I've had an interesting food-oriented week this week, and it's not even over yet. On Monday, I attended several panels at The New School as part of Edible Magazine's Eat, Drink, Local Week. I was able to hear the thoughts behind the supposed renaissance of DIY food creation, like butchering and canning, and to listen to whether or not "authentic eats" are just coming into their own or if they are already past their prime. The topic of what are "authentic" eats was quite debated, as this is a term that morphs with each wave of immigrants to the city and what cuisine gains ground through osmosis into the American culture.
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the entire third panel, which covered the changes in the New York area food system from the earliest menus on file at the New York Public Library to the founding of the Greenmarkets and beyond. Having read Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York by William Grimes, I've been fascinated about how what previous inhabitants of this area ate and how things have changed. In some ways, I thought that all of these should have been melded into one giant panel or brought together in some manner, as they seemed to cover an arc of food history that encompasses how we make our food (pre-packaged vs. DIY), what kind of dishes we eat (Italo-American, German, Jewish, etc.), and how we actually get the items we need to make meals to eat (i.e., local farmers' markets and small speciality shops)
As part of the Eat Drink Local Week, Edible is partnering with several organizations, including GrowNYC, which organizes the Greenmarkets. Edible has even issued a challenge to make folks more aware of their local food community and the resources that exist in their region. While some of these are specific to New York, it's not a bad list to try to tackle in any area to become in tune with what might be some locavore options where you live. I've actually done quite a few items on the list as my diet has become more oriented towards shopping in the farmers' markets in the city. The one thing I did decide to do this week is a variation on item #2; I decided to go to the Union Square Greenmarket but on a different day.
So I know that may not be entirely in keeping with the spirit of the challenge, but, for me, it's a big change. I'm wedded to going to the market on Saturdays and planning all of my meals around what is there, especially as it is a little bit of a trek from where I live. Today proved to be a bit of an adventure for me. First of all, I stumbled upon New Green City, which was being sponsored at the southern end of the park. The exhibits there were intriguing and interesting, all in the name of environmental education:
Solar S'mores Maker - why didn't we think of this in scouts!
How many plastic bottles NYC-ers go through in 20 minutes
Fresh-pressed apple cider via a hand-crank press
After walking around for a bit, I decided I needed to visit the usual market vendors as well. The sun had started to get strong, so it was time to try something I'd been reading about for a while, locally made People's Pops. I had the Peach and White Grape variety. Cool and tart, this is the way to get up to your 5-a-day fruit intake! They are located right next to one of my favorite stands for juice: Red Jacket Orchards. I am hooked on their Grape-Apple flavor.
Another stop I made was by Hot Bread Kitchen, whose story you really need to read. Not only a bakery, it is a place that uses baking to teach lower-income woman how to run a food business. Some of the breads they sell are inspired by recipes from the women who have come through the program. I had a sample of the intriguingly named M'smen. It is a Moroccan flatbread that has a soft, chewy consistency, not quite but not unlike a crepe. In reading more about it on the site, I realized that I should not have gulped it down in a few bites but that I should have taken it home to eat with some of the local honey I purchased a few weeks back. This just means that I'll have to find another Wednesday to visit their stall.
Another unique find on my tour of the market today was the eggs. From Roaming Acres Ostrich Farm came ostrich and emu eggs. The owner let me hold one of the former. It is really heavy, and I can see why it is considered the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs. I don't even think I have a pan big enough to cook that size omelette. The shells, however, are gorgeous, and I can see why they are sometimes used to hold egg dishes in restaurants. Ostrich meat is considered very lean and tasty, as I found out when I had it on a visit to Arizona. Maybe this is something I could try at home now that I know where to buy it.
It was interesting being at the market on a day other than my usual one. The vibe was more relaxed and the crowds less hurried. I was able to see some new vendors in addition to doing my regular errands with Ronnybrook Farm and Knoll Krest eggs. For all the changes that the panelist brought up in their discussions, I think that we are going back to a time where we get to know our food suppliers and those that help to fill our plates with great local produce. Or, is this us moving forward to a new model of sustainability?