Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lean, mean and less greens - relearning how to eat

I love green vegetables. Always have. My mom likes to remind me that my favourite food as a kid was broccoli. String beans, rapini, spinach, bok choi, artichokes, I love them all. I once gave myself kidney stones from eating asparagus at every meal for 3 days. I would chose brussel sprouts over cake without the slightest hesitation.

So the one thing I hadn’t considered when we decided to try to eat seasonally and locally was that I would some how miss out on my greens. I mean we live in the middle of the Greenbelt, some of the best agricultural land in Ontario, and getting local produce in abundance for a good portion of the year should be simple, right? So how is it the middle of November and I haven’t had a single brussel sprout yet this fall?

The switch to local eating has been a gradual one and I still have much to learn in terms of timing. I know enough to put away asparagus when it appears in May so I’ll have some in winter. I don’t buy strawberries in January, I wait till the local ones appear in June to get them, then make preserves and freeze some. The tomatoes I grew this summer have been canned, sauced, dried and frozen whole to be enjoyed all winter. I have frozen corn and dried beans galore. But somehow I failed to get much in the way of greens put away; I have some frozen rapini and edemame, along with the asparagus and I pickled a mess of beans both green and yellow, but I’m afraid to start dipping into them already. Winter hasn’t even begun here and it’s long time till spring and fresh greens. We have still have plenty of local winter squash and root vegetables available but I’m already ill at the thought of eating another carrot. Brussel sprouts are usually my mainstay green this time of year but they’ve been almost impossible to come by. I must have missed the local season at the produce stands and our weekly farmer’s market had them one week but was sold out before I knew. I even checked the chain grocery store recently but the only brussel sprouts available were imports from who know where in the US and I had to force myself to pass them up. It’s going to be a long winter and I know from last year that eating too many starchy vegetables is tough for me; I gain weight and am a lot more lethargic and moody. In the dead of winter I find myself dreaming of sautéed snow pea leaves or Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and I know it’s the chlorophyll calling me.

There are still some local greens available well into the winter months here. We’ve been eating a lot of cabbage and I’ve made some into Kim chi too. I’ve been trying to make use of kale as well but every recipe I see either adds tons of fats like bacon or combines it with other foods to make it more palatable. But some days I just crave lightly steamed greens with a bit of lemon or salt and that's more difficult to come by. I’ve been able to pick up fresh local spinach which I’ve been adding to soups and stews and the occasional omlette. Until we ran out of eggs, which brings me to the next challenge.

Eggs are another thing I’ve always taken for granted. They’re cheap, nutritious and readily available in the supermarket. That is if you can overlook the possibility that your grocery store eggs likely came from a factory ‘farm’. Part of making conscious choices with food involves understanding where the food come from and once you’ve opened that door it’s difficult to go back. It makes no sense to me to be picky about where my veggies come from and ignore the deplorable conditions that most animals raised for food consumption are raised in. Switching to free run eggs seems to be an easy choice but then the cost factor comes in. This is not a complaint about being over charged; I recognize that our food system is broken and our food is falsely undervalued, leaving farmers to go broke while the grocery stores are full of cheap food. But for people on a limited budget the difference between paying $2/doz for factory farmed eggs and $6/doz for ethically raised is a difficult choice and some times means going without. Our food budget for the 3 adults in our household averages around $200/ month- that’s total, not each. We eat very well for that amount but it takes some creative buying and cooking to do so. Back in the summer I found a local green grocer who was selling free run eggs for $3.50/dozen-she gets them straight from the farm and they are lovely fresh eggs with deep coloured yolks and properly hardened shells. So eggs went back on the menu, with a guilt free conscience. I stopped in to pick some up yesterday to find she was sold out. And because it’s coming on winter and the hens aren't crammed in a artificial environment, they'll be laying a lot less so she won’t be getting as many for a while. She didn’t mention if the price will go up accordingly but I will have to make an effort to get to her store on the day the eggs arrive each week if I hope eat eggs regularly this winter. It’s just another piece in the rethinking how to eat process.

I know overall we have it pretty good. We eat healthy, freshly prepared and varied meals and I’m learning more every day about how to shop and preserve seasonally. We definitely won’t starve and I’m unlikely to develop scurvy no matter what my dreams tell me. I’ll just have to close my eyes and plug my ears when I have to walk by the produce section in the grocery store, so the veggies flown here from far away warmth can’t lure me in.


  1. Have you tried sprouting? It's a cheap way to have local winter greens.

  2. I have done sprouting in winters past and it does help a lot but I usually like to wait till at least January otherwise I'll be sick of them too. Plus I enjoying seeing things growing in the dead of winter.

    The universe must have heard me yesterday because when I stopped at the supermarket to pick up cat food and toilet paper I found Ontario green beans and brussel sprouts at a good price! Neither of them looked super fresh and aren't suitable for freezing but at least I got a fix for now. They also had 10lb bags of local potatoes for $3 and 10 lb bags of Ontario yellow onions for $2 so it was a happy but heavy walk home!