Saturday, 23 January 2016

A Meditation on $8 Cauliflower

I know I live in a little bubble, but I have only been very vaguely aware that the prices of many commonly-purchased vegetables have been going up (up, up!) recently. Well, they would be, wouldn't they; what with the low dollar and environmental changes happening now. Suddenly this week though, I've been seeing lots of articles about cauliflower at $6 or $8 a head.

I had no idea. I haven't even glanced at a cauliflower since November, when they were last in season. With the exception of a few lemons and limes, and the odd banana or other fruit, I don't really look at, never mind buy, anything imported. The price of citrus has been brutal for a while, but it doesn't exactly make or break our budget, or our menu.

Of course this is very hard on many people. I'm in a rare position, in that about 80% of our vegetable and fruit intake is grown and preserved by ourselves*. The whole point of this blog, though, is that long before we had a garden, we were eating well, eating relatively cheaply, and eating in a way to mitigate human and environmental harm, by eating mostly food produced locally, and you can too, with just a little re-jigging. And yeah, that means no cauliflower in January (mostly because I can't freeze it well enough at home to suit my fussy tastes). Tant pis. We really aren't suffering. We're eating cabbage (and carrots, and onions, and rutabaga, and beets, and, oh, look at the list)**, and liking it. And in July, when the first locally grown cauliflower shows up again, I'll be ecstatic to see it.

Cauliflower is a special vegetable, as I've remarked before. It deserves an ecstatic greeting at least once a year. Of all the vegetables, it is probably the most refined and luxurious flowering of the plant breeders' and growers' art. It has been thousands of years in the making and perfecting, and still requires expert knowledge, skill, and precision to grow. The idea that it ought to be a cheap staple is laughable. What makes me sad is not that out-of-season cauliflower is expensive, but that so little of that increased price is going to the people actually out in the field growing it. Indeed, even as I type I'm sure people are working on how to get even more out of the hides of farm workers, rather than let international finance and big ag take the hits from increased prices.

I have noted that as imported produce has been increasing in price, so has locally grown produce, though not to the same degree. I think there are 2 reasons for this; the first being that since other things are more expensive, the prices can be raised. I try not to resent this too much; produce growing is one of the most precarious and labour intensive forms of making a living that there is, especially for the small or medium sized grower***. The other is that, as people have come to regard food grown and shipped from thousands of miles away as perpetually cheap, perpetually available, and in fact that they have a positive right to have it, the number of local growers and the variety of what they grow has shrunk, and shrunk a lot. The survivors inevitably can charge more, and have to, because the distribution chain also shrinks and gets more expensive and difficult to manoeuvre.

So until July and local cauliflower, please look around and buy other locally grown vegetables, hopefully at more reasonable prices. Even if you are not familiar with them. Then locate them on the index at the right hand side of this blog. I'm pretty sure you will find a simple and delicious way to prepare those vegetables, and you will not feel deprived. (And you can read this paeon to the potato from Carol Deppe - let's not forget the wonderful potato!)

*That actually probably takes more money and definitely a whole lot more time than if we were just buying it, by the way - but we have both, and want to do it. The point is you can eat like we do for less money and effort than we expend.

**Not even including our own frozen, dried, or canned goods.

***Although again, I have to wonder how much is actually going to the grower - good reason to go to a farmers market if you can.

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