Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Slow food?

The other day, I posted some thoughts about why I have trouble calling myself a locavore, but I realize I should share why actually do eat local/seasonal/heritage foods. I have been eating this way long before it became fashionable. Believe me, eating "slow foods" weren't always in style. Growing up in the 1970s, it was something we didn't want to do. I just wanted to be like the other kids eating Ding Dongs and drinking Tang. But no... instead, my dad always took us to Eastern Market during the summer months, when there was a lot more local produce there than there is now. And he'd buy tons of tomatoes and cukes and stuff. In the winter months, we always went to Randazzo's Fruit Market and got great fruit and vegetables to eat cheap. The Italians always had the best fruit markets! I can still remember getting roasted peanuts there in a paper bag that were still warm when we got home. My parents didn't have a lot of money, but at Christmastime, my dad always made sure we had nuts in the shell to crack in front of the tree, and easy to peel tangerines. We always had an orange in the foot of our stocking. He would buy us pomegranates then, too, long before we were all drinking POM and extolling their antioxidant properties. He would call them "love apples" with a twinkle in his eye.

In Warren, everyone was either Polish or Italian. I can remember wishing I was Italian then - it was more cool because the Italians got to wear dresses that looked like wedding gowns for their First Holy Communion and the movie "Rocky" was really popular, and they had cool food everyone loved like lasagna. We Polish kids didn't have anything cool like Sylvester Stallone, and we ate stuff everyone said was "bogue" (that was the term we used - it meant "gross") like sauerkraut. True, we eventually had a Polish Pope, after hundreds of years of Italian Popes, but he wasn't like he was in the movies or anything. However, one thing we did have was great butcher shops and delis. While we didn't get to wear an Italian horn gold necklace like our grade school counterparts, at least we had good lunch meat! Almost every Saturday, my dad would take us to the Kowalski on Van Dyke and 10 mile and we'd get lunch meat like Krakus Polish ham and Kowalski kielbasa loaf (if you can get your hands on some of the stuff, buy it. It is SO GOOD. They have it in Ann Arbor at Hillers) and we each would get a little hot snack sausage that has a Polish name I forgot, but it means "hunters sausage" to eat on the ride home. And we'd get a jar of horseradish and a loaf of Russian rye bread the likes of which you just can't get in Ann Arbor. Zingerman's Jewish Rye pales in comparison to it....but you can find it in Hamtramck (or any place where there's a lot of Polish people hanging out still). We'd also have dill pickles my dad made at home to go with our lunch.

Eating a lunch like this would only be done in the privacy or your own home, however. The only kind of sandwich you'd dare bring to school would be bologna or PB and J on white bread. I used to lie and tell kids at school that my bologna had a first name, and it was "Oscar" and my bologna had a second name and it was "Meyer" but that wasn't true. My bologna's last name was actually "Kowalski" and it reeked of garlic. I'd try to eat it fast so no one could smell it and guess I was actually Polish. I wasn't dark complected enough to pass as an Italian, but my dad changed our last name to make it easier to spell than it's eastern bloc roots, so no one could ever guess that I was really Polish. Sometimes, I'd bring a ham sandwich, but I'd cut the ham into the shape of a square so it looked like someting that was bought at a normal grocery store instead of the telltale rectangular shape of Polish ham.

Another Saturday "locavore" adventure involved my grandpa. He didn't speak English and lived in Hamtramck, but about once a month or so he'd come out to Warren to stay with us and he used to make chicken soup. Shopping for soup chicken was an experience I am sure the Italians never enjoyed. We'd go to a place on Outer Dr. on the east side and pick a chicken out live and they'd butcher it right there while you wait. He'd feel up all the chickens until he'd find one he thought was fat enough, and pronounce it "Dobrze" which means "good". Then they would weigh it by laying the chicken on the pan of what looked like a baby scale and crossing it's leg over side of the tray on the scale. Chickens aren't smart enough to figure out how to uncross their legs, so they would just lay there and complain. Then, off the chicken went to the back, and after a few squawks, a thump of a cleaver and some feathers flying around , it would be returned to us wrapped in butcher paper. We'd get extra feet to add to the pot! They also had ducks if you wanted to make the Polish soup called "czernina" which is made out of duck's blood. They'd butcher your duck and then give you a steaming canning jar full of it's blood if you were making soup.

But all the Polish people (and the Italians, too) moved from Warren north to Shelby Twp and Romeo and such, and lots of the east side's Polish delis and butcher shops have been replaced with soul food joints and Thai restaurants or just plain vacant, so I am not sure where you can get this stuff today. Hamtramck still, if you venture south of 8 Mile, but I bet you can find it north on Van Dyke. Heck, the Polish and Italian folks are even moving their dead from cemeteries up that way, so I am pretty sure you can find a good loaf of Russian rye. (not sure the health department allows while you wait butchering of chickens anymore, though). It's hard to find good Polish food in Ann Arbor outside of the Copernicus Deli on Main. So, why am I a locavore/slow food advocate?  It's because it's what I always have known.  Grow it, pickle it, eat it.  I like to support local farmers, too, but not because I think there will be a post petroleum apocolypse or anything. I want to support the local economy because I love the state of Michigan and it's people. And I eat seasonally because I like the rhythm of the seasons and the food just tastes better. I've got no problem eating citrus in the winter, even though it wasn't grown in Michigan.   So what?  Eating local food/seasonal food/ethnic foods just tastes good, period.


lookinout said...

More power to you!

Buttercup said...

Great story! But I don't think that this shows that you are a "locavore" so much as a lover of authentic, real food, prepared with fresh ingredients and a sense of heritage, as well as love. In other words, a slow fooder!

Mom said...

Good point, Buttercup....I will tweak my title!