Posts Tagged 'Food Miles'

Spinach Grilled Cheese


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This being Connecticut, my CSA membership does not start for a few more weeks – not a ton is in season right now. In addition, I did not wake up early enough this morning to go to the farmer’s market near my house. So when I decided to make a local meal today, I knew I would have to get creative when finding my ingredients.

I decided to go to Mrs. Green’s, a small, specialized grocery store that only sells organic produce, grass-fed beef, herbal teas – you get the idea. I thought, Mrs. Green’s is so big on organic produce, they must have something grown locally, right? Wrong. I was so naive. Walking around the store, I saw that most of the produce was grown in Mexico. I asked the manager if he had anything local. He looked slightly pensive, slightly confused, and then responded no. He said it wasn’t really the season for local produce yet – try back in a few weeks. Okay, Mrs. Green’s, I know that you can’t sell tomatoes or peppers or strawberries grown locally right now, but I know you could find some greens, like spinach or kale. Just ask Jamie Oliver, world-renowned chef who cooks seasonally in the UK, which has a climate similar to that of Connecticut.

My experience at Mrs. Green’s showed me that the local and organic movements are not always on the same page. When it comes to sustainability, local is clearly the better choice – the food miles speak for themselves. And since sustainability is my priority, I will vote local over organic any time. Other people – Mrs. Green’s shoppers, for instance – see freedom from chemicals as the most important factor, and will choose organic. I don’t think either view is wrong, both health and sustainability are important priorities and it’s hard to declare one more valuable than the other.

Anyway, on a Sunday afternoon in Fairfield County, there aren’t many options for local ingredients. I had to go to Whole Foods. It breaks my heart a little bit go to Whole Foods, because I think they are overpriced and not as good-hearted as they like to sound. Their definition of local, for example, is anything that travels less than 7 hours to get to the store. I’d say that’s a bit farther than Elm City Market (AKA heaven) qualifies as local. By these standards, though, I found local spinach and cheese, as well as bread baked right here in Fairfield. And I have to say, New Jersey is a lot closer than Mexico.

I decided to make spinach grilled cheese, which is easy to make, looks extremely fancy, and tastes delectable. Here’s how: First I cut up the spinach and sautéed it with olive oil and sea salt. I also took some tomatoes (organic, but unfortunately not local), sliced them up, and let them sit in the pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Once the spinach was wilted and the tomatoes were warm, I put them aside on a plate. Next I took two slices of bread, buttered one side of each piece, and placed them (buttered-side down) on the pan. Then I put a slice of cheese on top of one slice of bread. Once the cheese melted a little, I placed the spinach and the tomato on top of the cheese. I placed the other slice of bread on top of the pile, and voila, a sophisticated grilled cheese.

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Elm City Market

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Elm City Market is a co-op in New Haven that has over 1500 member-owners. Anyone can become a member-owner; you just have to fill out an application and invest $200 in the Market. (You can pay all at once or in $20 payments.) If you can’t make the $20 payments, but still want to be a member, there are other payment plans available. Member-owners vote on the Board of Directors and receive patronage dividends on years that the Co-op turns a profit, among other benefits and responsibilities.

Anyone can shop at Elm City Market – it is a hybrid co-op in that its first priority is the community. Elm City Market has, therefore, local and organic products as well as conventional grocery store products. A staff member explained to me, “We are a community grocery store, so we are a hybrid. We emphasize the local, but we also have that fake Parmesan cheese that comes in a shaker, because if someone is taking the bus here to do their shopping, we are going to make sure we have everything they want. If we were trying to be a Whole Foods, we wouldn’t appeal to New Haven.”

The Market considers food that has traveled 0 – 200 miles to market (m2m) to be local, and food that has traveled 201 – 400 miles to market to be regional. All products that traveled 400 miles or less have either a Local or Regional sticker, as well as a sticker that says exactly how many miles the product traveled to reach the store. It was very refreshing to see products that only traveled one mile to market (like Chabaso’s bread) when on average, food travels 1,500 to 2,500 miles to get to the grocery store. Cutting down food mileage benefits the environment (think of how much gas you’re saving) and strengthens the local economy and community.

Unlike many other grocery stores, local vendors don’t have to buy shelf space at Elm City Market. “If we like your product, and you’re within 400 miles, we want to carry it,” a staff member told me. The Market has very quick turnaround for getting products on the shelves, sometimes taking only two days.

When I went to Elm City Market, I brought my friend Teddy, whose mom, Robin, owns Four Flours Bakery. Robin operates Four Flours out of her home in Woodbridge, and Elm City Market stocks her cookies. (They’re marked with a 7 miles to market sticker.) When I told Amy, the marketing director of Elm City Market, that Teddy’s mom makes the Four Flours cookies, she was thrilled. She said that she was in the process of making a sign with a picture of Teddy’s family and a description of Four Flours. These signs litter the store, giving more information on local vendors. Amy said that she was happy to meet Teddy, because that’s what Elm City Market is all about. “Local is about the people,” she said. “We are helping our families and our neighbors, making New Haven and Connecticut strong.”

The Meaning of m2m

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This sign on the Four Flours shelf shows that these cookies only traveled seven miles to be sold at Elm City Market.