Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's everywhere!

Kale-induced guilt finds its way to Slate.

Belonging to a community garden sounds like a nice thing to do. But to receive a weekly box of organic vegetables not of your choosing sounds about as close as an adult could get, without joining the army, to returning to the powerlessness of a child at mealtimes. Except that when you're a child, and you're sitting there thinking, 'Not kale again', you know that when you grow up, you won't have to spend a cent of your hard-earned money on foods you dislike. Whereas when you're getting boxes of local/sustainable Goodness, week-in, week-out, there's no escape from these restraints on choice to look forward to.

On the one hand, you're getting these boxes because you chose to sign up for this service. On the other, the thought of determining what you eat on the basis of such small-scale, super-local availability sounds horribly depressing, and as such does not sound like the most sustainable approach to sustainability.

But what do I know. If you're receiving these boxes and loving it, by all means comment away.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like war-time rationing to me. So, yes--depressing.

PG said...

I like the sound of it -- it seems perfectly valid for people who like a variety of vegetables and who cook regularly. I couldn't do it because I cook once a week and have to deal with a somewhat picky eater, but I have friends in Brooklyn and in Massachusetts who are near-vegetarians and who participate in these. Some people look upon it as an adventure: the surprise of what they'll get, and then the process of deciding how to cook it. It's a different experience than thinking, "I want to make X" and then going to the store to buy the ingredients necessary, but I don't think it's either like rationing or like being a child.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Sure you don't just like it because of a contrarian impulse? (I kid. Sort of.) Because even if you are not picky and are confident that you'll like whatever they send, you might find yourself with a craving for something not in the box, or just plain not in the mood that week for one of the vegetables in question. Even if what you're craving is something local, seasonal, and nutritious, i.e. not Twinkies, you can't go buy it because that would mean throwing out perfectly good turnips from your subscription. In that sense it's just like a dining hall, rationing, or child-living-with-parents situation - there is food on the outside, but you can't really access it, and you feel like a bad person for wanting it. Given the amount of guilt already surrounding food (the carbon footprint, the calories, the price...), why add one more?

PG said...

I really do like the idea of CSAs. I momentarily thought about asking a friend in Mass., who was trying to get together a group of 4 to split a box, if her offer to drive over someone's share would extend to NYC.

you can't go buy it because that would mean throwing out perfectly good turnips from your subscription... you can't really access it, and you feel like a bad person for wanting it.

Whaaa? Bittman's advice consists entirely of telling the writer to buy stuff that will make her vegetables tastier: pasta! sesame oil! soy sauce! rice! olive oil! The only item that he suggests eating straight outta the CSA box is kiwi, which for some reason he doesn't like (I hate the brown furry but love peeled kiwi).

I don't see where there's any suggestion that one must subsist solely on the contents of the box.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

OK, then I accept your sincerity.

"I don't see where there's any suggestion that one must subsist solely on the contents of the box."

Not solely, but it becomes a matter of how you prepare the turnips, not whether or not you'll be having turnips. If you're not up for turnips that week, oh well. (Extra purchases - soy sauce, etc. - do not involve throwing out the box items. Deciding against turnips altogether, on the other hand...)

It's a bit like an exaggerated version of the Park Slope Food Co-op. While I'm not a fan of it primarily for unrelated reasons, some friends of mine who were in principle in favor of the thing joined a while back, then let their memberships lapse, because arrangements that involve investing time and/or money into getting food from a particular and thus limited source - in a city where options are just about endless - are tough to sustain. Once you want to get groceries that include ingredients not available at the Co-op, or at a store closer to your home or work, volunteering shifts at the Co-op starts to seem like less of a bargain.

Of course, all of this might add up to my liking to go food shopping more than I'd like to admit. Comparing the options near NYU to those near UChicago, I remember why I now find it not entirely a chore.

PG said...

Sure, you're supposed to eat the turnips at some point (or find another use for them), but I guess I don't see throwing them out as any more guilt-inducing than other forms of wastage. I've had to give up buying meat/fish from FreshDirect because the mealtimes when my husband and I will a) both be home for dinner; b) have at least one person with the time and energy to cook; and c) not have a random craving for a burger; are so rare and unpredictable that I was wasting what I bought. Having wasted about $20 this way in the last couple months, I finally stopped trying.

My life, in terms of time and interest in cooking at home, is on the other end of a spectrum from the the CSA life (which seems to entail more leisure and less money), but I don't pity them as brainwashed Soviets; I rather envy their form of freedom and agency. When I was in school, I got a sense of satisfaction from making a good dinner off the spaghetti squash from the farmer's market and shrimp that had been on final sale at Morton Williams, that can't be replicated from the vast choices on Seamless.

In other words, CSAs might help capture there being something be more to enjoying food than just the immediate utility of putting into your mouth what you feel like having right now. (Cue Mary Eberstadt...)

Anonymous said...

Is a CSA always just vegetables? I mean, could a whole hog be delivered? Preferably live, so it could eat the turnips?