When do you take shortcuts in the kitchen or, perhaps more importantly, when you are shopping? Do you snag a can of chicken broth now and then but draw the line at pre-peeled garlic or shredded cabbage? Or do you go for it, buying chopped garlic, pomegranate arils, pre-made salad, cubed watermelon and hard-boiled eggs?
We all need a bit of help now and then, but when and where we get it influences everything from the way our foods taste and their nutrient profiles to how our choice impacts both local farming and the environment.
This is on my mind because at last Sunday's farmers market in Sebastopol, Red H Farm had little bags of fresh pre-shelled fava beans.
As much as I love sitting on the porch popping favas from their fuzzy pods, I was thrilled to snag a bag of beans for a fresh fava risotto I wanted to make for my daughter Nicolle, who was visiting from her home in Mississippi.
With a busy schedule, I wasn't sure I'd have time for the luxury of shelling the beans; and so I bought a bag, but not, I confess, before looking around and feeling a tad guilty.
I feel compelled to practice what I preach and am rarely motivated to cheat. That's the reason I keep a good supply of homemade chicken stock in my freezer, though fresh local stock is something we can now find at our farmers markets.
Here's my thinking on the subject. Start, as always, at your farmers market or farm stand. If a farmer has had the time to trim the asparagus, as Nancy Skall does, or shell the favas, as Caiti Hachmyer of Red H Farm did last week, there's no reason to avoid them. They are local, seasonal and fresh. I feel the same about sauerkraut, mustards, sausages and other farm products offered at farmers markets.
Tierra Vegetables, Green String Farm Store, Salmon Creek Ranch and other similar farm stands are good sources, too.
Foods from these locations are typically packaged in a way that steps lightly on the land, with simple containers that can be reused. Those favas were in a small plastic bag that will hold food for my pups when I make my next batch.
It's when you move on to a supermarket that you really must pay more attention. Maybe you've been too busy to get to the farmers market and you need lettuce. Should you really opt for the pre-washed stuff that comes in a hard plastic container that is about as easy to open as a CD case?
Probably not. It's almost impossible to reuse the containers. In addition, what's inside is rarely if ever local and it is likely to have had some sort of preservative sprayed on it, even if it is labeled "organic," as there is a list of hundreds of chemicals "organic" farmers can now use.
Greens, root vegetables and other produce in sealed plastic bags are no better, as they almost all include preservatives and you have no idea when or where they were harvested or how far they have traveled.
And those baby carrots?
Sorry, but they are not babies. They are shaped from larger carrots and their anatomy is all wrong, as is their flavor and texture. A carrot should be sweet and crisp, with that yummy core down the center.