I walked through the greenmarket in Union Square this week and spotted fiddleheads. The first sign of spring after a long, pronounced winter. Fiddleheads at the greenmarket have always symbolized warmth and the change to a new season—a season when an abundance of beautiful local produce begins to appear. And with Easter Sunday one day away, our pronounced winter couldn’t have picked a better time to leave us, and those fiddleheads couldn’t have picked a better time to appear.
It has never been easier to eat farm-to-table than it is today. And I have never felt better than when I limit my shopping to the local greenmarkets and businesses that sell locally-made goods—from pickles to tempeh, there’s a “guy” who makes it in my borough and “he”’s my go-to.
In January I started eating meat again, sparingly (I was dietary vegan for seven years). I’ve studied and learned all about which local farms I can trust and where I can buy their products. And I settled on pastured, free-range eggs, chicken (I buy the whole bird), and the occasional butcher’s cut of steak. This, mixed with farmer’s market produce, and supplemented with a nearly weekly order from a newish service called Good Eggs.
The last piece I wrote on here was critical of Silicon Valley and design thinking after reading about Ideo’s attempt at rebranding an app initially dubbed as “TurboTax for death”. I worry that we are waste-deep in a meaningless tech craze to which we are attaching way too much meaning, and on the cusp of a new world where leaving our homes or offices will barely be necessary. Which is not to say that all apps are meaningless. Or that all services allowing us to order digitally and “expect it” aren’t useful.
But let’s face it. We are overworked. We are over-stressed. And we are lazy. Why take the time to pack a homemade lunch or walk out of the office for lunch when you can use any number of door-to-door delivery services—Seamless, Delivery.com and Grub Hub, to name but a few. And why spend any time hand-picking your food and planning your meals when you could use a service like Plated to have perfectly packaged and rationed sustainably-sourced ingredients with instructions for how to prepare the meal they belong to sent directly to your door?
This leads me back to Good Eggs.
Good Eggs is a service that bills itself as “farmers market meets online grocery”. You do your weekly shopping online, where you can order from over 100 local farmers and food makers through the site, your produce is harvested, your food is collected, and then Good Eggs will deliver it all to your door in a single order. My food usually arrives on a Sunday, delivered by a different sweet, bubbly hipster driving a Good Eggs car.
I wondered what it might be like to work there. A quick read through Good Eggs’ Glassdoor page gave me some insight, and also illuminated a common criticism when it comes to eating locally-grown, -raised and -produced whole foods: “Only rich people can afford to shop [the Good Eggs service],” one reviewer wrote.
Michael Pollan has written about why eating well is elitist—how “the rules of the game by which we eat create a situation in which it is actually rational to eat poorly”. And I agree, though I think that laziness too often plays a role. Still, while the convenience of being able to order farm-to-table from an online service makes life easier and healthier for some, there are many who will be left out because they simply won't be able to afford it. For those people, a service like Good Eggs is hardly life-changing.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you are not a natural when it comes to cooking, some basic classes like knife skills are widely available to the public and won’t break the bank. Take classes like this—as singles, as couples—and become accustomed to prepwork, using the tools of the trade, and putting together flavors that harmonize well. One of the most valuable things I’ve ever learned was how to dice an onion. Most of us go through life making these skills up, never learning them properly. I keep onions from Rogowski Farm (in Warwick, New York) on hand indefinitely, and use them in nearly every meal. It’s the little things, like being able to do a quick dice when I need to use an onion that make the difference between cooking from scratch vs. ordering takeout on a busy weeknight. Cooking from scratch will always end up getting you a healthier meal and costing you less.
Seven years of dietary veganism has taught me more about food than I ever could have expected to learn otherwise. I’ve learned everything there is to know about our food system, factory farming, aquaculture, and the processed foods we tend to load up on when we go shopping. I’ve learned how to pair flavors well—there’s much more to enhancing and creating flavor than slapping a piece of cheese on our meals, or smothering them in butter. And I’ve learned how important it is to care about and be connected to the food we eat every day. Now that I’m eating meat again, I’m carrying that knowledge with me and continuing to care about and be connected to my food in a way that goes well beyond choosing a pre-packaged cut of beef at the local supermarket. Visit a farm, put your hands in the dirt, pick your own vegetables, and you’ll understand what it means to be “connected” to your food. Food comes from the Earth, from the land, the sea, from trees; not from the supermarket.
Back to Good Eggs. Because I want to make some suggestions for people on reasonably limited budgets for eating locally, sustainably and with the seasons. If your life tends to be hectic and you don’t always have time to visit the greenmarket, or trek all over Brooklyn, San Francisco, Los Angeles or New Orleans to pick up locally-produced odds and ends—you’ll need to live in one of these cities to use the service—I do recommend utilizing Good Eggs when possible.
Let me share with you exactly why and how I shop this way, and have been able to do so through both good and bad financial times.
If you’re going to eat meat, the best way to do it is to avoid processed meats and go for whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb and poultry from cows and sheep that have been grass fed and grass finished on pasture, pigs and chickens that are allowed to roam free and forage, and have been slaughtered on-site or at a small-scale nearby slaughterhouse that only processes a minimal number of animals each day. Cook steak medium-rare and practice getting the perfect sear without charring the meat. If you are worried about carcinogens, avoiding processed meats and cooking meat this way will help.
Going by the above rules, any of the full cuts of meat Good Eggs has to offer would be a welcome addition to your plate. Or if you have a butcher near you who is sourcing whole animals sustainably, use your butcher. But eating meat raised and processed this way is expensive. To cut back on costs, reserve meat for once or twice a week only, explore less well-known butcher’s cuts like Flatiron steak, and get used to buying a whole roasting chicken instead of just one part of the animal—one chicken will give you many meals, plus you can use the bones and back to make stock for soup and fat for cooking. Cascun Farm, located in Greene, New York, sells whole birds for about $15—nearly as much as it would cost you to buy two breasts. This is by far one of the best ways to spend a little more on high quality food and still save some money. And dare I say it... Get comfortable with consuming offal.
The rest of the week focus on seasonal fruits and vegetables. Keep meat-free, less expensive staples on hand, like tempeh, and learn how to cook with them. Make stir-frys with kimchi and rice or other gluten-free, minimally-processed grains. I keep steel cut oats in my pantry that I cook in coconut milk, then add some raisins and a little bit of maple syrup to whenever I have the taste for a sweet breakfast. And load up on eggs—a relatively inexpensive way to eat well. Handsome Brook Farm, located upstate in the Catskills, sells a dozen pastured eggs for around $4.99. They can be found in stores throughout New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
Shopping and eating this way may seem like a luxury, and giving up meat all but once or twice a week, or even entirely might seem unreasonable to some. But a little extra money spent and a little bit of moderation when it comes to eating meat will go a long way towards helping to create a new system.
I picked up those fiddleheads at the greenmarket the other day and took them home with me. A first. I usually admire the fiddleheads, but I’ve never tried cooking with them. This week I plan to finally learn how. And whether I find them through an online farmers-market-meets-grocery, my local butcher or the greenmarket, I’m always on the lookout for all the good eggs near me—the producers who care so deeply about the way the food they have to offer is grown, raised and processed. They are the ones helping to reshape the way we think about what we eat, and in turn, our food system. The world needs more good eggs.