Before I moved back to Baltimore in 2009, I lived in a few different places along the East Coast, including Manhattan. My move to Manhattan was a complete change from semi-rural living in Orange County, New York and I was excited, hungry to live in a city again. My ex and I ushered the 4 cats from a farmhouse in Orange County, New York, to a one bedroom apartment in a six floor walk-up in Manhattan. We sold the hatchback and the station wagon, and instead rode subways, busses or walked. While we used to have to drive four miles to a convenience store if we ran out of milk, I loved and adored being about to call the bodega and have them deliver my regular breakfast order just be the sound of my voice. It didn’t take long for me to convert the tupperware cereal container to a take-out menu holder. A longtime friend visited my new city digs and looked in my tiny kitchen and then asked me, “Where’s your food?”
The question stunned me. I hadn’t realized how complete my transition to city life had become. Looking through her eyes a couple of boxes of pasta and sauce and maybe some oatmeal did not qualify as “food.” Certainly I ate plenty! But I no longer made most of my meals at home, and I pretty much lost any connection to what was “in season.” In New York City, I had access to more foods than I could name most of the time. Fruits and vegetables were perennial to me.
When I returned to Baltimore in 2009, Terence and I moved in together. I became reacquainted with the ritual of grocery shopping and I began cooking most of our meals, and Terence baking most of our breads, cookies, cakes, pies...you name it. I also began throwing regular hissy fits about winter tomatoes after trips to the grocery store. They are seriously gross. A friend and I started carpooling to the Waverly Farmer’s Market, and my awareness about seasonal food started to return. I compared the quality of fresh local foods at the farmers markets with what Safeway had to offer and noticed that foods that weren’t in season were often from across the country, or even across borders.
Something clicked for me as I put different pieces of the puzzle together. I was carpooling and zipcar-ing (the car share model where customers pay an hourly fee for cars parked across the city) trying both to save money and reduce my carbon footprint, my food was being trucked thousands of miles, often picked before it’s ripe, and also well, just gross in comparison to the food I was getting at the market. What sense does this make?
Over time, I began to challenge myself to spend more of our grocery budget at the market and less at the grocery store. I read Mark Bitman’s column in the New York Times and his book Food Matters-- a great contemporary primer which speaks to both individual food choices as well as food policies. In the spring of 2013, we joined an organic CSA (community supported agriculture) and then Bob and Lorrie began the Pub Drop-- bringing their fresh chemical free produce to Dougherty’s Pub.
I was hooked! Eating locally and seasonally was no longer something I read about in a book-- it’s something I experience and wrestle with. Lettuce grows like crazy in the spring and then stops when it gets hot, so we ate salads all spring and then not at all in July. When the zuchinni proliferates, those of us who hang out at the pub traded tons of recipes. In August, Alvina bought a box of tomatoes to can one week, so I decided I had too also. Although honestly, I gave up halfway through and we ate a gazillion tons of bruschetta on Terence’s home made baguette.
I still buy some produce at the grocery store. In the middle of the summer, I had to have some broccoli and bought it even though it came from California. But more often than not, there’s plenty of food in my kitchen, grown by friends, on the way to becoming recipes to share.
Patti Provance is the Deputy Director at the National Women's Studies Association, and a locavore enthusiast. She might very well be the single greatest source of new customers to the Pub Drop, and you can find her most Wednesday evenings at Dougherty's with a huge bag of produce in one hand, a brew in the other and engulfed by loving friends.