I have always considered myself food-conscious. I read books about basic agriculture, understand seasonal cooking, and know not all waffles originate from a toaster. But a monthlong 100-mile diet has shown me how much I have yet to learn and instilled in me a deeper respect for food.
My approach to cooking has been heading to the store, armed with a recipe for fish with a cilantro dressing. I buy the cilantro, use only half a bunch in the dish, and chuck the leftover stalks in the refrigerator’s nether regions, only to toss it, wilted, into the garbage a week later.
I have long tried, unsuccessfully, to remember these leftovers at the bottom of my vegetable drawer in time to add them to a salad or salsa. I try to clean out the refrigerator once a week, tossing moldy carrots, limp celery, and lots and lots of cilantro.
Yesterday, I buckled down for my ritual dig of “find the forgotten produce” and came back up with only half of a now crunch-less cucumber. I had used up all of my cilantro.
This past month, I have polished off almost all of my produce, even the bits that I normally skip. I cooked not only my beets but their greens as well and, when I spotted some mold on my carrots, I cut off the offending chunk and carried on with my recipe.
This thoroughness is partially because they were more expensive than the supermarket variety, but primarily because I met the farmer who had picked them. As a consumer, when I purchase from small farmers, I am far more aware of food production. When choosing between types of apples, I ask the fruit seller about the differences between a Pink Lady and a Fuji. I now buy lettuce from the same woman every week and we chat about her wild arugula and worry about late frosts.
Through a local diet, I feel connected to my food and make a point of eating everything I buy, wanting to respect what someone’s livelihood created.
Also, I have stopped shopping from recipes. I now go to farmers markets, searching for what looks the best and building menus around a vegetable. This has led to some interesting results. I absolutely despise radishes; I eat a sliver about once a year, just to double-check that my taste buds haven’t dramatically reversed themselves. Yet, every time, I swallow it with a grimace and immediately gulp down a tall glass of water. Still, last weekend, when I saw a bunch of the most beautiful radishes I have ever clapped my eyes on, I was inspired to try them again.
Never having eaten a cooked radish, I sautéed the bunch, greens and all, in butter, salt and pepper. I also popped some carrots in the oven to roast and blitzed up their tops with olive oil, lime juice, and a wedge of preserved lemon to dab on top.
The radish greens were disappointing; I would consider adding them to a soup in the future but they were too prickly for my taste. As for the carrots tops, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, I did dump a massive amount of citrus into the sauce, in large part to mask the greens’ bitterness with a lemony zing, but the tops added a hearty vegetal undertone. And the radishes were second-helping good; a few minutes over the stove transformed them into buttery pastel disks with a mellow spice and crunch.
I may still not be in love with the radish, but we are now happily on speaking terms.