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Posts Tagged ‘shopping locally’

…On Picking Fruit.

Posted by Steve on July 19, 2009

Yesterday I picked fruit. There’s a number of pick-your-own-fruit farms in town, and while most of them only have strawberries (for which the season is over) there’s one that has blueberries and blackberries. So, I was able to go there enjoy a fun activity outside for a few hours, participate in the local economy, and best of all, get over seven pounds of farm-fresh berries for a price that would’ve only gotten me two or three pounds of not-as-fresh berries at the store. I’ve been eating handfuls of blackberries since then, and I’ve got some pancake mix, so I’ll probably mix up some of that tonight, toss the fruit in, put it in a bowl, and have black & blueberry pancakes for breakfast this week.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like getting local produce at stands or farmer’s markets or the like, and a you-pick farm is definitely in that category. It’s often cheaper, it’s often higher quality (at least in terms of flavor and freshness, although it may not be as large due to not having been treated with polyploidy-inducing fertilizers), it’s often fresher… and I tend to think it’s safer. See, by now we’re used to food recalls: alfalfa sprouts and peanut butter, tomatoes, peppers, green onions, spinach – just a few I can name off the top of my head in the past few years. Now, one of the proposed solutions is to split the Food and Drug Administration into a Food Safety Administration and Drug Safety Administration, bringing some of USDA’s food-safety programs into the new Food Safety Administration. That’s contained in the proposed H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, currently sitting in committee. Incidentally, as of 1:10 PM Eastern on July 18, 2009, there were 36 bills in the U.S. Congress containing the phrase “food safety”, such as the “Keeping America’s Food Safe Act” (H.R. 999 IH), the “SAFER Meat, Poultry, and Food Act of 2009” (H.R. 815, and by the way… aren’t Meat and Poultry both types of Food?), and of course the “Safe FEAST Act of 2009” (H.R. 1332). Apparently safe food is something lots of people in Congress want to sponsor bills about.

Now, I found out about this after someone sent me something on Facebook urging opposition to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 on account of something about it “banning organic food”. Well, 1) my understanding is that it really doesn’t ban organic food, 2) organic food is priced higher (usually – sometimes there’s weird exceptions) than regular food and the farm lobby would never let something ban growing and selling higher-priced food (some of the price is related to farm expenses, but some of it’s a premium – which means higher pure profit), and 3) partially as a consequence of 2, organic food may well be superior environmentally, nutritionally, and flavorly, but it really doesn’t do anything to address food distribution and availability. So I can’t say I’m spurred to action by a perceived threat to organic farming.

I do think, though, that the approach being taken in the bill, which seems to be establishment of a centralized food safety monitoring agency to enforce uniform standards (including to imported food) of safe food growing and processing, isn’t necessarily the ideal solution. And part of it’s on account of that “centralized” issue.

Don’t get me wrong – large scale farming and processing makes large-scale food distribution possible. I’m in Virginia; I can get pineapple year round – because it’s grown in Hawaii in the summer and in the Southern Hemisphere during the winter. But, there’s a catch. Processed tomatoes (tomato sauce, ketchup, etc.) are available cheaply throughout the United States… partly because of an economy of scale due to 90% of them being grown in California. And that centralized growing and processing scheme means that widespread distribution of food-borne illness is possible. Hepatitis or E. coli O157:H7 infects a massive farm or processing plant that ships nationwide, and hooray, the disease has now been shipped nationwide. Whereas with local farming… if that farm I picked berries at yesterday had contaminated fruit, I’ll get sick, other locals will get sick, but nobody outside of the immediate area is at risk. And I wonder if dispersion of food production and processing might not be better for safety than centralization, even if it means less monitoring. Sure, it might mean more infections more often – but the infections would never be of epidemic scale.

Not sure, really – agriculture and food safety are hardly my areas of expertise, or really areas of interest. But it’s food for thought, I guess.


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…On Eating in Richmond.

Posted by Steve on October 31, 2008

Over the past year, I’ve spent more time in (primarily downtown) Richmond, Virginia, than in any other city besides the one where I live. Considerably more time – actually, starting to approach a month. Yeah. Lots of time in Richmond.

Richmond’s a charming little city, and I wouldn’t mind moving there (though it isn’t my first choice of where to move. That’s moving back to Minneapolis). The Fan is a wonderful neighborhood (or conglomerate of neighborhoods?), with VCU giving it a great college-town aspect, and it’s also old enough that there’s still actual gas-lamp streetlights. I kid you not – I was walking along Meadow between Park and Stewart, and I smelled the gas, then looked closer at the streetlight, and I could see the filaments burning. Very cool. The city’s age also shows in the architecture of such buildings as The Jefferson Hotel, Main Street Station, and the Old City Hall. Downtown Richmond’s pretty hilly, by the way. I think that’s because it’s on the banks of the (surprisingly flood-prone) James River – which gives some very scenic natural areas.

The best thing about all my business travel to Richmond, though, is the plethora of outstanding local restaurants. So… here it is: some places you really, really, should eat while you’re in Richmond (and I’m not including the deli at a Ukrop’s).

Joe’s Inn, on Shields between Grove and Hanover. Without a doubt, my favorite spot for lunch in Richmond. I’ve yet to dislike anything there, but I’m particularly fond of their steak & cheese sub. Why? Simple: they don’t shave steaks, they don’t slice steaks, they don’t even chop steaks. No, they give you chunks of steak on that sandwich. Without a doubt, the steakiest and best steak & cheese sub I’ve ever had. With lettuce, tomato, mayo, and grilled onions. And remember, it’s located mid-block on Shields. I can never, ever, remember that: normally I just head up Strawberry from main to the corner of Strawberry and Grove, then say, “I thought it was here! I know it’s around here somewhere!”.

Bottom’s Up Pizza, at like 17th & Cary, down in Shockoe Bottom. Do not order more than one slice. Trust me on this. I am a glutton. I routinely eat over three pounds in one sitting. I routinely spend $10 at Taco Bell. I think I could take that steak from The Great Outdoors. I am hesitant to order a second slice, and not just because that would put me over my company’s reimbursement limit for lunches. The thick-crust pizzas, which the menu says have sourdough, come with excellent toppings (I’m a fan of a spinach, ricotta, sausage, and onion one called Karen’s Combo) and are simply enormous.

The Robin Inn at the corner of Park and Robinson. Don’t let the unfinished website that looks like ones I made in high school fool you. The place is still in business and likely to remain so, given that it serves pizza and pasta dishes that are of such good quality one first-time diner I brought there said afterwards, “It tasted homemade!”. They also have an amusing quirk: when you order a pasta dish like lasagna, it comes with a side of… spaghetti.

Star-Lite at the corner of Main and Robinson. On the border of Carytown, this place is astounding. I went there as a group of four for dinner, all of us expecting simple bar-fare. Instead, they had an audacious and broad menu: a wide variety, with things you just don’t often see. Each of us was, at a minimum, pleased by what we ordered. I actually loved what I ordered, the Grecian Chicken: breaded chicken breast with tomato, sweet peppers, kalamata olives, feta cheese, caramalized onions, and leaf spinach. Excellent, unlike anything I’d before, and the place has a really nice atmosphere, too – a sort of “Betty Paige driving a Harley” vibe that I really enjoyed.

Speaking of Harleys, I was at a biker bar about three weekends ago, where they had The Maine Lobster Game. Over the course of only two or three hours, I saw not none, not one, not two, but three people get themselves a $3 lobster dinner with that (assuming they each only played once – I don’t know if that was the case or not).

I have, to date, been unable to eat at Cajun Bangkok in Carytown, because I’ve always been with people who “get an upset stomach from spicy food” or “don’t like Thai” or “don’t like Cajun” or “am a boring gastronomic trogolodyte”. But I really, really want to. They mix Thai and Cajun! How awesome is that? Ten kinds of awesome, that’s how awesome.

Posted in Places, Restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

…On Milkshakes.

Posted by Steve on August 31, 2008

I have yet to see There Will be Blood, though I’m interested. Mostly, because I saw the following Saturday Night Live skit and it intrigued me about the movie:

Linked, not embeded, cause it’s at NBC’s website

I too love milkshakes, though I’m not an oil man. Of course, I don’t much care for using my blender (too much of a hassle to clean up), so I typically just use a spoon to smoosh ice cream around in a cup. Possibly with chocolate syrup or malt powder. Or Slim Fast powder so I can claim the milkshake as a meal since it will then contain vitamins.

Or, of course, I pay someone to make me a milkshake. There’s a few ways to do this. Most burger joints (excluding, as far as I can remember, Burger King, but including the non-burger Arby’s) serve shakes. So too do ice cream places, though why someone would shell out that ton of money for a shake at a Ben & Jerry’s or a Coldstone or etc. is beyond me. Especially when those places serve megasundaes.

But the best, I think, are diner-type establishments. If for no other reason than that they have a multitude of flavors you just won’t get elsewhere, and the strawberry shakes usually contain actual strawberries. You know the sort of place I mean. Stake & Shake for national chain, but better the regional chains like the Silver Diner in the Delmarva states, or the purely local places like Atlanta’s OK Cafe or Nashville’s Elliston Soda Shop, or Clemson’s ’55 Exchange.

I don’t really have a point. I just love milkshakes.

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…On Buying Local

Posted by Steve on July 20, 2008

I mentioned that I prefer, when possible, to buy local. Yes, in part that’s because I prefer to support my local economy to economies elsewhere. There’s an element of self-interest to that: my job depends on the economic health of where I am. Of course, me deciding to order a pizza from Harold’s instead of Papa John’s isn’t necessarily going to do a whole lot to bolster the local economy.

It will do a ton, though, to bolster the quality of the pizza I get.

That’s the key. Yes, there’s an emotional satisfaction from buying local, but there’s also a clear material benefit: I can get things that are unique (why I prefer local restaurants), or I can get things that are hard to find/delivered with better service (why I’ll go to local stores).

The restaurant thing’s really what gets to me. You can get pizza anywhere. You can even go to Papa John’s (or Pizza Hut, or Domino’s, or etc.) anywhere, ordering online even, and get the exact same pizza in Minneapolis as in Atlanta as in Nashville as in Denver as in Richmond as in New York City as in Chicago. Or you can go to a regional chain, and get an excellent Mellow Mushroom pizza in Atlanta or Nashville, but not in Denver, Minneapolis, Richmond, Chicago, or New York City, while you can get Beau Jo’s amazing pizza across Colorado – but not in any other state. Or you can go to a totally unique joint – a pizza from Fat Lorenzo’s is available only at one location in one city, and while it’s got some similarities to a pizza from Bottoms Up in Richmond, the two aren’t at all alike. And I like that. And, of course, this extends to all sorts of foods besides pizza.

Then there’s stores that are local. I don’t do this as often, because the main motivation is “getting the product I want”, which is often available elsewhere for lower (or much lower) price. Why buy my jeans somewhere they cost $30 when I can get them for $20 at K-Mart… and I can walk to that K-Mart? On the other hand… about 2 or 3 months ago, my laptop finally died for good, being five years old and the service plan having ended after 3 (during which time many parts got replaced). So, I had to go get a new computer (good thing I’d been saving up, huh?). I went to Circuit City: “Do you sell custom configurations, and can I still get an XP system?” Ok, so I went to Best Buy: “Do you sell custom configurations, and can I still get an XP system?” Ok, so I… yeah. I checked some online retailers: CDW, Lenovo, etc. Ok, I could get it, but the price was iffy, and… ok, two local joints. Boom: exactly what I wanted, plus I was able to buy a lot better hardware than I’d have gotten for the same price off the internet, plus I got some nice peripherals and good warranty. Not to mention, good customer service. Which I like. Or, well, bookstores. Local bookstores: if you have one, for crying out loud, GO THERE! Unless, you know, you don’t like going to stores that have a broad selection to choose from. Take science-fiction and fantasy, my genres of choice. In my experience a typical Border’s has about two to three shelves combined of them. A typical Barnes & Noble will have about 4 or 5, or possibly just 2 if they’re really big. Uncle Hugo’s sells nothing else. So you want in-print books that the stores aren’t carrying? No problem. You want something hard to find because it’s been out-of-print since the mid-80s? Walls covered in shelves jamed full of used books, with boxes of more stacked against them. Granted, not every local bookstore’s so great: I’ve been to some that didn’t even have the selection of a large airport bookstore. But when they’re good, they can be great.

And that’s why I like shopping there.

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