so many people are down on the holidays right now. It's just a chance to celebrate, and who doesn't need a little celebration? We're not going to make it home this year, so this holiday season will be quieter than usual for us, but I'd be just as excited if it was going to be a busy week spent in MA. I guess it's hard not to get caught up in the rush and lose sight of the meaning of holidays, and even the meanings are up for dispute sometimes. A few bloggers have been expressing guilt about not wanting to celebrate a holiday that was based on a mythical alliance between the settlers and natives. While I agree that the "historical" image that most Americans have is horribly skewed, I don't think that has to destroy the day. Thanksgiving has always been a harvest holiday for me, a time to celebrate bounty before the long stretch of winter. Maybe that meaning is somewhat lost on those of us that live in cities with 24 hour grocery stores open 365days a year. Still, it's a time to gather good things together and begin the process of snugging down for winter.

We've been shopping almost exclusively at our local farmer's market this fall, which might have helped me feel the magic of the harvest more than usual. We'd been spending a lot of money at the grocery store anyway, and I was just bored with the quality and the unchanging variety. I like having seasons and seasonal foods. I miss having a real winter (and no, Seattle does not have real winters when you're from Boston...), and I like to feel the seasonal rhythms in my life, including in my kitchen. Sometimes a little anticipation is so much nicer than immediate gratification. If you learn to enjoy the wait, it makes "getting" so much better in the end. I am sure that I will be dying for a ripe salad tomato in February, but it will make next summer's first crop even better when they arrive. Until then, my little indoor cherry tomato plant will hold us over, I hope.

I've been loving the farmer's market experience. We haven't been in a grocery store other than Whole Foods (to get soy milk and cheese, and some other random things one can't get at the farmer's market) in months, until last weekend. I can't bring myself to spend $50 for a turkey yet, even if I know it's better than the ones in the grocery store. We eat mostly vegetarian usually, so the crazy prices of meat in the non-grocery world haven't hit us very hard. I guess if you buy good meat in the grocery store it costs a lot, too, so we're not really spending all that much more when we buy at WF, but I've always refused to buy meat when it's not on sale, so that's been our largest step up in price, since the sale prices in the organic foods stores are often the same or higher than the normal price elsewhere. I can grit my teeth and get over spending more for beef, but poultry is just harder, for some unspecified reason, and it usually costs even more than beef! So, we gave in and bought a QFC turkey last weekend, along with a few other things that are hard to get elsewhere. We at least stuck with free range and antibiotic-free. I'm not interested in extremes, so I'm not feeling guilty about buying it, either. I would have preferred to buy a turkey direct from a farmer, but it's just a bit high for my budget (and, in this case, it wasn't even possible; they were sold out).

It's like buying eggs; at the farmer's market, eggs cost $5.50 to $9 a dozen, and are usually sold out within minutes of the market opening. That just seems crazy to me. $9 a dozen for eggs? At that point, it's a supply and demand problem, in my opinion. There aren't many people that sell eggs, and so those that do have a corner market and can charge whatever they want. Lots of people have been making the local eating commitment lately, and those that are very dogmatic about it will either buy at the farmer's market or go without. And so the prices jump to $9 a dozen, which is much more than the farmer would usually ask (or get, I imagine). While I don't mind paying a little extra to help out a farmer, there are some cases where I think that it becomes unreasonable, and this is one of them. I know it's just the market economy, and I guess there's no good reason for them to give their eggs away for less than they can get, but in some ways it seems to violate the unwritten rules of the farmer-buyer agreement. I am buying from them because I think that local food is better, and I am making a choice to give my money to them directly rather than paying more than half to the grocery store middlemen. Even if the farmer charged half of what the grocery store charges, they would make a larger profit by this direct marketing than they could by going full-scale commercial. So by the time I am paying grocery store prices, the farmer is already seeing a hundred percent increase in his or her profit (and this is a conservative guesstimate). I know this, but make the choice to buy from them even at slightly elevated prices because I believe in supporting their work, and because I think that their products are superior. I also trust them to be giving me the best deal that they can, in exchange for my support of their endeavor. When they begin charging more just to see what they can get, I think that they are violating that trust, to a degree. I know they need to live, but so do I. In buying from them I am making my budgeting a little harder, and I expect them to realize that and keep their prices reasonable accordingly. When they don't, I go elsewhere. So, yes, I buy eggs at my local grocery co-op rather than the farmer's market, and I pay about $3.50 for free range, organic, local eggs. And unfortunately, the farmer that produces them probably doesn't see even half of what I pay. Too bad they don't offer their eggs for $3.50 in a direct market; they'd make more and I'd feel better!

I'm really happy that we've made small changes in our lifestyle that feel like they might have significant consequences. Eating more locally is a good idea in general, and it's something that I really enjoy. Going to the farmer's market is a fun way to spend a Sunday morning. Going to the grocery store is not. These small day to day changes are more important to me than occasional purchases that I now make at a grocery store. While I enjoyed reading Plenty, I'm not interested in a deprivation-based lifesytle. I don't think you need to feel deprived in order to make changes, and I think you're less likely to keep it up if you're always feeling like there's something you're missing out on. It's like any diet; if you go extreme and decide not to eat anything that isn't on the "healthy" list, you are constantly going to want what you're not supposed to have. If you just make everything you eat a little healthier by reducing fat, sugar, and portion sizes, you will probably stick with it a lot longer, and be better off in the long run. I don't have the ability (yet) to take Barbara Kingsolver's approach in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and so I'll do the best I can with the local farmer's market, and leave complete self-sufficience for when I have a place that I can plant a garden and not have my neighbors pull it up to plant their tomatoes.

Still, I think that the farmer's market routine has helped me to stay plugged in to the joys of the harvest; there is so much bounty, and it is such good food. It's easy to be inspired to cook and to celebrate when there are picture-perfect vegetables fresh from the ground all around you. Maybe I'm just wierd, but just looking at a bunch of rainbow swiss chard with its bright stems and glossy green leaves makes me happy. Sort of like the way that just feeling a soft yarn makes the day better. Or a warm cup of tea and a blanket. Or a good book. Or the fact that the sun is shining today, and the sky is cloudless. Simple things. Life's little pleasures, that are just waiting to pop out at you wherever you look. How can we not take a moment to celebrate? Happy Thanksgiving!