I think I can safely promise that'll be my only Dirty Dancing reference on Saturday's Mouse. Still, whenever I have a watermelon in my hands, or arms, (not that often) I think of that. It's a damn near perfect expression of that awkwardness of being somewhere you might not belong. Or at least you don't feel like you belong. Which is totally unrelated to what I'm writing about, but I like to give the cheesy 80's movies credit where I can.
I went to Headhouse this weekend, as I do most weekends, to supplement my CSA with additional goodies. I got the cheese and butter that I love from Hillacres Pride, and some funky mini eggplants and some poblanos and raw milk with which to make ricotta. That's a leap for me. Raw milk.
When I go to the farm market, I have to make sure I have cash, which is not standard for me. I'm not into cash, I'm into cards, and reward points. So I get cash and then, when I'm shopping, I need to think about how much cash I have in my pocket. Can I get two 1/2 pound butter chunks? Ok, but then I can't get spices. I could carry more cash, but then I'd spend more cash.
When I'm at the grocery store, that doesn't come up. I get to checkout, and - especially if Sous Chef Brian is with me - it's a guessing game. I have no idea how much stuff I shoved into my cart, or whether buying meat this week* has put us over our generally accepted threshold for weekly food expenditures. I feel like I'm playing the slots.
I'm aware of how irresponsible that is, and how privileged I am because I can shop like that. Fair trade coffee, and the best of cheeses and locally prepared pasta and the occasional fig jam. I would never shop for clothes the same way, or housewares, or whatever the hell else it is that I buy.
Magically, each week's spending is fairly close to the last, and it all adds up in the monthly budget, which I acknowledge has quite an allowance for food. We actually factored that in, when we decided to move from the suburbs to the city, the cost of food (mostly increased from eating out). We don't take vacations or buy "new" clothes (thank you Greene Street Consignment) but we don't think a lot about how much we spend on food either.
Wow. All of this, and no acknowledgement of the photo above?
Those are Mexican Sour Gherkins, or Cuke-a-melons, or something. They look like mini watermelons, but they taste like barely-sour pickles. I bought like three tablespoons of them for $2. Because they were cute, and weird.
Seriously though, that little white cup was $2. At Trader Joe's, they give you a free sample of hot food in a cup that size. For free.
And I bought them, not because they were they key ingredient to tonight's dinner, or because I thought this little cup would nourish me and my family (Sous Chef Brian and the cats), but because they were cute.
They're like very mild pickles.
On the Twitter, I'm particularly tuned in to food snobbery and privilege. I follow "food people" who tweet about their specially selected gourmet ingredients, and I roll my eyes, and then I catch myself buying Mexican Sour Gherkins.
There was just a hot debate about this, about Paula Deen's unhealthy but accessible food versus Anthony Bourdain's unhealthy but inaccessible (thus desirable?) food. Frankly, I wouldn't eat a damn thing either of them cooked, but that's because I'm afraid of meat and fungus (Bourdain) and lard (Deen). It's all a blur in the fetishization of food anyhow. I get two 24-hour food-related channels with my cable package, and there are literally thousands of food blogs and websites out there. I can stare at food at any hour of the day, but it does feel like I have to choose between (looking at) deep fried meatloaf and food in cans dressed up with food in other cans, and "aspirational" foods with components I would have to order online.
It's easy to forget about access to the basics when you're thinking about access to the best. Why should I get to eat Mexican Sour Gherkins while you eat out-of-season, pesticided, who knows what, imported from somewhere else? I get to choose to buy fair trade coffee and bananas, and lots of my neighbors don't have the option.
I pay hundreds of dollars up front each winter to make sure I have access to my local CSA produce all summer (the produce of questionable quality that I complain about all the time). I know that many of my neighbors can't do that. Lots of folks around here** and around the country can't get to a decent grocery store without a car, or significant ride on public transit. $2 each way. So they eat what's around. And what's around is fast food and corner stores. And even if we solved the access thing, and everyone had a bag of organic flour and some fresh, local produce on hand, lots of people are busy with multiple jobs, long commutes, families, etc, and whipping up some homemade bread and vegetable soup on a Tuesday might seem impossible.
We've made food too precious and prestigious, but the bitch of it is, we got here while on the path to figuring out what should be. Food should be local, food should be responsibly grown, food should be fresh and delicious... but all of this should be for everyone. I'm not talking about caviar and fois gras, I'm talking about swiss chard and un-hormone-y milk***. Good, wholesome, real food shouldn't be a challenge to our budgets, schedules or kitchen skills.
The farmer's markets around here are not just about getting local and organic and responsible food to fools like me, they're into getting it to everyone. Our farmer's markets (via The Food Trust) accept SNAP (food stamps) and give back $2 to spend in the markets for every $5 spent on SNAP.
Slow Food USA is acknowledging that home-cooked, thoughtful, food doesn't have to be expensive, with the $5 Challenge. Make a real meal for the cost of a fast food value meal. Share that meal.
*I haven't bought meat in three weeks. I'm not sure, but I might be getting close to that place where I say, "I eat meat sometimes, but I don't cook it. It's not something I keep in the house." Or maybe as fall hits I'll start making chili, and beef stew, and whatnot. Who knows.
**Yeah, I linked to Mark Bittman. I had one issue with the dude, otherwise, you know, he seems ok.
***I don't necessarily mean raw, I mean organic. Or otherwise antibiotic- and hormone-free cows. I'm using raw milk in this one recipe; I haven't turned my back on pasteurization.