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Posts Tagged ‘locavore’

Fern, of Life on the Balcony, asked some cogent questions in a comment relating to my post about Leda Meredith. My reply was so long I thought I’d best post the dialogue here.

Fern said:

I would imagine being a locavore is pretty in Israel, right? When your country is just under 300 miles long, 85 miles wide, and most of the population lives roughly in the middle of the country, almost the entire country is within a 100-mile radius.

Does Israel import a lot of food? I would think that would be the only serious hurdle unless you live in the extreme north or south.

Israel does import a lot of food. I would like to know more about the subject, but the little information I found in newspapers is that close to 80% of our foodstuffs are imported (maybe my Net searches weren’t precise enough, but I found almost nothing there). For one example, we do have flour mills, but the wheat is imported. For another, all dried pulses and grains come from abroad.

We can choose locally grown fruit and veg, both fresh and frozen, honey, poultry and eggs, milk products (tons of those), some preserved and canned foods, some beef and lamb, some fish, some spices. There’s more, of course, but this is what I can remember, off the top of the hat.

There is ample transportation, and you can get whatever you need in markets from the Golan down to Eilat.

As I’m writing, I’m mentally breaking down today’s lunch into imported and exported. Let’s see: turkey wings (local) braised in leeks, tomatoes, onions (all local), garlic (local, because I buy 10 kgs. green garlic each spring and dry it; otherwise I’d have to rely on imported), wine (home-made from local grapes, but the wine yeast was imported), salt (local), pepper (imported), tamari (imported), sage (home-grown), thyme (local). Then there’s rice (imported). Broccoli and mushrooms – local. Olive oil for cooking – local.

You see here that the fresh stuff is Israeli and the dry or fermented depends on imports. If I were to go to a bakery and buy a few sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), I’m not at all sure what percent of the ingredients would be local. I am assuming that the ingredients, bought cheapest in bulk, are imported. The flour: imported wheat. The yeast: imported dry, although we do make fresh. The jelly: I’m guessing imported. The oil in which they were fried: imported soy or canola.

Heck, even the cranberry-walnut muffins I baked this morning couldn’t be done without imported ingredients. I’ve had to ask myself if I should stop baking, which is silly. Of course I’ll keep baking, but since discovering how heavily my baking depends on imports, I take more care to recycle anything that goes stale. Half a pan of cornbread became stuffing for peppers and fish – like that.

Israelis are turning more and more to fast, convenient, packaged foods. At this time of year, the supermarket dedicates an entire aisle to instant soups and noodle/ rice meals to which you only need add hot water (yich). The freezer section is loaded with imported fish, meat, fruit and veg, right there next to the local. Not to mention the omnipresent soy patties, which are feeding a whole generation of kids whose mothers are too busy to cook real food. These foods are, I estimate, at least 80% import-dependent.

(I have a particular grudge against those soy patties, in spite of all their “healthy” vegetable additions.  First, the soy is imported and, if reports are correct, genetically modified. Then, two nine-year-old girls I know of have developed adult-sized breasts, and their pediatricians blame this on heavy consumption of soy “shnitzels”. The only soy I allow in my family’s diet is fermented: tamari and miso. No soy shnitzels, no soy milk, not even tofu. But I’ll stop this rant and return to the subject at hand.)

You can reduce dependence on imported foodstuffs here if you shop consciously. Depends on your priorities. If it comes to choosing between Spanish olive oil or local; Norwegian salmon or one of our Israeli fish, you know what I’m buying.

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I checked my raspberry wine and found that I have two gallons of raspberry vinegar. Ack! Quickly, I removed it to a warm place in the kitchen where it can finish its transformation, far from the carboys so decoratively sitting around the living room. Well, as French winemakers say, God loves to make vinegar. When you’re making wine in an apartment with minimal temperature control, you have to expect an occasional failure. But my efforts have produced some (I must say) delicious Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blends as well as good wines of apricots, strawberries, pomelos, even raspberries. So what happened here? Well, the airlock stopping the mouth of carboy (fermentation vessel) was crooked – probably just enough air and maybe a fruit fly got into the fluid and spoiled my drink. (That airlock on that particular carboy was always getting tangled up in my skirt as I swept past. ) Raspberry shrub, anyone?

Looking into recipes for that old-fashioned drink, I see that people first steeped their raspberries in vinegar for several days, added 75% of the strained liquid’s weight in sugar, and boiled the mix till a syrup formed, about 15 minutes. They then flavored cold water with the red, sweet-sour liquid: recipes say anywhere from 1 tablespoon per glass to 1/3 of the glass as syrup. Guess it was a matter of taste. In Colonial America, they liked it sweet. Since my raspberries have obligingly gone ahead and made vinegar in my modern Israeli setting, I believe I’ll take a liter or so of it and simmer it to a syrup with sugar. Maybe it will taste good in soda water. Those old recipes all say it’s refreshing, tasty, good for a sore throat. I mean, that’s two gallons of raspberry vinegar, folks.

My raspberry wines have been good in the past, but expensive to make as the berries aren’t local. I bought frozen imported ones, convinced that the wine justified the fruit’s high price. With this little disaster, I tightened my resolve to stick to local ingredients as much as possible. On my shelves are luscious food-and-travel books by authors sensuously eating and cooking their ways through the Mediterranean. They make me start dreaming, feeling hungry. How nice it would be to make some of those recipes myself…imagine, chestnut-flour cake…but I pull up short as I remember that all those delicious peasant foods of Italy and France are based on raw materials grown or foraged close to home. Israel also has olives and wine; abundant, fresh, flavorful produce; and a great mix of ethnic groups from which to cull recipes. No great amount of chestnuts, though, except around Tu B’Shvat.

We do import a large part of our food – most our flour comes from imported wheat, for example. Few can claim to be real locavores in our small country, and I frankly think people don’t give the issue a minute’s thought. But I’ve come under the influence of Leda Meredith’s passionate crusade to reduce carbon transmission in our planet by eating local, seasonal foods – see her 250-mile diet. Meantime, I think I’ll concentrate on bottling the liqueurs of apricot and strawberry that I put up two months ago.

Mimi

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