locavore guilt

Parsnip, or evil mandrake root baby?

I’M SO RELIEVED MY CSA IS OVER for the season. I’m a huge fan of the “buy local” movement, but the pressure to cook and eat vegetables has become almost unbearable.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Regular citizens who love the idea of a garden but who don’t have yard space (or who, like me, kill every living plant thing they touch) can buy a share in a farm for the summer. The farmers grow and harvest the crops, and the CSA members get a pile of fiber-filled vegetables and a Locavore Movement, or L.M.

The problem is, I’m a mood eater, not a seasonal eater. Every week starting in late spring, we took home as much kale as we desired from our CSA, but I’m only in the mood to eat kale once every six years. I only eat beets when my mom cooks them with sugar and vinegar, I reserve my carrot intake for parties when they’re on a raw vegetable platter with French onion dip, and I can’t say I’ve ever craved rutabaga. Call me “locationally insensitive,” but in the middle of summer, my ideal snack is fresh pineapple, mangoes and chocolate.

Celeriac, broccoli raab, tatsoi, and turnips? No, thanks. Salad greens? Pass. Potatoes are a different story. Thank goodness we got plenty of spuds from our CSA because they are my ultimate mood food. Whether mashed, boiled, grilled, or French-fried, potatoes soothe my soul, much like tapioca or macaroni and cheese. But no matter how you dress it up, you can’t take salad out to the Comfort Food Ball.

Presentation affects my appetite, too. Dirty dumpling squashes tossed in bins don’t turn me on. Now if a farmer handed me a plate of butternut-pear raviolis with maple-glazed duck and rosemary sauce, I’d join that CSA in a heartbeat.

The best stuff available at my CSA this summer – green beans, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, raspberries and strawberries – were u-pick. I couldn’t find the time to dilly-dally in the field, can tomatoes or make raspberry jam (see “Do You Have a Ball Jar Addiction?” below). Though I think straw hats and retro aprons are sexy, a 1950s housewife I am not. Hand me the phone and we’ll order a pizza and crack open some PBRs. I actually bribed someone to pick my berries this year, but after she realized how much work it was, I doubt I could get away with that one again.

So we’re left with guilt: guilt for not u-picking, guilt for taking more potatoes than parsnips, guilt for composting the wilted greens hidden in reusable cloth bags in the back of the fridge, guilt for buying flowers at Wegmans rather than picking them on the farm. My CSA makes me feel bad about myself. If I really want a low self-esteem, all I have to do is plant a garden. Neglecting it comes naturally to me, costs less than a farm share, and my meager harvest leaves little leftover for the groundhogs who live in our compost pile.

Next year, I don’t think we’ll join the CSA. We’ll still eat local, but we’ll buy produce we’re in the mood for, as we need it, and when we know we’ll have time to cook it: A little eggplant here, a little corn there, and a little Viva Taqueria burrito and margarita every Friday.

Now go eat your spinach; there are groundhogs starving in Trumansburg.

*Do You Have a Ball Jar Addiction?

1) Do you feel like you always need more Ball jars, no matter how many you already have?
2) Every time you see Ball jars at the supermarket, do you have to buy a case?
3) Are Ball jars impeding the organization of your overflowing cupboards?
4) Has your partner, spouse or housemate suggested that you have a problem with Ball jars?
5) Are Ball jars interfering with your home life?
6) Have you ever gotten into financial difficulties on account of your Ball jars?
7) Does using Ball jars increase your sense of self-worth?
8 ) Do you have Ball jars hidden everywhere, like in your shop, your car, your workplace, your house, under your bed?
9) Do you need to consume something from a Ball jar at every meal?
10) Do you refuse to share your Ball jars with others, even those you love closely, especially the wide-mouth or decorative ones?
11) Have you considered canning strange things, like ground beef, cornbread or green tomato chow-chow?
12) Have you resorted to stealing Ball jars out of the neighbors’ recycling bins?

If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, then you have a Ball jar addiction. You need help. And you need to join a CSA.

-Amelia Sauter




Who cut the cheese?

I LOVE THE CONCEPT OF ENSURING our planet’s future via reusable shopping bags. But damned if I can remember to bring them into the store with me.

Many of us suffer from a mental health problem known as bag amnesia, or bagnesia, a disorder whereby the repetitive forgetting of reusable bags induces stress and impedes the eco-conscious procurement of guilt-free groceries. For some, bagnesia strikes sporadically; for others, weekly. I often forget my reusable bags at home, or even more frustrating, I get to the checkout at the grocery store and realize that I’ve left them in the car, a half mile away at the far end of the Wegmans parking lot. Some days, I can’t find one anywhere, at home or in my vehicle. Particularly strange, since over time I’ve managed to accumulate about twenty-three of them.

Seven years ago, I bought my first cloth shopping bag from a cheese shop in Montreal. The bag was a thick, durable-yet-soft canvas with a colorful cartoon drawing of a cow, sheep and goat on the side. The caption read, “Que lait cru!?!”, the name of the fromagerie. Since I don’t speak French, I have no idea what this phrase translates to in English, so I just tell people it means, “Who cut the cheese?”

When Wegmans started offering reusable black grocery bags, I bought two. The following week, due to a bout of bagnesia, I left them in the car. When I went into the store, I bought two more at the checkout counter.  The next week, more bagnesia, and two more bags. Eventually, I had at least twelve reusable bags from Wegmans, none fulfilling its purpose, and only one of which I could locate at any given time. After that, when bagnesia struck and I was faced with the question, “Paper or plastic?” I guiltily accepted plastic bags, promising the totally uninterested, bored teenager at the cash register that I would repurpose them for picking up dog poop.

Reusable bags have recently become popular souvenirs, conference treats and marketing tools, like the Sysco Foods canvas satchel that I used as a purse until the strap broke. The message in giving away or selling reusable bags? “We are a company of people who care, and if you know that, maybe you will buy more stuff from us, or at least you’ll think we’re cool.” And some of the companies are cool.  I have an Erma Bombeck Writers Conference bag, an Ithaca Festival (“I am Ithaca”) bag and two Ithaca Farmers Market bags, plus two Greenstar bags and two giardia-hued fluorescent green ones from Sweetland Farm where I pick up my weekly csa. And after I dropped more than a few hints last Christmas, I found NPR’s coveted Nina Totin’ Bag under the tree. Every time I use one of these sacks instead of a plastic bag, I personally save the life of a sea turtle named Ned.

My most recent acquisition is a birthday gift from a friend. This one is the smartest:  it’s dark blue canvas. Most cloth bags are a bourgeois tan, in the same class as khaki pants or an “I’ll-just-buy-another-if-I-stain-it” white polo shirt.  I prefer the canvas to the plasticky woven bags. Sure, you can recycle the plastic ones if they tear, but the beat up canvas ones can be reborn into a new afterlife if they are cut into hankies or diapers. (I’m speaking theoretically, of course. I break out the sewing machine about as frequently as I get my tetanus booster, and I have no plans to ever need diapers in my house.)

A recent search of my home and car turned up five of my twenty-three reusable bags: Nina, Who Cut The Cheese, I am Ithaca, one Greenstar and one Wegmans. Which is more than enough to go shopping, if only I remembered to bring them.

-Amelia Sauter


angstgiving meal

Teeth not required.

MY MOTHER SAID IT WOULD JUST BE THE FOUR OF US. Usually on Thanksgiving, Leah and I end up at Leah’s parents’ house. Or we end up staying home and Leah makes turkey meatballs and mashes every type of root vegetable she can locate at Wegmans. This year, I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with my parents for the first time in about ten years.

I asked Leah if she was interested in joining me. “Who’s going to be there?” she asked tentatively. Leah did not like holidays, and she did not like people, which meant she only attended events where Vicodin was on the menu. My parents served wine, port and whiskey which she deemed acceptable substitutes.

Creating holiday traditions with Leah is like trying to convince a seven-year-old boy to take a bath. Okay, I have no idea what it is like to convince a kid to bathe. But I do know what it is like to try to talk my girlfriend into doing something festive that she thinks is fundamentally stupid. But with some pushy coaxing, she finally tries whatever activity I want, like carving a pumpkin or decorating a Christmas tree, and in the end she loves it. The next year we start all over again with her grumpy refusal to partake in celebrations without a kick in the ass.

On Thanksgiving day this year, an hour or two into wine-inspired conversation with my parents, the doorbell rang.

“Well, that’s a lot of ice cream for five of us,” my mom said, taking their friend Jim’s grocery bag. On cue, the phone rang. Judy had decided to come early with her husband and two young boys to have dinner at my parents instead of at her in-laws. The turkey was taking too long and the boys were getting hungry. Just the four of us was morphing into just the nine of us. I refilled Leah’s wine glass.

A few minutes later, I was sipping wine in the kitchen with my sister as her kids ran around. “I loved your memoir essays,” she said to me. “Thanks for sending them. I like your creative take on things, especially that rum incident when you were fourteen.”

I asked her what she meant.

“You know, everyone remembers things differently,” she said. “And you were drunk.”

My mom chimed in. “And you get to use creative license and make up stuff, since it’s your memoir.”

I was pleasantly surprised that they supported my “creative take” when it included things they had said and done, but their support also made me uneasy, because, well, I thought the memory was fact when I wrote it. I prodded my sister to share her version of the evening.

Judy recalled that she did not say she was going to tell my parents I was drunk on the night she picked me up at the roller skating rink. She claimed she never told them, that she said to me that night in the car as I threw up into a Styrofoam cup, “I’m not going to tell them, you are.”

I asked my mother how she found out. “Your sister had us paged at the movie theater,” she said. “We came home and she asked us to wait until morning to confront you. She was very protective over you.”

My sister? Protective? “I thought you wanted to see me get in trouble,” I said to Judy. “You were so competitive.”

“I was not competitive,” Judy said.

“Yes, you were,” I said.

“No, YOU were.”

“But you told me how competitive you felt in high school.”

“No, you told me YOU were competitive,” she said. “That’s so funny you remember it that way.”

“You’re kidding, right?” I said. I turned to my mother who was stirring the gravy and asked if she had ungrounded me early because she was worried about my mental health, which was what I had assumed because I was so miserable after I got caught.

She said no, that she and my father did talk to me that night while I was drunk, a conversation I have no recollection of, and in the heat of the moment they grounded me for a month “because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re mad.” They recognized later that two weeks would be sufficient and reasonable for the offense.

“What about the rum cake?” I asked my mom. Suffering from a tortuous hangover and the dry heaves, I had to serve rum cake at the church rectory the day after my drunken escapade. “Did you call the cook and tell her to make rum cake?”

That, my mother said, was divine intervention.

-Amelia Sauter