Last Saturday was a rainy day. A morning stroll at the farmer’s market, combined with the cold weather, prompted the idea of a Saturday afternoon sancocho, a heavy soup enjoyed in many Latin American countries. The ingredients vary, usually including a mixture of root crops, vegetables, and meats, boiled for hours to allow the thickening of the broth and the melding of flavors. The morning market stroll turned into a scavenger hunt for the ingredients. Potatoes – check. Tomatoes – check. Calabaza – Check! Even aji dulces! Certain meats were there (but outside of my budget). Ñame? Yautia? Plantains? Those were another story, curtailing the goal of making a “local sancocho”. Therefore, the trip to the farmer’s market was followed by a visit to the supermarket. The end result? A delicious and comforting sancocho, and a compromise between honoring my food heritage and supporting the ethos of eating local:
This week we observed World Food Day, along with calls to “eat locally and think globally.” Living in New York City in very close proximity to the Union Square Greenmarket, the opportunity to live up to this ethos is always around. The Union Square Market lies within a 10 minute leisure walk from home and work. It is expansive, crowded and boasts with colorfulness and deliciousness. These markets allow for the discovery, admiration and tasting of many colorful varieties of potatoes, tomatoes, string beans, among others. In them I have experienced new vegetables and witnessed how vegetables look fresh picked. These sights and smells are a long way from the bright orange carrots, the reddish, perfectly round tomatoes and the ever-present iceberg lettuce wrapped in plastic I grew up consuming from supermarkets in Puerto Rico.
Admittedly, my first experiences at farmer’s markets were intimidating. These were back in Boston, while completing my graduate degree in (ironically) applied nutrition and food policy. Just like in NYC, Boston offers many opportunities to engage farmers and buy local produce. During my first visits I just looked from a safe distance. The variety of colors and types of leafy greens as well as the unfamiliar vegetables seemed overwhelming. And, yes, the recipe cards were there. The farmers smiled and offered to talk about their produce. Still, I lacked the confidence to ask what these vegetables were and how to eat them. Fellow patrons knew what they wanted, and celebrated the varieties sitting at the farmer’s tables. I felt that, like them, I should know what those vegetables where, how to cook them and how to select the best ones.
Memories like these remind me of the food acculturation experiences of newly arrived migrants. They contrast sharply with the greater ease with which I now approach the markets and the farmers today. Through the years I have come to appreciate the freshness, the flavors, and even the dirt hiding in the lettuce found at farmers markets. Yet, despite the proximity and appreciation for them, I confess that I don’t frequent them as much as I should. The Saturday visit described above is not part of a weekly or usual routine. While the close proximity to Union Square is convenient, it also serves as a constant reminder that I can do better with my food dollars. I confess: More often than not, my groceries come delivered in a truck (another aspect of the “New York” experience). Convenience often trumps my intentions to “eat local and think global.” The guilt that accompanies these realizations are a reminder of how everyday life difficulties influence daily negotiations between convenience and the implicit morality of our food choices. These days“local” is another adjective added to food implying (mistakenly at times) that it is “good”, or “virtuous”. Yet, perhaps the answer lies in moving beyond the “local” vs “global” debate, providing way to delicious compromises such as the almost local Saturday afternoon sancocho.
 Photo from Treehugger (http://www.treehugger.com/slideshows/green-food/new-york-union-square-greenmarket-best-in-the-nation/#slide-top)