Food for Thought
Growing up in the Bronx, New York in the 1950’s every vegetable I ate, and I was required to eat them all, came from a can. My concept of good food was circumscribed by the lack of access to fresh, local produce, my dad’s preference for plain meat and potatoes, and the abundance of supposedly healthy canned food. I had no idea green vegetables were actually bright green until adulthood. The “feira,” or weekly outdoor market I shopped at in São Paulo, Brazil as a young newlywed offered a profusion of fresh fruits and vegetables that was an entirely new world for me.
I later learned from author Joan Gussow that after World War II American housewives, especially those who had been working while the men were fighting overseas, were told that canned food was part of the “modern,” efficient way to manage a household, and, with added vitamins, was actually more nutritious for their families.
When I returned to the States and began raising my own family, I bought “fresh” food in the markets, but cooking was still a chore and I certainly wasn’t discriminating in my choices. I can probably say that both cooking and shopping for food only became a pleasure when I lived in Ithaca, NY where the farmers market was a fixture of the local culture. Since then, building menus around what I find in farmers markets on the weekend has become routine, although restricted to seasonal availability. My friend, culinary professional and writer Barbara Newton Holmes, whose cooking has delighted me for many years, and who now publishes Culinary Oracle, always seems surprised when I remind her that those of who do not live in California do not have the year-round abundance she enjoys.
When I moved back to the Berkshires, I discovered that I live about a mile from a wonderful farm stand, FortHill Farm, so I don’t even need to wait for the weekend. When I stop by in the morning for lettuce they go out into the field to pick it for me. I just made some pesto from fresh picked basil.
The fruits and vegetable are delicious and the family that runs the farm is friendly and helpful. The other day Will, who will start school in September, introduced himself while munching on a crisp green pepper. He solemnly informed me that the birds would eat the pieces he discarded. “Auntie” Bridget always has a smile and was happy to point out what had just been picked when I asked her if I could take pictures. The farm stand is a visual feast.
But best of all Bridget told me that the stand is open weekends in the winter for meat, eggs and root vegetables and they will even meet a customer at the farm during the week. I will soon be missing my peaches, but perhaps living seasonally has its own rewards. Rather than taking them for granted year-round, I can anticipate and appreciate foods as they become available.
Many years ago, when asked what it took to be a leader, one thing I listed was energy. Our long days and diverse challenges require stamina as well as skills; what we eat can either sustain or drain us. And yes, there were days when it seemed like I was living on higher ed’s ubiquitous coffee and chocolate chip cookies, but I’m sure I was less productive, and probably less pleasant.
How lucky I am to be in a place, physically and metaphorically, where the foods I eat stimulate all my senses and give me joy.