Eating locally is the Make It Fresh part of the title for this series. It cannot be understated. What sets most Mediterranean cultures apart from us is the use of fresh, locally available, seasonal resources. The concept of a mass merchandiser that has everything you are looking for in one stop is unheard of in many cultures. You don’t decide on what you are making for dinner and then run to the local Walmart Superstore to get everything you need. Your daily meals are dictated by what you find at the market that morning.
Think about it. Most of what we buy at the store comes from somewhere else. Lets factor in how long it took to get here, how much it cost to get it here and how many pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals were used in the preservation of the items we are purchasing so that they still look palatable. All of a sudden, our instant gratification, fast food lifestyle doesn’t seem particularly appealing does it. Substitute that with freshly picked produce that came from a local farm, farm fresh eggs that were collected this morning, fish that has been caught this morning, locally produced wine and cheese, all at an affordable price. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it.
In France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Greece, all over the Mediterranean, a trip to the local market for food is a daily pleasure. That’s not to say larger grocery stores don’t exist, particularly in bigger cities, but in general, the local market is where most people find what they will be eating on any given day. When I spent 6 months in Paris studying for my Bachelor’s Degree in French at the Sorbonne, I would pass by the local market on my way to school every day. I was taken aback by the colors, smells and tastes of the produce, cheeses and other items being sold there. I couldn’t believe how fragrant a tomato could be when it was freshly picked or how pungent a fresh goat cheese could be. I had the same unique pleasure in Morocco and in Italy. Market after market, loaded with fresh ingredients of all kinds. It was eye opening and really changed my perspective of what good food really is.
For example, it wasn’t unheard of in Morocco for someone to actually buy a live chicken in the market and then bring it home and feed it a specific diet depending upon what kind of dish that chicken would eventually be cooked in. I heard arguments about how one shopkeeper fed his chicken grain to fatten it, while another fed it parsley and cilantro so it would have the flavor of the parsley and cilantro he was using in his stew, even if it gave the meat a slightly greenish hue. The point being they were so passionate about what they were eating that they made sure to take the time not only to get the freshest chickens, but to treat them in such a way as to maximize their flavor. No pre-butchered, pretty plastic wrapped cut pieces in a refrigerator or freezer.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you should never shop at a grocery store again. There is a time and place for everything. What I am suggesting is that we maybe pay a little more attention to what we can find locally. If I can get farm fresh eggs within a 5 mile radius and Walmart is 15 miles away, doesn’t it make more sense to go to the farm and get some fresh eggs?? Or if the Farmer’s Market and Walmart are both equidistant, which in Princeton they are, doesn’t it make sense to go to the market to pick up my produce, knowing that it was all picked fresh and grown locally, then to Walmart where I can’t guarantee when it was picked and where it was grown and how long it took to get there. All of this is just good common sense. Your food will taste better and you will be supporting your local economy.
Mediterranean cuisine isn’t something unreachable. It is very accessible simply through changing a few basic habits. Begin with stocking your spice cabinet with the basic spices of the region as we discussed in Part 2 of this series and then start looking at what you can find fresh and local. Then you are well on your way to adopting the basic tenets of the Mediterranean Diet.
For locally available resources, contact me and I’ll send you a list of all of the farms locally that can offer you practically anything you need from meat, eggs and produce to herbs, spices and bread. Call at 815-454-2419 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can log onto www.localharvest.org to find out what is available in your area.