It all started with the concept of an obese Carla Bruni.
Truly, it did. The summer I read “French Women Don’t Get Fat” was the beginning of a new philosophy for me–the alien idea of enjoying food.
Not “enjoying food” because it was muscle fuel, or “enjoying food” in a uniquely American binge-all-you-can-eat buffet way. Not “enjoying food” because you’ve spent the last three months eating only steak, cheddar cheese, and one floret of broccoli since Oprah told you Atkins ruled the universe.
“French Women” was touted as a new kind of “diet book.” One that didn’t waste space telling you what NOT to eat but rather basked in the plenty and variety of all you actually could eat. It lauded home-cooking (“It is often so simple”) and taking time to dine (“Always sit down at a table with a full setting. Eat with friends or with self-enjoyment, never with the television.”) It was the best-selling clarion call to Americans: We don’t have a food culture here and we need one…badly.
It was the summer I first made leek soup (it was awful as far as leek soups go…but I still loved it because it was such a new taste). It was the summer I bought an actual, honest-to-goodness eggplant and attempted a ratatouille (beforethe movie was even on the IMDB radar). It was the summer I went to New York for two reasons 1) to see Wicked on Broadway and 2) to experience the Shangri-La of Farmer’s Marketdom.
Once you drink fresh-squeezed apple juice you will never go back.
I remember standing with Alyssa in the shadow of the Flatiron Building and semi-idiotically yelling, “It Tastes Like An APPLE! Like a liquid apple in a bottle!” Alyssa nodded slowly and said, “Yeup…::pointing to the label:: Because it’s apple juice, Pinto…”
…if you’ve tried what I’ve tried…you’d know this feeling of supreme grocery betrayal and fresh-juice ecstasy.
Living in Boston for two years about killed me with glee. Haymarket, Copley Square. I saw edibles that came out of Dr. Suess’s deranged dreams. Dragon-lingerie beans (bright purple with white spots, by the way), “Cheddar” yellow cauliflower, fish three hours out of the ocean…and did you know that people eat zucchini flowers?!
I’ve become an eager acolyte to the Slocal Food movement. It’s almost embarrassing to be around my hyperactive self. Slocal is a mix of two already established movements: Slow Food and Local Food. Slow, meaning “home made” like…from scratch; and Local, meaning “as fresh as is humanly possible.” The day I made a pumpkin pie that started as an actual Oregon coast pumpkin was a milestone and I’ve never looked back.
Atticus sometimes eyes me warily when I come home from the library with a stack of books including titles like “Eat Where You Live” and commence devouring it before I even take off my coat.
“Atticus!” I’ll call from the couch as he boils pasta, “Atticus, I’m going to learn how to forage for edible mushrooms. Imagine all the mushrooms we could eat out here!”
“Pinto…you don’t even like mushrooms.”
“…I would if I found them myself!”
“Atticus! She says here that we can collect nangoonberries in July!”
“What is a nangoonberry?”
“I have no idea but doesn’t it sound delicious?!”
At that point in the conversation I usually get out of the chair to go coo over my cucumber and cilantro seedlings.
I know I’m not an outlier here. The rock-star popularity of books by Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food), new grocery aisles dedicated entirely to Organic, the rise of “Whole Foods” and “Trader Joe’s” grocery stores (lament, I lament the loss of my Trader Joe’s), the explosion of community gardens, farms and markets…it all points to something significant:
Yes. The sudden realization of a generation that cheddar cheese is not supposed to be a neon, asbestos-like powder and the supreme feeling of dupedom this generation feels when coming in contact with real food. You feel like you’ve been shackled in Plato’s cave…or the Matrix. I mean, take a poll and ask Americans where Garlic comes from. That’ll freak you out. I mean, do you know?
It freaked me out when I realized I had not the slightest clue in the world until a month ago. For all the consideration I had done, garlic could have been a chemically processed plastic, a fungus from the fields of Sicily (I could at least guess Mediterannean origin), a tree-ripened fruit, the pit of some unpalatable garlic mango…
I about pulled another Flatiron moment when the speaker matter-of-factly noted that garlic can over-winter because it grows underground.
Don’t even get me started on asparagus.
And thus I found myself on this Earth Day morning gobbling up the witticisms of Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) and her family’s one-year slocal experiment documented in her (once again)best-selling book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
As Atticus attemped to read Newsweek while eating his oatmeal (bought in bulk, grocery apples and local milk–we’re in hopeful transitions), we repeated our familiar scenario.
From the couch I called, “Atticus! Let’s make our own CHEESE!!!!“