Eat your (local) spinach!

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A truly important article emerged a few days ago in the New York Times Magazine by Michael Pollan called “The Vegetable-Industrial Complex“.  In it Pollan expresses great concern over the possible new industrial “solutions” regarding the recent E. coli contamination of packaged spinach.  He claims, “If bagged salad greens are vulnerable to bacterial contamination on such a scale, industry and government would very soon come looking for a technological fix; any day now, calls to irradiate the entire food supply will be on a great many official lips.”

Pollan suggests–and it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched–that soon the government will carry out stricter means of “cleaning” up the industrial food supply.  Imposing the same regulatory requirements on smaller, regional meat-processing plants that are enforced for giant slaughterhouses, for instance, already exists.  Small farmers can’t afford to keep up with the requirements and this is why meat you find at the farmer’s market is more expensive than conventional supermarket meat.  But if regulations tighten further small farmers will be even more squeezed out of the system and ecological meat will become inaccessible.  Pollan: “Heavy burdens of regulations always fall heaviest on the smallest operations and invariably wind up benefitting the biggest players in an industry…A result is that regulating food safety tends to accelerate the sort of industrialization that made food safety a problem in the first place.  We end up putting our faith in RadSafe rather than in Blue Heron Farms–in technologies rather than relationships.” 

Finally and importantly he points out that here is even one more reason to support a decentralized food system.  Traceability–need I say more?  Eloquently, Pollan states: “But there’s nothing sentimental about local food–indeed, the reasons to support local food economies could not be any more hardheaded or pragmatic.  Our highly centralized food economy is a dangerously precarious system, vulnerable to accidental–and deliberate–contamination.”

Local Spinach and Rosemary Soup

Serves 6-8; look for local, organically grown spinach at your nearby food co-op

1/2 stick butter; 1 med. sized onion (chopped); 5 oz. potatoes (peeled and chopped); salt and pepper; 21/2 cups chicken or veg. stock; 2-21/2 cups milk; 8-12 oz. local spinach (destalked and chopped); 1 tbs. fresh rosemary (chopped)

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.  When it foams, add the onions and potatoes, and turn them until coated.  Sprinkly with salt and pepper.  Cover and sweat over gently heat for 10 minutes.  In separate saucepans, bring the stock and milk to a boil, and add to the vegetables.  Bring back to a boil and simmer until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked.  Add the spinach and boil with the lid off for 3-5 minutes, until the spinach is tender.  Do not overcook.  Add the rosemary.  Puree and taste.  Serve garnished with a blob of cream and rosemary.