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Rethinking Winter Eating…Again

As I type, I am enjoying a mug of spicy, coconut chicken soup.  Hold it, you may be thinking, did she just write coconut?  Yes, dear reader, I did.  Not only does this soup have coconut, but it also contains lemon and ginger!  The chicken part is stock made from a local chicken I picked up last weekend.  The coconut and lemon are organic, and the chili flakes are organic and fair trade.  But still, the majority of the ingredients in this soup are not local.

I wrote earlier about how I decided to relax some of my rules, at least in the winter, to allow for more diversity in my cooking.  Sticking to almost exclusively local ingredients for three winters in a row now is starting to make this lifestyle very tedious even for someone like me who can eat variations leek & potato soup seemingly forever.  I was really starting to get tired of my limited recipes and decided that I needed to give myself a little breathing room if I was going to keep going.

Nevertheless, I struggled over each item purchased for this soup, and any others that don’t fit my criteria of small-scale, local and organic (such as the capers for my lamb roast last weekend – what exactly are capers anyway, and can I make them myself this year?).  The ginger, I bow my head in shame, is conventional.  I could not justify driving an hour to the nearest place that sells organic ginger simply for this one ingredient.  I will be sure to stock up on organic ginger (which, along with lemons, is called for in many of the new recipes I’m trying) next time I am in the vicinity of that shop.  Even worse, the coconut came in a can, which is coated with plastic and now sitting in my recycle bin waiting for a fossil-fuel guzzling process to turn it into something useful again.  Next time I will try making it with a real coconut – I just need to find where I can buy one!  And I expect I’ll then be faced with the dilemma: unpackaged but conventional real coconut vs. canned yet organic coconut milk.  Both options, naturally, being imported and produced industrially on large-scale.

Yeesh, just writing this all down is getting me to rethink my choice to include such items in my diet at all.  The soup is mighty delicious, however, and I’m feeling more fortified by the minute (the recipe in question is this one from Nourishing Traditions, touted as a good winter soup for when you are feeling under the weather, as I am tonight).  Hold on a minute while I get a another cup…

…mmmm, that’s better.  Now where was I?  Oh, right, contemplating my food purchasing choices.

I have struggled with such choices ever since I started down this path 2.5 years ago and have come to the conclusion that there are no clear answers.  Sticking absolutely to a local, organic diet would deprive me of certain elements that my body really needs, such as sea salt.  I can survive, but is this really healthy? By this time last year I had to start taking vitamin supplements to keep my energy up.  That was a warning bell for me, and led me to rethink how I’d approach this winter.

One concern I have is that our soil is simply too depleted to provide us with everything we need at all times.  This is likely especially true of root vegetables (ie. winter fare), although most of mine came from an organic farm that goes to great lengths to develop outstanding soil fertility.  Indeed, since eating veggies from this place (Orchard Hill & Fairmeadow Farms), I have noticed a big improvement in my health and decreases in cravings for things like chocolate (which indicates a magnesium deficiency) and so on.  Still, sticking to a strictly local diet this time of year was not doing great things for my body.

The other issue is that of boredom.  A very important, yet often overlooked, aspect of food is the pleasure it gives.  I believe very strongly that aesthetic enjoyment builds health, be it through eyes stimulated by beauty, ears by music or our taste buds by delicious food.  Let’s face it, canned food just doesn’t quite stimulate the taste buds like their fresh counterparts.  They don’t have their nutrients either.  Indeed, canned food is devoid of much of the nutrition that can be found in the raw ingredients, a big argument in favour of fermenting over canning foods.

For this reason I didn’t do nearly as much canning this year, predominantly making items like stewed or canned fruit for deserts.  Instead I tried experimenting with more fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and sourdough.  These are staples in my diet this winter and I am finding myself much healthier than this time last year.  The raw milk and pastured, grass finished lamb and beef I’m getting I expect is contributing significantly to this as well.  Add to that a good supply of fresh kale, a few lemons, a little ginger and a can or two of coconut milk, and I think I am finding a better balance for making it through the cold months.

Put this way, I no longer feel guilty about my soup.  Now to have one last serving before bottling the rest for lunches next week…


3 Responses

  1. Great Post! I feel the same way!

    The majority of my food purchases over the winter have remained local but I do admit I’ve caved and bought some non-local things like romaine lettuce every now and then 🙂

  2. Although I can’t say I even eat a 50% local diet in the winter. I do however buy the majority of my non-local food choices at independent small businesses and grocers. I’m glad you’ve chosen healthy over ethical purchasing 🙂 I too think variety is extremely important in keeping us happy with our respective diets. I can totally relate to this since as a (mostly) vegetarian I thrive on experimenting with many different cuisines. Otherwise, I’m quite sure I’d venture back to meat and potato dinners out of convenience!

  3. These are tough choices — one thig that helps is to avoid the grocery store when hungry.

    Today is my wife’s Birthday and yesterday I bought a special treat, a passion fruit from Colombia to add som zing to a special breakfast (if you have ever been to the tropics and had fresh passion fruit you will know what I mean by zing). Sad to say the flavour was not there. The point is, often-times imported produce does not have the flavour, etc of local, and beyond the environmental/social issues simply dissapointing. In summer we love each crop in season. And do out best to eat winter foods and preserves in winter — not only because of ethical issues — but because of taste. Our frozen strawberries are far supperior to the imported passion fruit. Luckily we ahve a wnter-greenhouse that keeps us in greens till December, and is already showing signs of growth for early spring.

    Imported oganic vs local conventional is also a dilemma you raised. Personally, I favour local vs imported, and secondarily organic. I like to support local growers, and think the toxins spewed in the air from transport ofset the possible benefits of (industrialized) organic cropping in California.

    Anyhow, bottom line is we are here and will have impacts. My philosophy is to try to do good by my fellow humans(buy local) and to balance leaving as small a footprint as resonable while enjoying life (coffee, chocolatem and the ocasional imported treat — e.g., a passion fruit in feb). I trust that the planet is resilient enough to wash away whatever treads I leave behind.

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