Wednesday, December 28, 2011

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous; Food Stories of 2011

More of us are near farmers markets with winter hours.
Some efforts were noble; some, well, you’ll see.

Part 1
1) I met the people from Red Jacket Orchards at the farmers market in Union Square.  Their apple and apple-combo (raspberry, pear, etc) juices are unsweetened and addictive. This year, they did something about food deserts by teaming up with local bodegas to supply and stock 'skinny fridges' with healthy fruits and vegetables.  Finding a new market for their great fruits and juices by surmounting the distribution hurdles in low income areas benefits buyer and seller.

2) The last few years have seen a rise in urban farming. Now, see if you can spot a winter farmer’s market in your area.  There are an estimated 1,200 markets open through coldest months.  That’s an increase over 2010 of about 38%.  This is not just a southern US trend says the USDA who tracks winter markets cropping up in Vermont, Rhode Island, Michigan and Colorado. “Hoop house” technology is heralded as one major reason for the increase.  It’s an inexpensive way for smaller growers to extend their seasons.  Consumers get to enjoy more cold weather crops like spinach and winter squash. The top three states with winter farmers markets are New York, California and Pennsylvania.  To find a farmers market near you, check the USDA listing at

3) And while we are on the subject of the freshest produce, 2011 saw a trend become a habit: the use of assistance (WIC vouchers, seniors and supplemental food programs) being used with dignity and cheerfulness at farmers markets.  I’ve witnessed the acceptance and growth at open air markets in suburban and city sites over the past few years and this summer saw a marked increase in the normalcy of this smart use of resources.  (Note the USDA Farmers Markets link above also includes payment methods and programs accepted at each market.)

4) Tired of walking around at the mega-store?  You are not alone.  After decades of bigger is better, fatigue has set in  especially among older shoppers.  Retailers are responding.  Smaller footprints at grocery stores (and other retailers) are on the rise so that more of what you want is closer.  Prototype stores in Germany even play oldies music, feature non-slip floors and have steps designed into shelving for safer reaching. The trend is moving stateside with chains including Walmart launching some smaller sites (theirs are called Marketside).

Part 2
1) Celebrity investing in food-related businesses and restaurants isn’t new. Newman created a line of organic supermarket staples, Coppola bought a winery, Tom Selleck grows avocados.

But this year things went a little over the top as Great Britain got to sample produce and livestock stamped with famous names. Move over Neiman Ranch.  It is now possible to consume Elizabeth Hurley pork chops.  I can’t wait for the red carpet to roll out at supermarkets in this country.  Crispins and Macouns from Gwyneth’s Apple Orchard?  And I’ll start checking the tiny labels on the avocados to see if any marked Selleck has found its way into the bin.

2) The oversimplification of nutrition news has lead to widespread misapplication of so-called  “functional” foods.  Alternating poor food habits with a shot of green tea for its cancer fighting properties or an order of salmon steak to stave off heart disease are examples of our band-aid mentality when it comes to health and eating.  Restaurants are onto our mix and match approach.  More and more are offering healthy choices alongside the indulgent, slightly questionable ones (the industry calls this a ‘double-sided’ menu).  You know my perspective, if it's actual food (e.g. you recognize the ingredients as food stuffs) it’ probably better for you than things you eat with non-food ingredients.  Eat real food at every meal and neither health nor deliciousness will be sacrificed.

3) 28% of Americans over 25 cannot cook.  So says Market Watch who’s 2011 study for Bosch home appliances found that nearly a third of us have lost this rudimentary skill.  I have heard similar statistics before and found them hard to fathom but a little observation has shown me that the figure is probably not far off.  The easy availability of breakfast-lunch-dinner and all the snacks in between has made it quite simple to get around turning on the stove. While more prepared pure food choices are on the rise, we most often select something more indulgent on our double-sided menus.  It may take us until we reach 50% non-cooks, but at that point I predict a rise of cooking instruction and cookbook sales.  At least, I hope for it.