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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Farmers' Market Share: Freaky-Ass Cauliflower Soup

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 3:15 PM

click to enlarge ALISSA NELSON
  • Alissa Nelson
This week I bought a $6 head of cauliflower. It was purple -- which was novel -- and it was locally grown, which is obviously what this blog is all about. But, ultimately, it was a single head of cauliflower that cost $6.

Can I get political for a moment?

This past spring, Alice Waters -- the proprietor of the venerable Chez Panisse restaurant and the mother of the Slow Food movement in America -- raised a ton of backlash among the food blog world when she made an appearance on 60 Minutes. (Google it if you want to know more and see the video itself.) In short, she suggested that low-income households were choosing Nikes over eating sustainable, organic, local foods. The problem with Waters' comments was not that she wanted people to eat healthy, but that she implied everyone has the option to eat the same food that she does.

Obviously I have a bias here, writing a blog emphasizing a local and sustainable approach to eating. I think that supporting local small farmers is absolutely essential for the health of our bodies, our environment and our economy. And I think that there's a fundamental problem in our food production and distribution system: Walk into a supermarket on the North Side and tell me that the poor in this country aren't unfairly saddled with the products of industrial agriculture and corn subsidies.

We are so fortunate to have lots of locally grown options in the St. Louis area, and there are plenty of shop owners and farmers' market managers that work to make healthy food available to low-income households. There are a surprising number of local stores and farmers' markets that take food stamp benefits -- Local Harvest Grocery and Black Bear Bakery, to name a couple off the top of my head.

However, food stamps are an in-kind benefit: You get only a dollar amount, not a guaranteed quantity of goods. So you can buy that $6 loaf of hearty whole grain bread (or purple cauliflower), or you can pay $2 for a loaf of Wonderbread (or regular old plastic-wrapped supermarket cauliflower) and see your money go a little further. And that's only when you have the option for the fancy bread (or cauliflower). Other than the Old North Farmer's Market, I don't think there are a lot of shops offering the choice in poor neighborhoods.

So where does this leave me and my $6 cauliflower? I do all that I can to support local agriculture, and I do save myself a lot of money by preparing things myself, like the chicken and vegetable stocks that I use in the following recipe. But I'm also fortunate enough to have the choice to take an extra few hours every week to prep these things -- or to spend a few extra dollars to put my money where my mouth is (and vice versa) because I'm not worried about losing my job right now or getting my lights shut off. Fresh local food shouldn't be a luxury that only a few of us can afford, especially when the farmers need the business just as much as the eaters need the vegetables.

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