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Here we go again. July 22, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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First it was spinach. Then lettuce. Then tomatoes. Now jalapenos are taking their turn as the Typhoid Marys of the vegetable world. Apparently, jalapenos from a small packing plant on the Texas-Mexican border are contaminated with the strain of salmonella that has been making people sick all summer, and all eyes are turning to the little peppers as the original source of the tomato scare. So far, tomato growers estimate their losses as a result of the public’s fleeing tomato consumption at some $250 million dollars. (Er, I think that was million, not billion…) And the pepper crop is just starting to come in as the new scare hits, threatening countless more growers with financial ruin in the wake of the bad publicity.

Once again, our friend Ben would like to join our old friend Tom Paine in making a plea for common sense. Rather than panicking and avoiding produce altogether, or punishing innocent, hardworking veggie growers for one bad crop produced by someone else, let’s take this as a wake-up call, a reminder that knowing who’s growing your food really matters.

If you’re able to grow your own, you know exactly what goes into it—and what stays out of it. We’re passionate, lifelong organic gardeners here at Hawk’s Haven, and would as soon roll around in a vat of plutonium as dump toxic chemicals on our crops. We know our food is safe to eat right off the plant, and we like it that way. Ditto for the eggs that our healthy, well-fed chickens provide for us. No frantic sterilizing of eggshells around here!

But we don’t grow everything we eat, not by a long stretch. We’ll get our jalapenos from our heat-loving friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders, who grows a variety of hot peppers in containers in his small-town backyard. And if we need more hot peppers, we’ll pick them from the U-Pick garden at our CSA, Quiet Creek Farm. Or buy some from the farmers who grow them at our local farmer’s market. Or stock up at the Bowers Chile Pepper Festival in September, which features locally-grown hot peppers. Or head out to hot pepper headquarters, Jim Weaver’s Meadow View Farm, for a few cartons of his colorful heirloom peppers or one of his custom hot-pepper powders or a beautiful ristra of dried peppers.

Worried about salmonella? Not us. We know where our food is coming from. We know who’s growing it, and how. We plan to enjoy an abundance of veggies—including spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, and jalapenos—all summer, and support local growers (and the local economy) in the process. Everybody wins!

So please, don’t turn your back on tomatoes, hot peppers, or whatever the next veggie in the typhoid train is this year. Instead, check out the locally-grown produce at your grocery and/or farmers’ market. You may be lucky enough to live in an area, like we do, that has a wealth of farm stands selling produce directly from the farms themselves. We also have health-food stores that carry a range of organic produce, and buy from them (selectively; they tend to be pricey) in winter, when local sources are less available. But we refuse to be intimidated or panicked by food scares, which, after all, are blown out of all proportion to make more exciting news. It’s all about ratings, isn’t it?

So be an informed consumer. Make a point of knowing who’s growing your family’s food. Then, instead of obsessing about whether it’s safe to eat, you can focus on enjoying its delicious flavor and healthful properties. Or, say, the good companionship and conversation of your fellow diners.

Our friend Ben feels that America’s had an unhealthy relationship to food (not even counting these salmonella and E. coli scares) long enough. It’s time to stop endlessly analyzing our food to the last carb or calorie, obsessing about food, hating ourselves for eating food, and eating prepackaged chemical conglomerations that are sold as food. To me, this is the worst form of narcissism, yet another way to waste our time and energy on our precious, precious selves instead of focusing outward. Surely we have better things to think about!