Conservation à la Carte

Like Eve's apple, which conferred the knowledge of good and evil, a perfectly ripe summer tomato teaches us the difference between authentic and fake - and provides our link to the garden of true tastes.

by Paul Rauber
t was a stroke of genius to choose the tomato as the first commercial bioengineered product. The sad, pale baseballs passing for tomatoes in the supermarket are so loathed - especially by anyone who has ever had a Brandywine, Marvel Stripe, or Golden Jubilee fresh from the garden - that any improvement looks like progress. Calgene's patented, genetically engineered FlavrSavr can be picked later and riper; it still tastes only about as good as a supermarket tomato in the summer, but it tastes like that all year around.
Will a marginal improvement in the quality of commercial tomatoes be enough to sweep away what little remains of our indigenous food consciousness? While the rich, deep yellow of eggs from free-ranging chickens, the pungency of varietal cucumbers, even the smell of strawberries fade from our collective memory, the flavor of a real garden tomato lingers.
At the entrance to the downstairs dining room of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, there is what can only be called a food altar, an artfully arranged cornucopia of the same seasonal produce that diners will soon find just as elegantly arrayed on their plates. While tomatoes would brighten the mid-June display, however, they are not yet welcome in this temple of produce. I am in the bustling kitchen preparing to sally forth with Alan Tangren, a former meteorologist with the enviable job title of "forager" for the famed restaurant, when the year's first box of cherry tomatoes arrives - and is unceremoniously rejected.
"Mealy," Tangren pronounces. A cook frowns; he's getting a little bit tired of fava beans, which have been on nearly every menu for weeks, and is anxious for something new. But when he pops a tomato in his mouth, he reluctantly concurs: "No good except for throwing at each other."
Peak tomato time at Chez Panisse, in fact, will not come until the Indian summer days of late September and early October. Then they will be ubiquitous, in dozens of varieties and dozens of preparations: in salads with cucumbers, olives, and salty cheese; in lightly warmed slices, dressed in puff pastry; baked, in sauces, roasted, raw.
High time for tomatoes in the Midwest comes earlier - July and August - and is likewise cause for celebration. At Charles Trotter's restaurant in Chicago, the eponymous proprietor/chef paints a rapturous picture: "Tomatoes grown in season, ripened on the vine, picked at their optimal ripeness and eaten within the day, sliced up, a little drizzle of basil oil, a few pieces of olive, a little salt and pepper - the purity and intensity and poetry of the flavor from the tomato cannot be rivaled."
By November, the transubstantiation of sunlight into explosive taste is no longer possible. (From December to May, half of all U.S. tomatoes come from Mexico's Culiacan Valley, where they are sprayed with pesticides every four to seven days.) Yet even though the proper hour of the tomato has passed, they still garnish fast-food burgers and glow in great mounds under supermarket fluorescent lights calculated to burnish their pallor. They are banished, however, from Chez Panisse, Charlie Trotter's, and a growing number of restaurants across the country that choose to play, as Trotter puts it, "by nature's rules."
Those rules dictate the use of fresh, local, natural food in season. What 50 years ago were the rules of necessity are today the revolutionary prescripts of gourmet cooking. Learn them and you too could be a celebrity chef in a fashionable restaurant - or in your own kitchen. And a corollary benefit: by paying attention to what you put on your plate, you can reconnect to the land and help to save it.

n the boom years following World War Il, a funny thing happened to American eating: we forgot how to do it. The long migration from farm to city completed, we soon forgot - or were made to forget - our link with the land. Chemical pesticides like DDT made possible enormous single-crop farms; faster transportation allowed perishable food to be shipped long distances; freezers enabled longterm storage; processing and packaging innovations produced the TV dinner, and advertising called it progress. The rapidly growing food industry elevated economy and convenience above taste and diversity; food changed from something you coaxed from the earth and cooked yourself into a ready-to-eat commodity in aluminum and plastic, transmogrified by unseen hands in unknown locations.
"Until I was 12," recalls Moose-wood Cookbook author Mollie Katzen, "I thought spaghetti came from a can, and that vegetables grew in the freezer. When I discovered that green beans grew in the ground, I thought it was a miracle." Today, few American eaters know or care where their food comes from. It's often hard to tell anyway, since the food industry makes money "adding value" to food by altering its taste, feel, smell, and look. (Even the sound of food has become a commercially determined trait: Red Delicious apples have been engineered for crispness, not for flavor.) Processed carrots are uniform stubs in cello-wrap, salmon is molded in patties like hamburgers, and mashed potatoes come in a box. Fat and sugar, which used to be luxuries, are now staples: today we get 18 percent of our caloric intake from sugar, and 42 percent from fat.
As food is de- and re-constructed, the social role it has played for thousands of years is disappearing. The family dinner is becoming a thing of the past, and fewer and fewer people are cooking at all; nearly half of each food dollar is now spent outside the home. And inside the kitchen, the cookbook is shrinking: for many American families, dinnertime is an endless rotation of burgers, hot dogs, spaghetti, and pizza.
There are consequences other than indigestion. One out of three U.S. adults weighs at least 20 percent more than they should. Coronary heart disease, the country's leading cause of death, has been conclusively linked (as have cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate) to a typical U.S. diet heavy in red meat and fat, and low in fresh fruits and vegetables. That diet also typically includes residues of the chemical poisons sprayed on those fruits and vegetables to make them grow in times and places and quantities convenient to the food industry's marketing plans. (The main path for these poisons is through animal flesh, where pesticides bioaccumulate. Less than 10 percent of the pesticides we ingest come from produce.)
The sickness of our bodies is mirrored by the sickness of the land. Pesticide runoff into streams and rivers is now the primary source of water pollution in the United States, and agricultural chemicals have poisoned the groundwater in many areas: half the wells in Dane County, Wisconsin, for example, are tainted by the herbicide atrazine, a suspected carcinogen commonly applied to cornfields. Continuous heavy production of a handful of crops - encouraged by U.S. farm policy - results in both massive topsoil loss and chemical poisoning. And while the raising of export cattle for the U.S. burger market destroys biodiversity in Central and South America, the diversity of our own barnyards and farms is dwindling as well. Since the turn of the century, records Martin Teitel in Rain Forest in Your Kitchen, more than 6,000 varieties of apples (86 percent of those ever recorded) and 2,300 varieties of pears have become extinct. Nine out of ten eggs now on the market are laid by one breed, the white leghorn; seven out of ten dairy cows are holsteins; and two varieties of peas account for 96 percent of the total. Even though there are 6,000 varieties of potato in the world, 40 percent of all U.S. potato acreage is devoted to Russet Burbanks, the variety favored by McDonald's for its French fries.

eople have to come back in contact with food and how food is grown," insists Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse and mother of the movement back to natural, seasonal ingredients. "They have to understand that the way people take care of the land really affects the wholesomeness of what they're eating. But they haven't made that connection, and it's one of the reasons they can be so abusive to the land and the water - because they don't see any relationship with what they're putting in their mouths."
We are sitting at the coveted front table in Chez Panisse's main dining room - a room customarily booked months in advance, empty this morning except for a staffer changing tablecloths and vacuuming the stairs. Waters is delicate and soft-spoken, yet animated by a passionate conviction (a quality she attributes to her early career as a student radical, which, she says, "in all its innocence, prepared me for a lifetime of determination and optimism").
Waters' interest in food and the environment is not just the whim of a fabulously successful restaurateur. It is what made her fabulously successful. When she founded Chez Panisse 23 years ago with a borrowed $10,000, Waters knew nothing about running a restaurant All she had was the revelatory experience of her junior year in Paris. "For the first time," she recalls, "I was seeing how people live who think of good food as an indispensable part of their lives." Back home in Berkeley, she sought to recreate that experience, initially by picking through the produce bins of the supermarket across the street in search of a handful of perfect beans. She quickly learned to look farther afield.
"The process began when a neighbor offered us radishes and sorrel from her backyard garden," she says. It continued in small ethnic markets, at local farms, even in forays to vacant lots that yielded riches of fennel, nasturtiums and blackberries. Today Chez Panisse has a network of more than 90 suppliers, mostly organic and local (although truffles are still shipped from France - the domestic variety having "what some people consider an objectionable odor," as forager Tangren puts it). The list is constantly evolving. The restaurant's large commercial dairy, for example, was dropped this spring after refusing to reveal whether its cows were injected with bovine growth hormone; its happy replacement is the Straus family's nearby organic dairy.
Seeking out these suppliers is Tangren's job. He travels the back roads of the San Francisco Bay Area in search of perfection, encouraging farmers to plant new varieties, and assessing the sustainability of their farming methods. In mid-June we visited grower Didar Singh, who has 16 acres of beautiful organic grapes and fruit trees and tried to tempt us with early peaches. "We usually wait until the middle of the season," demurred Tangren with a sigh, "when they're cheaper and taste better." We did leave, however, with a lug of perfect apricots and a box of green almonds for the mysterious purposes of a visiting Spanish chef.
"We discovered a pattern," says Waters. "When we looked for the freshest and best-tasting ingredients, we found that the people who produced them were frequently the most environmentally responsible. When we tried to find the products that were certified organic, we found that if they were fresh and ripe, they usually tasted the best."
A meal at Chez Panisse is a voyage of rediscovery, a reminder of half-forgotten essences. A group of visiting Midwesterners at the next table eagerly attacks a starter plate of just-out-of-the-ground white radishes. "That's how a radish is supposed to taste!" exclaims one - exactly the reaction Waters seeks to every dish she serves. While some patrons arrive expecting to find "California cuisine" ("a gathering of things from all over the world combined willy-nilly on a plate" in Tangren's definition), they find instead simplicity itself. Like the platinum bar in Sevres, France, that is the prototypal meter, Chez Panisse is the measure of foodstuffs.
Producing plates fit for Plato's heaven in a restaurant with a staff of 100 is a costly enterprise; Saturday prix fixe dinners at Chez Panisse run $65. Yet it does not follow, Waters argues, that you have to be rich in order to eat natural, healthy food. The basic elements of Chez Panisse's menu are available to anyone willing to do a little foraging themselves.
"I'm not talking about food for gourmets," Waters insists heatedly. "I'm talking about a ripe tomato just sliced. You can make polenta for 100 people for $6. I'm talking about shell beans, 20 different varieties of shell beans that give you a great deal of pleasure all winter long, and cost next to nothing. Wholesome, honest food should be an entitlement of all Americans, not just the rich."
The "stigma of elitism" that has attached itself to eating well, Waters believes, will be erased by the rising number and popularity of organic farmers' markets. They are, in her view, the ideal meeting place of town and country, an opportunity for city people to remember where their food comes from. "It helps people understand the responsibility that the farmer has to the person who's eating, and that the person who's eating, has to the farmer," she says. "The two go together."
Part of the responsibility eaters bear is to support farmers even when their selection dwindles from its summer bounty. Doing so requires some invention, but Waters is happy to lead the way. "We have to learn again how to eat seasonally," she says. "If I had not made it my business to find out, I would not have imagined the beauty and variety of the food that's available in winter. We get five or six different sizes and shapes and colors of turnips; we get little white carrots, bright-red carrots, and orange carrots; you mix those together and it's as beautiful as a tomato salad in the middle of summer."
However colorful, tasty, and healthful the organic food at farmers' markets may be, it may well cost more than the bland, cosmetically homogeneous, pesticide-laced produce at the Piggly Wiggly. The problem is actually one of perspective, Waters argues; it's not that organic produce is too expensive, it's that supermarket produce is too cheap, because large conventional growers can "externalize" their costs by diminishing soils and polluting waterways. As is, U.S. consumers spend less on food, as a percentage of average income, than do eaters in any other nation on earth - only l2 percent, compared to 20 to 30 percent in most other countries.
"We don't know what the cost of food is," laments Waters. "It looks cheap, but it's very expensive when it comes to the environmental cleanup on the other side. And then there's our health - the big tab. At the farmers' market, we're supporting the people who are taking care of the land for all of us. I am always willing to pay extra money for that."
As Waters sees it, deepdish environmental choices are made every time we lift fork to mouth. "The good news is that by making the right choices, you're also giving yourself pleasure. It's not like medicine, not like exercise, not like eating nonfat. This is a way of coming into a whole other relationship to food that makes it irresistible to eat fruits and vegetables. They're no longer something you have to eat - you want to do it. Because they are delicious."
That sounds all very well for the balmy Bay Area, but what would it be like if Chez Panisse were in, say, Chicago? Waters seems to blanch. "It would be - different," she concedes.

meet Rick Bayless at O'Hare Airport. He is just back from New York and an appearance on Good Morning America where he has defended the honor of Mexican food against the previous day's broadside by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Following blanket condemnations of Italian and Chinese cookery, CSPI had turned its guns south of the border, declaring war on the chimichanga and chile relleno ("like eating a whole stick of butter"), warning against both rice and refried beans (too much salt in one, too much fat in the other), and even the "tortilla terror" of the staple of all Mexican cuisine. "The sad part," CSPI concluded, is that "unlike Chinese or Italian restaurant food, it's tough to make Mexican better."
The klieg lights are off, but Bayless is still hotter than a handful of habaneros. The CSPI study was based, he said, on only the most commonly ordered dishes from large chain restaurants. "That's not what Mexican food really is!" he fumes. He should know: he and his wife, Deann, are authors of an excellent cookbook, Authentic Mexican (Morrow, 1987) and owners of the Frontera Grill and Topolobambo, contiguous dining rooms of what is quite possibly the best Mexican restaurant in the United States.
No burritos or nachos here, no artificial, Anglified dishes like chimichangas or fajitas. Real Mexican food, insists Bayless, is low in fat, largely plant-based, and as healthy a cuisine as they come. A menu he submitted to Eating Well magazine, he boasts, easily passed its strict nutritional analysis even though the entrée featured beef, one sauce contained homemade crème fraîche, and the fruit tart had a butter crust. On average, the meal still ended up below the magazine's health limit of 30 percent calories from fat.
"It's all in the flavoring of the sauces," says Bayless. "Mexican sauces are served in great abundance on the plates, because all the vegetables are pureed into them. In Mexico, dishes are called by the name of the sauce, not by the name of the meat." The Baylesses serve half a dozen kinds of mole, savory sauces of chile, vegetables, and nuts that range from delicate pumpkinseed-and-tomatillo concoctions to an intense three-chile coloradito that had sweat dripping in my lap. At Frontera, as in Mexico, hunks of meat and globs of cheese are beside the point.
"If CSPI can help the chain operators move toward a healthier and more truly Mexican menu, I'm all for that," says Bayless. "But what they do is encourage people to use nonfat sour cream, which to me is as horrific as those fatty chimichangas. I think we're heading down the wrong path: Non-dairy sour cream is not the answer. It's more than just figuring out a way to magically remove or replace the fat so we can go on eating this incredibly luxurious diet and not suffer serious repercussions for doing so. We need to look at our roots, at how we have eaten in the past even if it means a much more local source base, even if it means not having grapes in the middle of winter."
Yet Chicago's local source base is hardly adequate to supply the Baylesses' demands. Their search for local suppliers has gone from disaster to disaster: one farm was sold for a subdivision; then a dependable elderly farmer retired with no one to take his place. In desperation, the Baylesses and a few like-minded restaurateurs rented their own farm and hired a manager to run it. But this spring, with seeds already in the ground, the manager quit. And when the Lincoln Park farmers' market opened this year, the grower who always brought verdolaga and other Mexican produce items wasn't there - no one knows why.
The setbacks sting, especially given his high hopes for the local farmers' market scene. "In the ideal world," says Rick, "I'd get all my produce from someone I know, someone I can chat with if I want to. I can share in their difficulties, they can share in mine. Unless we can cement that relationship, I don't see a whole lot of hope for really doing much environmental work. If you've completely lost your contact with the earth, why should you make environmentally appropriate decisions? Sure, something can pull at your heart strings - I can listen with my daughter to environmental songs on her Raffi tape and feel warm and fuzzy - but that's not going to get an adult to make appropriate decisions, like doing without something you want or paying more money to do the right thing."
As is, the Baylesses make do (magnificently, as the two-hour wait at the door attests) with what they can get from the farmers' markets, supplemented by specialty growers in California. Still, says Rick, "Some days I'd just like to close the restaurant because the stuff's not good enough. I just don't know what to do." I suggest that perhaps reforming an entire region's food-supply system is more than one person can reasonably expect to accomplish. "I don't mean on a broad scale," he replies. "I mean I don't know what I'm going to serve in my restaurant. I really don't."

f Charlie Trotter had any doubts about what to serve in his Chicago restaurant, it seems unlikely that he would ever mention it. A culinary superstar at 34, he has not yet lost the audacity of youth; his luxury restaurant - where two diners would have trouble getting out the door for less than $300 - is dedicated to "ultra and absolute purity of flavor." He features tasting menus of five to eight small, inventive plates (a tart of artichokes, summer truffles, and pigs' feet, for example, or quinoa with shiitake mushrooms and lamb's tongue), impeccably presented and maximally sensual. This is the antithesis of fast food: At dinner that night, I found it necessary to pause frequently to let my brain catch up to my taste buds.
Like the Baylesses, Trotter is devoted to ingredients that are organic and - in the summer at least - largely local. Yet he refuses to "wave the organic flag," as he puts it; he chooses organic products simply because they taste better. "Our statement is the pursuit of excellence; everything else falls into place. We don't look at it as vegetarian food or alternative food or health food; we look at it as a meal made up of vegetables, cooked the way we cook meat, fish, and everything else with precision, with technical expertise, and with love."
While Trotter offers an entirely meatless menu - chosen by one out of four diners - he calls it "vegetable" rather than "vegetarian." He is, in fact, openly scornful of what generally passes for "health food," declaring 99 percent of it inedible: "Bogus cheese melted into a sauce, those cardboard tortilla things with bland tofu pieces, a couple of pills and a protein shake with wheatgrass juice - I don't consider that very healthy. Food is about sensuality; it's one of the few aesthetic, sensual experiences you have every day. Rather than saying, 'I'm going to eat healthy,' if we eat healthy foodstuffs, and prepare them properly, health will follow."
(Chicago, with its temples of beef on every block, is pretty ambivalent about health anyway. Gordon Sinclair, whose swanky restaurant also uses mostly organic ingredients, asked rather anxiously that I be sure not to identify Gordon's as a healthfood restaurant. "I wouldn't want anyone to think they couldn't get a martini here," he explained.)
While Trotter may not be vegetarianly correct, he does insist on playing by the seasonal rules. "Some chefs don't really care. They write a menu and serve asparagus, strawberries, and tomatoes all year around. You can get those things flown in from South America; they look okay, but they don't have any flavor.
"When I serve a plate of food, I make it profound with the vegetable components. Peas cooked just through, using the juice and a little red wine essence to make the sauce; some roasted morel mushrooms flavored with garlic, and everything sitting on this beautiful satiny organic Yukon Gold potato puree - it's just going to blow up in your mouth. When you paint the picture, a piece of salmon provides four colors of flavor, but the vegetables provide a hundred others."
Trotter is more sanguine about the organic future than is Bayless. "It's easier to get these things today than it was five years ago, and I predict it will be easier still five years from now. It's supply and demand, and chefs and restaurants have to create the demand. Rick and I and Odessa Piper in Madison will have to continue to inspire people, to set the pace."

aturdays in Madison, Wisconsin, that pace starts at 6:30 am, when it is still possible to drag a child's wagon from stall to stall at the farmers' market. In another hour, the crowds of shoppers will make the sidewalks surrounding the capitol square nearly impassable. Eighteen to twenty thousand people regularly show up at this venerable (John Muir's father used to sell here) and phenomenally successful market, spending an average of $10 each. In Madison, it looks as though Alice Waters' dream has come true.
My companion's purchases are sure to boost that day's average expenditures: a lug of sour cherries, the last red currants of the season, three boxes of fat and happy tomatoes, a couple of goat boulots from Fantome Farm, and more corn than our little wagon could possibly carry from Egsters, where young women behind heaping tables shout to passersby "Fresh corn, untouched by human hands! Picked by Norwegian goddesses!"
I am tagging behind a woman who, if not the goddess, is at least the patron saint of the Madison farmers' market- Odessa Piper, chef and owner of L'Etoile, a restaurant directly across the street. Piper has been involved with the market since 1976, when she opened her restaurant and sold filled croissants (an item she invented) at a market stall. Eighteen years later, she is still a devoted consumer and fervent booster. Ingredients from the market are highlighted at the top of her weekly menu and on chalkboards on the wall, and when market day is over - or just cold and wet - the farmers troop up her stairs to eat and talk. These lucky suppliers are also feted at a special annual dinner at the restaurant; Piper calls it "the good party strategy."
By the time the sun is fully up and the market is in full swing, we are finished with our shopping and can watch the milling crowds through L'Etoile's front window as we breakfast on double espressos and venison-and-lingonberry sandwiches. I am put to work with a paper clip (the tool of choice) pitting sour cherries that will reappear that evening, along with black walnuts, in a sauce for sliced chicken breast, and again in a miraculous clafouti for dessert. While I probe for pits, Piper and her co-chef Eric Rupert (who has since left to start his own restaurant) plan the week's menu based on what they have just bought. "I'm very moved by the idea that I can personally select food at the market," says Piper. "It's these strawberries I want. I'm feeding my beloved customers these raspberries."
L'Etoile is the answer to what Chez Panisse would be like if it were in the Upper Midwest. While the Bay Area's climate inclines Chez Panisse toward Mediterranean Cuisine, L'Etoile reflects the "regional palette" of Wisconsin and, more distantly, Northern Europe. An autumn menu might feature a strudel of wild mushrooms, or whitefish with seared cabbage and apples, locally smoked bacon, and cider vinaigrette. Hickory nuts serve where one would find almonds in California, fiddlehead ferns replace radicchio. The wine cellar is weighted toward rieslings - including one from nearby Prairie du Sac's own Wollersheim Winery - and may soon include a selection of hard ciders made from Wisconsin varietal apples. L'Etoile also has an extensive root cellar for the apples, potatoes, tubers, nuts, onions, and smoked hams of its winter menu. In her early days as a hippie farmer, Piper says, "I learned what I could about freezing, drying, and preserving. I thought about what Native Americans did in this cold climate, and began to see what I could do, very elegantly, in my own restaurant."
The effect is stunning - not only for taste and presentation, but for warmth of spirit. Every afternoon the staff dines together, as they might in a French bistro; the customers are then drawn in, almost as members of the family. And anyone is eligible: Piper recalls the time she got a reservation for a large party from an agrochemical behemoth that peddles poison to the state's farms. They were, she says, particularly insistent that all the dinner's ingredients come from the farmers' market.
L'Etoile's seasonal menu is constantly becoming more so. While most places claim only four seasons, Piper has identified (at last count) nine. Early spring is the time for maple syrup and watercress, the year's first green; spring is marked by morels, asparagus, and fiddlehead ferns; late spring by strawberries and mayapples. Early summer sees dill and the first herbs, plus peas, new potatoes, and early raspberries; high summer is tomatoes, cucumbers, Door County cherries, stone fruit, and basil; Indian summer turns to apples, wild plums, eggplant, squash, and wild mushrooms. Autumn is time to start cidering, and for cruciferous vegetables and peppers. In late fall come sage, thyme, winter squash, and apples like Golden Russets that like a light frost. Then the holiday season and snowtime: aged cheese, Ieeks, hickory nuts, black walnuts, rosemary and other hardy herbs, the cider turning hard. And finally quiescent January, when one eats from the garden via the root cellar, "the still point in the turning world" says Piper, "until you go up the next rung of the spiral."
When one paints from the regional palette, the choice of colors is limited, but the result is true.

t seems to me that there are two choices," writes novelist Jane Smiley in her essay, A Wedge of Lettuce. "We can continue to process our food, as through a machine, from field to table, and continue to content ourselves with mechanically opening our jaws and processing it through our alimentary canals, or we can sow the seed, harvest the fruits, bring care and interest to the preparation of meals, and take our daily reward in the pleasure of aroma, flavor, and visceral satisfaction. We can decide that what doesn't taste good cannot be good for us."
This is, perhaps, a challenging message for many Americans, whose tastes tend toward the utilitarian, who view food as fuel, and who regard time spent procuring and preparing it as time wasted. Yet that attitude runs directly counter to our most deeply held beliefs about the land, our bodies, and how they should be treated. Luckily, we don't have to wait for change to come from Capitol Hill or the EPA to realize these aspirations; we can achieve them every time we sit down to dinner.
"You can make your own decisions about food without needing anyone's permission and without anyone else's help," says Alice Waters. "If you choose to eat mass-produced fast food, you are supporting a network of supply and demand that is destroying local communities and traditional ways of life all over the world - a system that replaces self-sufficiency with dependence. And you are supporting a method of agriculture that is ecologically unsound - that depletes the soil and leaves harmful chemical residues in our food.
"But if you decide to eat fresh food in season - and only in season - that is locally grown by farmers who take care of the earth, then you are contributing to the health and stability of local agriculture and local communities. Actions have consequences, and people acting responsibly can make a difference. I believe that how you eat, and how you choose your food, is an act that combines the political - your place in the world of other people - with the most intensely personal - the way you use your mind and your senses, together, for the gratification of your soul. It can change the way we treat each other, and it can change the world."

Reprinted with permission from the Nov/Dec 1994 issue of SIERRA. Sierra Club membership includes subscription to SIERRA. 730 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 92109. Paul Rauber is a senior editor at Sierra and a happy eater.