A few years back I started getting interested in the concepts of eating locally and seasonally. I read Michael Pollan as well as Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. I philosophised (mostly alone because I didn’t have a blog or know many people interested in this sort of stuff). I gave away books by the authors above to people who didn’t care much about these things and probably never read the books (does anyone else do that? does it ever work?). Then somewhere I started to internalise it and see it as something I could actually do. Not 100%, all the time extreme, more a pathway, a moving towards, a living philosophy. I don’t practice a 100-mile diet but rather I try to eat food that is roughly local and definitely seasonal. My definition of local is a bit broad. Grown by myself is the best, next is grown in my state and third is grown in Australia. If it’s grown outside of Australia then it ain’t local! Sort of ever-increasing concentric circle-ishs of localness.
Why? It’s partly environmental. You know the drill, all things being equal, if food hasn’t travelled as far then it’s generally used less fuel, and hence, created fewer greenhouse gas molecules than if it travelled further. If it’s seasonal, then farmers don’t have to fight a plants natural instincts so they’re less likely to have pest problems (and less likely to need lots of pesticides) and it’s more likely to be able to grow outside and not need energy intensive hothouses.
I also eat locally and seasonally because it helps me feel connected…to the Earth, to the seasons, to the cycle of life. And it makes food seem more special. Asparagus and cherries that I can only eat in spring remain something that I look forward to eating all year and then relish during the 2 months or so that they are available. Otherwise they just become part of the standard fodder that’s always there. Everyday, boring, not special at all.
The idea of local and seasonal was the incentive I needed to start frequenting farmers markets. It changed the way I cooked. And it changed how I ate (3 years ago I’d never even seen kohl rabi, now it’s a winter staple). It’s a pathway that I thoroughly enjoy.
So on the weekend, when we had our friends over for brunch, I wanted to try to keep as close as possible to local and seasonal. But when it came to my fruit platter (to accompany the babka) I admit to feeling that local and seasonal was a bit disappointing. Around here a “normal” fruit platter includes all types of colourful exotics irrespective of season: watermelon, pineapple, cherries, strawberries, grapes. You kind of need to use impressive fruit just to have an average run of the mill platter. I bought lovely juicy sweet pears and apples and oranges at the farmers market. But it just didn’t feel like “enough” to serve to guests. So I caved and went to the supermarket. I bought kiwi fruit from New Zealand (seasonal but not local) and strawberries from Queensland. I hear you say oh, yes, strawberries and you live in Australia, it’s winter, very unseasonal. But actually these strawberries are in season. They grow special varieties in Qld that grow in the winter when it’s cool enough there. No, the real reason why the didn’t classify was because even though technically, they’re Australian, so technically, they’re within the extreme of my definition of local, they just couldn’t cut it with a platter of Victorian farmers’ market fruit.
At our brunch, desert came, the babka was served and I cut and presented a fruit platter. It looked lovely: fans of pink lady apple and beurre bosc pear, little rounds of kiwi fruit and bright red strawberries tumbling amongst it all. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo and I only have a picture of what was left over once everyone had gone home….
…Did you notice how the only things left were strawberries and kiwifruit? That all the “plain” apple and pear slices were gobbled up? Yes, I learnt a lesson on Sunday. You only need “showy”, “exotic” fruit if your “plain” fruit is tasteless supermarket stuff. If your apples and pears are lovely juicy, sweet, picked when they’re ripe and quick to the table then they do more than hold their own amongst the shiny, coloured, tasteless supermarket imposters!