Tuesday, January 29, 2008

but it makes my pee smell funny

My wife and I visited friends in Kentucky last spring. It is a beautiful part of the country with rolling hills, stacked stone walls and a mix of open fields and forested landscapes. We spent an afternoon wandering around the property and eventually ended up in an old garden plot. It was just the right time of year for asparagus and a huge bed of it revealed dozens of spears ready to be picked. “Yum, asparagus,” said my wife in a mockingly sarcastic voice. My wife hates asparagus. Or at least that’s what she’s been telling me for the whole of our relationship. I on the other hand really do love asparagus and have been known to eat it straight, biting off the ends of the raw spears and enjoying the unique flavor of this springtime treat. Getting my wife to share in my love for asparagus has been impossible up until this point and I was resigned to eat it by myself for the rest of my life.

The friend who was showing us the land around his home said he also enjoyed asparagus and that we should pick some for dinner. My wife objected lamely, suggesting it is inedible because, “It makes your pee smell funny.” But in no time we had picked more than enough for the rest of us and we started to march back towards the house.

It turns out that our friend and his wife are pretty good cooks and suggested a particular glaze to put over the asparagus after grilling. The rest of dinner was discussed and preparations started. While we mixed and sautéed and baked and grilled we also discussed how nice it must be to have so much fresh asparagus so close by. While I do like asparagus, I think eating it out of a can is on the list of banned international torture techniques as described by the Geneva Convention. If it isn’t, it should be. I think out of season asparagus that gets shipped from half way around the world is a bit better, but not a whole lot.

All vegetables are better when they’re eaten soon after they’re picked but asparagus is on a shorter list of vegetables to avoid if they don’t come from nearby. So I was surprised that it had never occurred to me that part of my wife’s objection to asparagus might be because of the fact that she’s never really had good, fresh asparagus. Well that changed on our trip. After a little teasing by me and our hosts she agreed to try the grilled asparagus… and she loved it! Now it didn’t hurt that the asparagus had on it a honey and bourbon glaze freshly whipped up by one of our hosts. In one sense I don’t think that matters because she was after all eating the asparagus she had avoided for her entire adult life. That is she was trying something new and liking it even though there was technically sweets and liquor involved.

But in a much more practical way she was getting all the goodness that goes along with fresh asparagus. It contains high levels of Folic Acid, Vitamin A and potassium among other nutrients. It a good source of dietary fiber, it is promotes the growth of gut-friendly bacteria and it’s low in calories. As a good source of Vitamins C and E it is good for my wife’s skin, it is thought to have a cleansing affect on the body and as early as the 1600s, people like herbalist Nicholas Culpepper have been suggesting that it’s good for your sex life. In addition to having a positive effect on the body’s level of histamines (which in term affect the ability to organism) eating such a seductively shaped vegetable is bound to spice up your sex life!

And after such a wonderful experience with grilled and glazed asparagus she was willing to try it without the sweet topping. She still liked it. I pushed my luck and got her to try it raw. Now she didn’t like it this ways as much as she did grilled. And she liked it even more with the glaze, but even raw she had to admit that this fresh, super-local asparagus tasted good. Which is really important because there are a lot of really compelling reasons for us to start the project of growing more food closer to home, namely a global peak in oil production, a peak in natural gas production here in North America and the effects of climate change that could seriously disrupt centralized agriculture in all sorts of ways.

But these reasons are scary and it’s hard to say with any measure of certainty just how badly they’ll affect industrial agriculture and exactly when that will begin. I mean it’s hard not to notice that the cost of food from this system is already on the rise. That is the way most people will notice what’s going on, they’ll pay more for food. But at a certain point the price increases could keep enough people from getting enough to eat. The number that can’t afford to eat in this country currently stands at 12% or about out of every eight people. I bet that number would have to double or maybe even triple before a national movement might get going full swing. It’s important to remember that a disproportionate number of those going hungry are children who lack the wherewithal to do much about it and therefore the problem could get big before anyone pays it the attention it deserves. And if we wait too long to begin the project of downsizing agriculture the job will be much harder to do. Part of the process will be made much easier if we still have access to relatively inexpensive fuel to power projects like earthworks aimed at water retention. The depleted soils of much of the US will also take time to revive. For this reason alone we need to start sooner rather than later.

So what’s all this got to do with asparagus you ask? Well my wife likes it now. After an adult life spent without local asparagus she wants it. She wants me to grow more of it (I just have a few wild asparagus plants I rescued a few years ago) and she wants to see who else is growing it nearby. She believes me when I say that we should relocalize agriculture because we’re going to have to do it for all sorts of nasty reasons BUT she didn’t get excited until she tasted yummy asparagus. If we want to foster the redevelopment of small scale, sustainable agriculture it seems to me that the best way to convince more people quickly is to feed them yummy asparagus; topped with honey and bourbon. We can and should continue to explain why this is so important in terms of dangers of not doing it but we must point out, in ever louder voices, that this is about changing the way we grow food and eat it so we can have really tasty food.


LisaZ said...

Ooh boy, it looks like someone snuck in here with an ad...

I like your asparagus story. How do you know about Nicholas Culpepper? He's awesome! I studied his writings on herbs a lot when I was studying herbal medicine. He really knew his stuff!

Love your blog. The tractor story was great, too. Like a modern parable, in a way.


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