At a party a few weeks ago a friend – a kind, mild-mannered, funny, interesting friend, asked me if I were going to start shopping at Walmart now that Walmart was going head-to-head with Whole Foods as a purveyor of organic produce. My reply was swift:
I know, it’s not a very ladylike manner of speaking. Surely by now we’ve established that demure Southern ladylike I am not.
He snickered. “Oh, come on. If they dressed up the storefronts and made them look like Whole Foods, you’d go, right?”
And I continued, without taking a breath: “I don’t care if they dress up storefronts like Old Santa Fe or Copenhagen or the Jardin des Tuileries. I am never, not one time ever, buying produce at Walmart. Walmart is everything that’s wrong with this country – starting price wars to make people buying crap they don’t need, undercutting local shop-keepers, spreading throwaway consumerism. I hate Walmart, and I am never, ever shopping there.”
Or something like that. My sweet friend held up his hands and apologized, unnecessarily, for getting me riled up. I was full of spring vim and vigor, and it’s possible that I overstated my case.
But not by much. Really, I do hate Walmart. Or perhaps I just hate what Walmart has come to stand for. And the fact that Walmart is diving head first into the organic produce market irritates me the same way Lululemon irritates me, just on general principles.
Let’s be clear, especially since some of you who know me in real life know that I do so love to shop and that I do so love a bargain, which is why, for example, I went to Steinmart last week to buy a graduation present and came home with a skirt and two dresses for myself (bonus!). I didn’t actually need them except that I did need them, because now that I’ve stopped coloring my gray hair and look 150 years old the only thing that might save me from being called Grandma is wearing a bit of bright blue color. That and lipstick. Maybe.
Anyway, I love to shop, and I love a bargain. But I hate Walmart, which I consider neither shopping nor bargaining. That Walmart will now be negotiating with the largest wholesale organic suppliers most likely means putting the squeeze on the actual farmers in order to boost Walmart profits. At least they’re not putting on some sham PR campaign to pretend that this Walmart/WildOats partnership is intended to improve the health of Americans. I’ll give them that, but that’s it.
Last year one of the local farmers I know told me he’d be growing more flowers and less produce in 2014 because people don’t blink at paying $20 for a bouquet of flowers, but they’ll walk right past a $5 head of lettuce. Lettuce, you must understand, is a tricky crop. It’s very temperature sensitive, and bugs find it delicious (as well they should). If a farmer is selling it for $5, then he probably has $4.89 invested in putting it on the table for you to buy. My grandfather was a farmer, you’ll remember – one who lost patience with lettuce and grew collards instead because lettuce was just too persnickety.
As a side note my grandfather, like many of the farmers I know today, used organic farming methods but didn’t have a certified organic farm. Just because food doesn’t carry the certified organic stamp doesn’t mean it’s saturated with chemical pesticides, or that any chemicals were used at all. Certification is long, arduous and expensive; not every farmer can pursue it, especially when they’re struggling to get you to understand why a head of lettuce is worth $5.
Since, unlike Walmart, I do care about both your health and our food chain, here’s what I want you to do this summer, friendly reader: buy real food from a real farmer, at least once during the growing season.
When I write “you” I specifically and directly mean YOU. Each and every one of you readers. Buy food from a real farmer, at a farm stand, at a farmers market, from a truck parked on the side of the road. If you’re in Memphis and shy about the sometimes cliquish air of farmers markets, the guy parked at Kirby and Park is very nice and his melons are great, although they’re not quite in season yet.
Paying $5 for lettuce or $3 for a local farm stand cantaloupe instead of $1.99 at the grocery for stuff trucked across eight states isn’t going to limit your ability to pay your rent. But it will definitely help the farmer pay his. If you’re nice to him, he’ll probably even show you the farmers’ secret for finding a really delicious melon, just like Grandaddy showed me. I’d tell you myself, but you’ll be 100 times better off asking a real farmer for yourself. You might even come back for more.
To all who have lost loved ones in service, may Memorial Day bring back the best and happiest memories of honorable men and women.
Food | Week of May 26, 2014
Now that school is out (we made it!), the pace of daily dinner changes at our house. Some days it’s fun to putter in the kitchen and cook; other days it’s nice to have a quick assembly meal and then go for a bike ride or walk. We’ll do a bit of both this week.
Avocado with Chicken or Shrimp Salad
Traditionally served at ladies’ lunch here in the South, half an avocado stuffed with either chicken or shrimp salad is a signature summer dish. The great thing about serving stuffed avocado for dinner is that it’s ready in about 5 minutes, as long as you’ve prepared the chicken or shrimp salad in advance; just cut an avocado in half, remove the seed and fill with filling. I like to make chicken salad with rotisserie (or regular oven roasted) chicken, but poached/boiled works fine. Mix with diced celery, mayo (Duke’s) and salt. Add grapes or walnuts if you’re feeling fancy. For shrimp salad I make boiled shrimp with Old Bay seasoning, then proceed the same way as with chicken (celery, mayo, salt). Serve with buttery yeast rolls, like Sister Schubert’s, or with small muffins, or if there’s a baker at your farmers market, with fresh brioche.
Spring Rolls | California Rolls
Years ago Bernard and I hosted a sushi-making dinner, which was loads of fun for everyone and not at all difficult, mostly because we stuck with basics like California rolls and salmon sashimi. The trick to making the rolls is having a bamboo mat; I got ours at Pier 1 many, many years ago (it’s actually a placemat). This recipe covers the basics, but you can improvise very easily. Since you’ll have julienned carrots, might as well make some spring rolls, too. Here’s our favorite basic recipe for those, timely as our mint bed continues to be abundantly green.
Braised Lamb | Fresh Pasta
I’ve been craving lamb recently, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know Cris at Renaissance Farms who sells delicious pork, lamb, chicken and eggs at my neighborhood farmers market. Like talking to a real butcher at a butcher shop, talking to a farmer who raises livestock is an education of its own when it comes to cuts of meat and preparation. I purchased a lamb shoulder from Cris and will be using it to make the braised lamb recipe from Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Café cookbook, on page 162 in the book; the recipe is also posted here on French Press Memos with proper citation, if not official permission. (Side note: if you’ve been following for a while, then you’ll have noticed I post links to recipes as posted by either the chef or a site like Food Network or Epicurious. I never present/re-key a full recipe from another cook. I just don’t feel right about doing it that way.) As for the pasta to go with the lamb, it is possible that I’ll get the kids to help and actually make fresh pasta; it’s also possible I’ll buy it.
Grilled Chicken | Green Cabbage/Feta Slaw
Honestly, I don’t make much fuss over chicken that’s going on the grill. Salt and pepper. Maybe a short bath in some Brianna’s French vinaigrette. I don’t think it needs much other than not to be overcooked. For a simple dinner, we’ll grill a bunch of chicken breasts, slice them and serve over a plate of slaw inspired by Zoe’s Kitchen, which was one of my two favorite lunch spots when I worked downtown: shred ½ head green cabbage and some white onion (or scallions, if onion is too strong). Place cabbage/onion in a large glass bowl. In a small saucepan combine ½ c. white vinegar, 1 tsp. sugar, ½ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. ground pepper (or more to taste). Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in ¾ c. oil. Pour over cabbage; toss in ½ c. crumbled feta cheese (or more, to taste).
Sweet potatoes have more potassium than bananas, I learned recently, which is just an added perk for the months of summer sweating. I like them baked and then mushed up with butter and salt. Serve with sugar snap peas (raw or lightly sautéed, as Ina suggests) and a crisp green salad with lettuce that you buy where? Yes, from a real farmer, not at Walmart. Just wanted to check that you were still paying attention.