Sunday, July 31, 2011

Putting local food on your plate ... when you can

I've just recently returned from a Summer vacation in Ireland (hence the lack of blogging for a while).  As I so often do when I'm away, I took advantage of eating local foods whenever I could. Its part of the joy of visiting another place to not only sample the regional cuisine, but to look for locally grown ingredients in the food too - its always the freshest and the flavors are almost always vastly superior.  In Ireland that included eating some of the juiciest, sweetest strawberries I've had in a very long time, from a local Kerry farm.  And it included the joys of eating fish that had arrived at the dock of the very town we stayed in (Dingle) the very day we were eating it.

Arriving back in Connecticut, its the heart of the Summer farm produce season.  The tomatoes on our own deck taste so much better than anything available in the supermaket, and the fresh basil and parsley is now in abundance.  Living on the second floor of an apartment, we're not able to grow very much more of our own food at the moment, but we are not short of local places to buy.  There are farmer's markets every week, plus local farms (especially in Easton) where you can go straight to the source.  There are also independent small stores near our home, like A and J Farm Market in Southport or the Double L Market in Westport.  Some people plan ahead and sign up to CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs where they receive a weekly or bi-monthly delivery of fresh produce from a farm either delivered to their home or to a local pick-up point.  Its probably too late for this season, but you can learn more about these at local harvest (which also provides info on local farms and farmers markets in States across the country).

Buying local food is seldom the cheapest option, because we're usually dealing with small scale producers that cannot compete with huge agribusiness.  But I find that the intensity of flavors and overall quality makes me much more appreciative of what I'm putting inside of me and, subsequently, I eat less and more healthily.  It also encourages more creativity at mealtimes with meals based on what is in season and what was coming from the farms this week.  At they have a top 10 list of reasons to eat local.

There's a lot of attention in the Jewish community these days to expanding our consciousness about food ethics.  I was reminded by a Jewish Youth Worker who I met at the URJ Kutz Camp this Summer who was from London that I've been teaching about Eco-Kashrut since the early '90s.  (It turned out, as we introduced ourselves, that she realized that I had been her Religious School teacher when she was 10, 20 years ago, and this was one of the things she remembered about my classes!).  I was inspired by teachers like Rabbi Arthur Waskow at The Shalom Center, who had been writing about it even earlier than that.

Today inspiration comes from organizations like Hazon and programs for Jews to learn about sustainable farming in the context of Judaism at places like the Adamah Fellowship program at Isabella Freedman Center or the Kayam Farm at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Baltimore.  Many Jewish organizations and schools expose their children to Teva, which provides residential courses for youth to learn about Jewish environmental awareness and sustainability.

The CCAR Press (the publishing body for the Reform movement's Rabbinic association) recently released 'The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic', edited by Rabbi Mary Zamore.  It is a wonderful collection that takes spiritual consciousness and ethics around issues of food from many different angles, offering a contemporary lens through which we can all think more deeply about the consequences of our day-to-day food decisions.  At B'nai Israel we are looking forward to welcoming Rabbi Zamore at our Shabbat author's series next Spring.