The recent record-breaking cold temperatures in Florida are now sending shock waves across the US – in the form of higher produce prices, and with shortages of vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and other crops. I was reminded of this watching HLN this morning while on the dreadmill at the gym. It’s on the news everywhere.
I feel for the growers, whose livelihood is threatened by crop damage and losses. Rising prices won’t help if you have no crop to sell. I also feel for restaurant owners, who are scrambling to find alternate sources and absorbing higher costs while trying to not raise prices and drive away customers in an already fragile economy.
But how did our food system ever get in this shape, where a hiccup in Florida (or California) is felt by folks hundreds or thousands of miles away? How did we come to expect a slice of tomato on our Burger Doodle sandwich, even though it’s the middle of winter, and the tomato is going to be bland and tasteless anyway? And don’t get me going on the food poisoning scares of recent years involving spinach, tomatoes, peppers and other foods. Food safety is a whole other issue, for another day perhaps.
Am I the only one that sees the irony in all this?
After all, I don’t think it’s normal for a person like me, living in the Midwest, to expect fresh warm-season vegetables all year round. A trip to the grocery will quickly reveal how far some of the produce there has traveled, and how it isn’t really fresh – at least not by my definition.
For example, on a recent trip to Sam’s Club to buy some staples, I noticed that the “fresh” asparagus came from Mexico and the pea pods and green beans came from Guatemala. I passed on them.
But back to tomatoes. Given that it’s March, and I haven’t had a fresh tomato since maybe last November, I’m as anxious as the next person for a ripe, juicy slice of tomato. I just don’t expect to find one at the supermarket in winter! I sowed some early tomato seeds last week on March 1st, and with any luck we will get our first taste of fresh tomato by late June. Until then, we’ll make do by enjoying our dried tomatoes, and our frozen sauces, purees and other tomato products we put up last year.
I know our answer doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for us: we grow our own food, as much as we can. We enjoy what we can when it’s in season, and preserve as much as we can for the rest of the year. We try our best to buy local, though it’s not possible for all things. And it won’t be long, maybe a few weeks or so, and we’ll be enjoying fresh homegrown asparagus. I mean, really fresh asparagus, grown in our own backyard. Total transportation distance: maybe 100 feet. Time from harvest to table: minutes.
As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “to every thing there is a season”. Who am I to argue with that?