Wednesday, April 30, 2008

One of my pleasures in life

... is cooking. I really enjoy crafting an incredibly delicious meal, preferably with fresh-from-the-farmer ingredients, and savoring the flavor. I'm constantly on the lookout for new recipes and ideas (just ask the librarian in the town where I work ...)

So I was excited to come home from an extraordinarily long day to find in my mailbox not just dairy-case coupons from Wegmans, but the latest issue of Wegmans Menu Magazine as well! The magazine's all the more exciting now that they've begun putting coupons in it.

The cover shows a luscious-looking piece of Cedar-Plank Salmon still on the slightly charred plank, garnished with some lime slices. In fact, the issue seems to focus on seafood in general. Not something that's in my budget these days, given recent events, but there's nothing wrong with quietly drooling over the food-porn images, right?

In addition to the seafood, sandwiches and smoothies (ample alliterations abound!), there is a section devoted to heirloom tomatoes. I saw a handful of these irregularly shaped and colored beauties at my local Wegmans the other day, so I'm not terribly surprised to find them featured in the Menu magazine ... but they aren't at all in season. Well, they must be somewhere ... just not here. I guess.

Anyway - immediately following the heirloom tomato recipe section is a special article on Wegmans' commitment to locally grown foods. It looks like a nice article, one that prompted a flood of thoughts.

First of all, I started scanning the article for mention of any of the farmers I know - Wyllie Fox Farm, Wake Robin, Stone's Throw Farm, etc. Nope; not this issue. (The magazine has a multi-state distribution, so the editorial board understandably took a sampling of farmers from around their operating area.)

I realized that I know at least half a dozen more local food producers this year than I did last year at this time. I've broken bread with wonderful people who I wouldn't have met if it weren't for one person who introduced me to the Eat Local challenge last summer.

And then it struck me - the difference just one person can make in a neighborhood, a community, a county, a state, a nation.

Because I learned of the Eat Local challenge, I was compelled to seek out locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, beverages. I found other people in town doing the same thing, and I got to know the people who grow the food I use to feed my family. And now my family and friends have learned about eating locally and where to go to find what they need, and they're telling their friends.

And that brings me back to a conundrum. Do I make the weekly 20-minute drive to the Regional Market, where there are plenty of local food producers I can actually chat with and who offer the most amazing veggies to be found anywhere ... or do I drive 2 miles to the Wegmans down the street any time I like in season and purchase my locally grown veggies there as an anonymous consumer?

The thrifty side says, Save on gas. Just go to the store and be done with it.

The rest of me says, But where's the fun in that? Where's the sense of community, of connection?

So I think I'll be making regular trips to the market (that is, when I'm not hiking in the woods somewhere) and savoring the experience as my weekly treat to myself. I'm sure I'll find whatever's called for in any of those Menu magazine recipes ... and then some.