Whenever I consider eating something, I try to stick to some basic rules. Each one is not hard and fast, and I do tend to make some exceptions, but I try to stick to them most of the time to ensure that my diet stays at least relatively healthful, wholesome and environmentally sound. My rules are that the majority of what I bring into the kitchen and eat should be from local sources, sustainable, healthful and clean, and by doing this each time I shop or prepare, I know I’m making good choices for myself and my family.
Questions to ask yourself.
Did I grow/harvest/collect/hunt or fish this?
If it came from my garden, or I got it in some other way and know its source, I know it is good for us. Ideally you should be able to answer yes to this question most of the time.
Could I have grown this?
Maybe I didn’t grow it, but it is something that I could have grown if I had the time/space/energy. This is a dangerous one because lots of things might have been grown locally, but were in fact planted with genetically modified seed, sprayed with toxins, picked before their prime by exploited workers, packed in non-renewable packaging, and trucked from 1000 miles away, like most veggies we find in the store. If it passes the “I could have grown it” question, see below. Anything from a farmers market should answer yes to this question.
Did it come from my area?
Is it something that has been eaten in season by people from your area for eons? If it’s a kiwi in December, and you don’t live in the tropics, you might want to put it back.
Did someone I know make this?
This is a good test, and an easy one. It is a pleasure to answer yes to when you have something special, like a gift of honey, or fish. If you know who got it and where, it’s probably safe.
Is it fresh/clean/organic?
Has it been polluted in any way? Is it rotten? Poisonous? Has it been cleaned properly? This question rules out lots of stuff in the supermarket. Most produce items have been treated with pesticides or other chemicals. Organic is a good choice, but not always enough. This question also pertains to things you might hunt, fish or gather for yourself, like mushrooms, squid, or rabbit. I will emphasize that all gatherers should have knowledge about what they are seeking and how to collect and clean it properly. That is one benefit of technology today. All the information we need is at our fingertips.
Is it seasonal?
Most fresh foods should be in season before you decide to put them on your menu. While there are a multitude of ways to store fresh produce and staples for later times, if you will be eating it fresh, you want to make sure it is in season. It is one way to insure that it doesn’t come with too high of a carbon price.
Olive oil is a must in our house, and we try to choose extra virgin organic oil. For important information on olive oils, check out http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/ The book Extra Virginity has some shocking information. A must read for olive oil lovers.
Nuts are another staple. Almonds, especially, are very beneficial to health, so we usually keep a supply of them in the house. Good, fairly inexpensive nuts can be found at Trader Joe’s.
Salt and spices. Every kitchen need a good supply of fine herbs and spices, and I only grow herbs. For salt I always use Norton’s coarse kosher salt or natural sea salt, never table salt. Here is a photo of Trout baked in Salt. Coated entirely, the salt makes a crust that can be cracked off. For the recipe, see here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/whole-fish-baked-in-salt-crust-recipe/index.html
Today I am out to hunt the abundant cattail root. A delicacy in spring, and a staple for the summer, cattails grow wild in any swampy area throughout New England. The roots are mild and can be eaten raw, while the new shoots, paired down to reveal the white inner parts, are similar to leeks. Sauteed with butter and salt, they make an excellent side dish.