local produce

Local Produce

One of the most shattering differences between Los Angeles and the rest of the country (specifically the Midwest) is the food culture. For those who haven’t been to the Midwest, just walk into an Applebee’s and look around. That’s the basic idea. 80% of restaurants in the Midwest are just different versions of Applebee’s. Chili’s is the Mexican Applebee’s, Bennigans is the Irish Applebee’s, Cracker Barrel is the Redneck Applebee’s. You get the picture. The food was bad for you but it tasted damn good. And they all had a deal. Two for Twenty. Five for Five. Value Meal.

Two thousand miles west, all the culinary chatter is completely different. It’s centered around words and phrases like “farmers market” and “sustainability” and “local” and “organic.” Words that I had never before really considered in a food conversation. I had always thought farmers markets were shops where farmers went to buy farm-y things to help them be more farm-y when they were farming. Ya know, like overalls and toothpicks. Maybe a banjo for good measure.

The organic and local food movement was one that I resisted at first. I wanted to stay true to my roots. But I was stranded out here. I was thousands of miles away from the nearest ‘neighborhood restaurant’ that was the same in every neighborhood – and with no Max and Ermas West of the Mississippi (and no back alley dealers trafficking Chicken Tortilla Soup) I had no choice but to bend to the local fare. It was time that I started to give LA a shot. But if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. One trip to Whole Foods wasn’t going to suffice. I needed to go all out.

So I heard about a wonderful little program called CSA. Community Supported Agriculture. You sign up and then once a week you go pick up a box of fresh produce directly from the farmer. You can’t get more organic than that! I was so proud. I was finally going to start to fit in with this new city.

A week later I brought home my first box. The Dodgers game was playing on the TV, I was bitching about traffic on the 405, I was listening to Miley’s “Party in the USA” and… I was carrying a box of local, organic produce. I. Was. California. I could feel the OHIO on my driver’s license start to shift to “CALI” right there in my kitchen.

I threw the box onto the counter and was ready to get down on the freshness.  I opened it up and just stared inside it. The box was full. Full of…

… leaves? What the hell am I supposed to do with that? I had no clue what was in front of me. There was just… green… billowing out the sides. It looked a little bit like lettuce but aside from the few rubber bands it seemed like someone just stuffed some bushes into a box and said “ship it off!” To be honest, it looked to me like the overhead view of a forest. Just bustling foliage spreading about with no purpose and no order. Pure mayhem. I basically had just brought home a tree and I was supposed to cook with it. What the hell was I going to cook?! My Midwestern instincts were telling me to put it in the living room, string lights across it, throw a star on top and put a bunch of gift cards underneath. This was not food, this was garland, and I don’t have a banister so where the hell was I supposed to put it?!

After a brief Brad Pitt style “what’s in the box?!?!” freak out, I pulled myself together. While ‘renting a truck, packing up all of my stuff, and moving back to Ohio’ was a much easier option, I decided to try to cook with the box of lawn on my counter.

I tore into the box looking for answers, hints or any semblance of sanity. I found none. All that was in the box were vegetation and the small rubber shackles that forced their chaos into bundles. No labels. No UPC tags. No cute recipe suggestions. No nothing. How was I supposed to cook with something without knowing what the hell it was? I’m sure that Apple has an app for that but I have a Blackberry so I was shit outta luck.

I decided that instead of throwing it away or grinding it up and trying to pass it off as weed for a few extra bucks, I would do with it what I do with all foods that I don’t understand:  chop it up and put in a skillet.

To be honest, it worked with a lot of the stuff and it didn’t taste half bad. Over the next week or so whenever a friend would come over I would, ever so cavalier, throw some greens on for a snack. Once I made sure to get them to notice they would inevitably ask: “What are you eating?”   “Oh, this? Eh, just some fresh greens that I got from a local farmer last week. No biggie.” It was always hard for me to not break out into a Beach Boys song, but I managed.

Each week brought with it a new pick up. A new box full of California adventure that was just as leafy and confusing as the one before it. But I dove in headfirst and I loved it. For a while.

I had slowly begun to like my produce boxes. It was something different. Something new. And, honestly, it made me feel cool in a downplayed, “I don’t ever care that I’m cool which is why I’m so cool” kind of way. But just as my feelings started to turn up towards them…

… my kitchen started to have an odd aroma. It smelled a tad like feet. Feet that had just walked through garbage. On a hot day. It wasn’t good. It didn’t take long to pinpoint the problem. My box of California pride was starting to spoil.

It turns out that I wasn’t nearly California enough to be able to eat the entire forest that was delivered to me every week. I mean, seriously, how many plants can a guy eat before he becomes Poison Ivy and has to start fighting Batman? I wouldn’t have blinked at a 3-pound burger challenge or a restaurant with bottomless French fries but this was ridiculous. A whole box of vegetables? There’s no way that can be good for you. Ya know, when I was a kid, rumor was that my neighbor ate so many carrots that his skin started to turn orange. That’s not healthy!

It turns out that the only thing more unappetizing than a box of food you don’t understand is a box of moldy food that you don’t understand.

So I was forced to discontinue my produce box. At first, I didn’t miss it. I went back to eating canned beans and buying apples in bulk. But shortly after the separation, I was at a Chili’s trying to connect with my roots when I found myself skimming the menu. “Do they have anything leafy and green? Maybe some rainbow chard or a kale salad?” What…? Whose thoughts are these? I dismissed them and ordered a Two for Twenty deal featuring taquitos, a quesadilla and a sundae. I felt at home. A lot of mass-market food for not a lot of money.

But a small voice somewhere deep inside of me was saying: “pay more for something fresh.” I sat amongst the kitsch of the Mexican Applebees and realized – I couldn’t go back. I’d been bitten by the local and sustainable food bug and there was no way out of it. Little did I know at the time how hard the bug had bitten.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the shit out of my taquitos, though…

- dc

One Response to local produce

  1. Nettie says:

    Wow! Great thiiknng! JK

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