Looking forward to food I can trust again

Mar. 30, 2013 @ 03:53 AM

Thanks to Rutherford County farmer Jim Crowder, last summer I dished up a flawless batch of fried squash.

I’d fully intended on making a lighter dish out of the lemon-yellow vegetables I spied at his table at the Rutherford County Farmers Market in Spindale. Maybe steam it with a little olive oil and some fresh herbs. But as I examined the perfectly shaped squash in my hand, I found myself asking Mr. Crowder if he had a recipe for frying it.

He thought a moment. Then he told me, “My wife dips it in corn meal.”

Now, maybe Mrs. Crowder takes an additional step or two that her husband forgot about. But simple instructions hold a definite appeal for me, plus I was curious to see how the recipe would turn out if I omitted dipping them in milk and just dredged them straight into some Yelton’s brand cornmeal.

It came out divinely. And I am counting the days until April 2nd – the opening day of the 2013 season for the market - when I can finally resume purchasing Mr. Crowder’s and other local farmers’ fresh-grown produce.

After recently reading two books about the inner workings of the corporatized global food chain, I feel a new urgency to buy as much of my family’s groceries as I can from local growers.

In “The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebees, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table,” author Tracie McMillan recounts how she was never able to earn even a minimum wage at the various fruit orchards and vegetable fields she worked in California. This came as no real surprise to me; I’d long suspected that the people tasked with the backbreaking part of growing the food we eat are working for unlivable – and illegal – wages.

I just didn’t realize how scant these wages really are: McMillan described how she made about $2 an hour her first day in a California garlic field.

What came as a real jolt was McMillan’s additional observation that Walmart is the largest player in the food supply for an increasing number of towns and cities…and the person frequently tasked with the safety and handling of much of this food is a department-level supervisor with questionable training.

I’ve never been a fan of monopolies. And I try and make it a policy to not support substandard wages. Chalk up two really, really good reasons to buy from our local farmers instead.

The other book that has me longing for what I now think of as “real” food is Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Moss’s “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.” After reading it, I’ll never look at a bag of potato chips or a package of “Lunchables” again without recalling the lengths the food industry has gone to concoct the most addictive formulas (you can’t really call them recipes)for products like these. This includes using children as test subjects in experiments funded in part with taxpayer money.

Both books are available via the Rutherford County library consortium. I highly recommend them.

I also recommend cooking up a batch of what I now call “Farmer’s Wife Fried Squash” as soon as Mr. Crowder brings his first harvest to market. Here’s the recipe: slice fresh squash and shake in a bag with about a cup or so of Yelton’s cornmeal mix. Then heat a quarter cup of oil in a skillet; preferably cast iron.

Fry about three minutes, turn over and fry another minute or two. Generously salt and pepper, and then serve it up fast. We like it with horseradish sauce.

See you at the market!


Stephanie Janard is a mother and full-time copywriter. She lives in Spindale. To reach Stephanie, email sjanard@msn.com