Guest Blog: Life-Changing Vegetables

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 Here’s a guest blog written by our friend & CSA member, Emily Estrada (we love her enthusiasm!!!):
If I were to ask those who know me well for an adjective that best describes my personality, I suspect words such as dramatic and theatrical would be used often.  I’ve made my peace with this and can admit that from time-to-time I have, in order to (try to..) captivate an audience, presented certain things in a dramatic, theatrical and maybe on occasion, even exaggerated manner.  However, when I write that becoming a CSA member with In Good Heart Farm has been one of the most life-changing decisions I’ve ever made, I assure you that I am not being dramatic, theatrical  or exaggerating in the slightest.  On the surface, one may think, “Really?  Really?!?  Having a vegetable subscription has changed your life…?”  Yes – that’s exactly right – joining the CSA in spring/summer 2011 changed my core, and even deeper, challenged what I thought I knew about myself.  Before you dismiss me, read on. 
            The most obvious (and I suspect common!) change is simply that I eat many more vegetables now.  Before the CSA, I would honestly go days…weeks…and maybe even….months without eating a fresh vegetable.  Today, I average about four servings of vegetables per day (and in some weird way, increasing my vegetable consumption has lead to an increase in my fruit consumption…who would have thought?  It’s like this is the type of food my body was designed to consume…weird  J ).  I was 28 when we joined the CSA, when, up until then I had always resisted eating vegetables.  Think about that: over two and a half decades of thinking one way (1.  Veggies are gross. 2. We’re “suppose” to eat vegetables but could never actually taste good.), changed so quickly by being a part of the CSA.  Actually, it’s best not to think about it; when I do, I become angry.  How is it, exactly, that I resisted eating vegetables for a very long time – without ever even considering how great they could taste (and make me feel!)?!?!  That’s not rhetorical – I think I have some answers.  First, I was not raised in a veggie-centered family.  Although we are all much more concerned with healthy eating today, this definitely wasn’t how it was back in the day.  Growing up my palette much preferred battered, deep-fried meats and (limited) vegetable items.  Thus, as a grown up, eating that type of food feels normal.  Second, moving beyond my family, I recently caught a few minutes of a cartoon on Nickelodeon when my nephew visited us.  In the segment I watched, the “punishment” given to a kid (or baby fairy, actually) was to eat beets.  Beets?!?!?  How, exactly, is that a punishment[1]?  And, more importantly, what message are we sending our children when we tell them eating beets is a form of punishment rather than the wonderfully root-y treat they are?  My point is that growing up in a family that was not veggie-conscious coupled with living in a society that tells children vegetables are gross, and that instead, they need to pick up a bag of those ever-so-cool triple-dipped toxic waste flavored cheese puffs, left me veggie-disillusioned for the majority of my life.  As a CSA member, my wonderment and absolute amazement towards vegetables has been restored.         
Change #2:  I’m eating more diverse types of vegetable; joining a CSA probably introduces many new and exotic vegetables for even those that have been life-long produce lovers.  The more adventurous vegetables I’ve tried through the CSA for the first time include: kohl rabi, leeks, fennel (OMG – fennel – I still get chills when I think about the first time I had it; I was seriously angry that this wonderful, joyous product only entered into my life when I was 29!!!  How did I live before it??), purple potatoes, garlic scape, and Daikon radish to name a few.  But, to express even further the change brought about by the CSA, let me also list the more traditional veggies I tried for the first time with the CSA: broccoli, cauliflower, any type of green (collard, swiss chard, kale (again – OMG – kale chips??  An existential question of the vegetable variety:  can a life before kale chips, really be considered living?), beet greens), beets, cabbage, carrots (alright, yes, I had baby carrots before – but they were those little tooth-pick shaped carrots that somehow get widdled down to stumps…I’m talking about those amazingly beautiful purple, yellow, orange, and white ones that look as though the ground was actually their home at some point), and radish.   Before the CSA I was, flat-out, unequivocally a Grade A weenie when it came to trying all food, but in particular veggies.  The CSA has made me braver[2].  I love getting a vegetable that I’ve never eaten before; even better if I’ve never even heard or seen it.  Almost every week I play the “Name That Vegetable” game with family back in Texas.  I send a picture of the veggie and they submit their guesses[3].  In short, the CSA has made me not only a much more frequent fresh food eater, but a more adventurous one.  I now know first, what the heck kale is, and secondly the difference between Red Russian and Winterbore varieties.  Same goes for radish – I can spot and describe different varities.  Same goes for potatoes…and on and on.  Five years ago, I never would have thought that this discovery and knowledge would have entered my life.  Thank you CSA! 
The last, and in many ways, deepest transformation the I’ll write about concerns the  realization that food is so much more than I ever thought it was.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve always known that food tasted good and, because of this, can make me happy.  But by saying that food is so much more than what I could have ever imagined, I mean that the CSA has helped me realize the natural and social connections betweens the food-production earth, the farmers that cultivate the food, and me – the being that consumes it.  I’ve often joked that until I met Patricia and Ben, I thought vegetables came out of the ground in a can filled with a water solution, is because when vegetables did make an appearance in my family, they usually came from a can.  As such, I cannot express in words the wonderment I felt the first time I saw a carrot pop out of the ground; my life changed in an instant.  Seeing that carrot come out of the ground reminded me that in many fundamental ways, I depend on the earth and, likewise, when treated properly (as Patricia and Ben very much do) the earth depends on us as well.  Because of the modern-day industrial food production systems and messages that we’re surrounded by, it’s easy to forget how food connects us to the natural world and, what’s more, it’s easy to ignore the relationship we have with food, the earth, and the food producers.  Gaining this knowledge – the knowledge that my time on earth is connected to a much larger phenomena – has helped me gain a new perspective on life.
               It’s weird to admit, but one of my favorite things to talk about are vegetables.  When a friend joins the CSA, it’s all I can do to stop myself from wanting to know how they’re going to store their veggies, how they are going to prepare them, and how they tasted.  On the first day of pickup this season, I wanted to take a picture as in “First Day of CSA!” in the “First Day of School” sense.  Next go-round, I think I may actually do it.  

[1]UNLESS they ate so much of the AMAZING Raw Beet Salad recipe Wake Cooperative posted on facebook and got a belly-ache like I do, but that’s only because it was super-yummy!
[2]And not only about trying vegetables.  For, I’ve recently discovered a fondness for shrimp – LOVE them.  The old Emily would never even entertain the idea of trying shrimp. 
[3]Admittedly, these submissions tend to be more comical than serious.  The garlic scape elicited a response of “Freddy Krueger herbs” and…well, I won’t tell you what they came up with for Daikon radish.  J   

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