I’m a slow reader. I’ve been slowly making my way through The Third Plate for months and recently stumbled upon a passage that really resonated with me. It goes something like this:
“Our current template for changing the [food] system is to opt out of it: eat seasonally, buy local, choose organic whenever possible. For all the virtues of farm-to-table eating […] the shortcomings of that ethos [are] easy to see. Our job isn’t just to support the farmer; it’s really to support the land that supports the farmer. That’s a larger distinction than it sounds like. Even the most sustainably minded farmers grow crops and raise meats in proportion to what we demand. And what we demand generally throws off the balance of what the land can reasonably provide”.
After reading this paragraph, I initially felt defensive. What do you mean it’s not enough to eat seasonal, local, organic food? What else can I do? How do you expect me to change the entire food system? But then I realized how pervasive this “template” really is. We do one good thing and tell ourselves that it’s enough. But, there is always more we can do.
I was recently approached by a company about some sponsored work. I was tempted by the offer because it paid well, but when I began to look into the product they wanted me to promote, I felt uncomfortable. The company claimed to be committed to preserving the land for future generations. To them this meant gradually transitioning to non-gmo production. On the one hand, I was impressed by their efforts to do good, but ultimately felt like this company was doing one thing and then opting out. How can you claim to be committed to sustainability while farming 170 thousand acres of conventional soybeans? I’m sharing this story with you, not because I’m looking to discredit a product or win validation, but to emphasize how there is always more to learn and consider and that what we learn ultimately impacts the decisions we make. Our food system is complex and convoluted, but in my mind, it’s worth parsing out the interconnected pieces to discover how your choices impact the planet.
In The Third Plate, Dan Barber suggests that chefs, (I’d include food bloggers too), have the power to influence the palate of the people and control the demand for certain products. I think he’s right and I’m troubled when I see that ramps are in danger of extinction due to high demand at restaurants and farmers markets or that the popularity of quinoa in the U.S. makes it unaffordable for the native populations who have relied on it for centuries. I don’t expect you to boycott ramps or quinoa, but hope that by sharing what I’ve learned, I can encourage you to think differently about what and how you eat. No decision is without its pros and cons, but every bite we take changes the world.
This has been my go to spring salad for a few years now. It’s bright and simple. I love all the green and the variety of textures and flavors. I sometimes add some diced avocado, brown rice or chickpeas to make it a little heartier and switch up the toasted nuts from time to time. Almonds are good, as are pistachios or pumpkin seeds. Enjoy!
Spring Asparagus Salad
FOR THE SALAD
1 bunch asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
6 cups loosely packed, mixed greens
1/4 cup finely chopped, toasted hazelnuts
1 ounce shaved parmesan
FOR THE DRESSING
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Trim the bottom two inches off of the asparagus and cut the remaining stalks into thirds. Toss the chopped asparagus with the olive oil and salt and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until bright green and tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Combine the fennel, cucumber, greens, nuts and parmesan in a large bowl. Add the asparagus. Toss the salad with the olive oil, lemon juice and some salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Enjoy!