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Finding The Joy In Local Food

Finding The Joy In Local Food
As part of our monthly segment about food, we'll look at how you can buy, cook and enjoy more local foods.

Melanie Rehak, author of "Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid" will be at Warwick's bookstore in La Jolla this evening, Wednesday, August 25, at 7:30 pm.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Every month on this program we have a show about the delights of food. We often focus on the new ideas about food, how to buy and prepare locally grown foods, how to support local organic growers, how to fit the slow food philosophy into a fast paced life. If all the new information about food leaves you a little confused at the supermarket, you are not alone. Eating for your health, your family’s health and the health of the planet and still really enjoying food can be daunting. Today we'll talk about the challenges of incorporating healthy, adventurous eating into a menu that works for you. I’d like to introduce my guests. Caron Golden is food writer of the column Local Bounty for San Diego Magazine, and author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff. Good morning, Caron.

CARON GOLDEN (Food Writer): Good morning, Maureen. Good to be with you again.


CAVANAUGH: Indeed it is. Melanie Rehak is a longtime passionate cook and food lover, author of the new book, "Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid." Welcome to the show, Melanie.

MELANIE REHAK (Author): Thank you so much, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now, we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. How involved have you gotten in the idea of buying locally grown foods, organic foods? How challenging is it to find these foods? And do you have trouble getting yourself or your family to eat fresh and local instead of fast and processed? Give us a call with your questions, your comments, your recipes, 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Melanie, your book is about your personal adventure, yearlong adventure, in trying to figure out what food you should be eating. Now why is that so difficult?

REHAK: Oh, for me I think it – Well, it was already difficult because I felt like I was naturally inclined to read everything that’s being published about food in newspapers and magazines and blogs and, you know, all the information about organic and local and hormones and pesticides and all those kinds of things, and food miles. And I found at a certain point that the more I read, the more confused I got. It was sort of going in an inverse direction. I would read these articles and, you know, web sites and such to get informed and then I found that there was so much conflicting information that I couldn’t sort it out for myself. And then sort of another layer was added to this, as I write about in the book, when I had a baby and suddenly all of these things that had been, you know, somewhat abstract but, you know, applied to me and to my husband became much bigger because I actually had this person there who really had never eaten before and I thought, oh, I’m supposed to be in charge. You know, I think it’s the moment many people have when they have a baby, like, oh, I’m the grownup now and I have to pick so…

CAVANAUGH: I have to know what to eat.


REHAK: Yeah, so I’m supposed to buy you food and you can’t even talk. So I think it just all became very confusing to me and, as you said in your introduction, I literally found myself standing in the grocery store, you know, I have this image of myself in front of the produce section at a huge grocery store just standing there looking at it and, you know, sort of paralyzed. What do I buy? And I feel guilty if I buy this and if I don’t buy this and, you know, so it – it just got very complicated for me.

CAVANAUGH: Caron, I wonder what your experience or your experience from the people who read your blog and your column, what do you hear about food confusion these days and the kind Melanie’s been talking about?

GOLDEN: Oh, well, I think that’s the problem that all of us seem to have if we’re interested in this at all. You go to the market now and if you are going – Well, first, what market do you go to? Do you shop exclusively at the farmers market? It’s – people complain that it’s pricy and so that’s something that we should probably, you know, address. Do you go to, you know, the big chain supermarkets? Do you go to something like Trader Joe’s or Henry’s which, you know, may be sort of the compromise that a lot of people make because, you know, they want to buy a little more local, they want a little less expensive produce. Whole Foods, Bristol Farms. Whole Foods now is not only selling organic produce but they’re selling some of the local farm produce if you look at the different stalls that they have. And we have – We’re very lucky in San Diego that we have good produce year round but still that, I think, spoils us and so we tend to expect to get a lot of the same produce all the time year round and so that’s where Mexico comes in and South America in terms of importing a lot of stuff that, you know, avocados, for instance, are a great example. We’re the heart of avocado, you know, the world of avocados here…


GOLDEN: …in San Diego. We grow the most. And yet there is season to it but Californians, and particularly San Diegans, think that they should have their avocados year round so if you look at the labels and, you know, this is the thing that people forget, you know, you’ll see that these are coming from, you know, mostly Mexico but also further in South America and it’s a different mindset that people have to adopt, which is easier, I think, for us here than it is for you in the northeast where you can go all winter and not have greens.

REHAK: Right, I mean, this is a really interesting and good point. I think part of what I knew intellectually but didn’t really have that much experience of and which I really got over the course of this year, is this idea that, you know, you can’t just have, when it comes to produce, you can’t just have everything all the time and…

CAVANAUGH: If you want something locally grown.

REHAK: Right, and…


REHAK: Or maybe not you can’t but that it’s not actually the way things have always been. And I think, you know, we’ve all grown up with these big supermarkets and all this produce, you know, imported from everywhere and, you know, you don’t even know what the season is for things. I mean, I think before I started working at the restaurant where I worked where the menu changes every day and it’s very seasonal, you know, there were fruits and vegetables where I thought, well, what is the season for that? I mean, I didn’t even know. And so I think, as you say, especially on the east coast, you know, there’s a certain amount of reeducation…


REHAK: …that I got or that needs to take place about, you know, what it means to have things in season. And, also, I think how much more you appreciate them when you have to wait for, you know…


REHAK: …tomato season, corn season, berry season.

CAVANAUGH: I want to invite our listeners to join our conversation at 1-888-895-5727 if you’d like to talk about local versus organic or the slow food movement or where you’ve been buying your food and why. 1-888-895-5727. Melanie, you talk about working in a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. That’s part of the memoir, “Eating for Beginners.” Why did you choose to do that since you – was this to solve your food confusion?

REHAK: It was kind of. I mean, the – it was sort of an evolution of sorts. I mean, this is a restaurant that’s down the street from where I live where we have been eating and it’s a small restaurant owned by a husband and wife. He’s the head chef and she runs the front of the house. And, as I mentioned, they get all their stuff fairly locally although there are some exceptions, which I’ll get into later, and the menu really changes every day. I mean, sometimes something will carry over for a day but, I mean, you know, it’s – the way they work is basically a process of they get to work, they see what they have, and then they write the menu. It’s very much like what you would do at your house. Like, what do I have in my fridge? What are we having for dinner tonight?


REHAK: And the food, it goes without saying, is extraordinary and not super complicated. I mean, one of the things that I always appreciated about the restaurant was that, you know, if it’s a dish that’s duck with this and this, you know, as sides, when it comes, that’s what it is. There’s nothing, you know, nothing is dressed up, nothing is hidden, nothing is disguised. You’re not taking a bite and saying, you know, what is this? Or, I thought there were supposed to be mushrooms with this. So we were eating there and I entered this, you know, phase of confusion and I thought, you know, these people really must know. They are every day, every season, they’re making it up and they’re serving people and the food’s incredible. And I thought this would be such a great place to learn about this, to just be around all this food and, you know, to not have to try to figure out how to get it myself because they obviously have their, you know…

CAVANAUGH: One thing I took heart in in reading this book is that even a restaurant as committed as the restaurant you worked in were having issues about what is local and what isn’t, and the idea…

REHAK: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …and the idea of lettuce grown in Florida. Well, it was grown…

REHAK: Right, right.

CAVANAUGH: …in the – on the…

GOLDEN/REHAK: …east coast.

REHAK: Right, right.

GOLDEN: All of this, this is a very common thing for almost everything that I have studied over the years since I’ve been doing this kind of writing. I did a piece on sustainable seafood for Edible San Diego recently and after talking to a few people, I developed – My first question to anyone I talked to was, what do you consider to be sustainable? Because literally, to a person, that description, that definition changed, and it was wide and vast. And what is local? Well, local could – is it within a hundred miles of where we are? Is it the Pacific coast? Is it the U.S.? And depending on the kind of fish, that’s what local was. And it was very bizarre. Saying we have a different issue with meat here because of real estate prices and the lack of water. We don’t have a lot of local meat grown, but we have people at the farmers market selling local meat, quote, unquote. And that might be from Northern California or further up on the coast where there’s more rain and they can have those kinds of pastured farms. And the same with – not so much for us with vegetables although if you look at the farmers markets now, Little Italy Mercado has a farmer coming down with berries from Northern California, and the City Heights farmers market has a guy coming from Bakersfield or that area with sort of more Asian style produce for that particular kind of neighborhood.

CAVANAUGH: And the whole concept of local is to kind of cut down on that transport, right? To make it a really sustainable…

GOLDEN: Carbon footprint, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, exactly.

REHAK: Right, right. I mean, that is definitely one of the issues is the food miles and, I mean, I think, you know, again, depending on who you talk to, it matters more or less. But one of the things that I found really enlightening about the research I did for the book that involved going to farms and working on them was just to be on these farms, I mean, I think, you know, local farmers and small farms and all these things are these catch phrases that we all toss around and, oh, we have to support, you know, the small farmers and, you know, boo government subsidies and, you know, agra business and all that. But, you know, one of the questions I had was, you know, what is that? What does that really mean? Who are these people? Why do we have to support them? I mean, does it really matter to buy your food locally, say you set aside the carbon footprint issue. And one of the things that was so extraordinary to me about working on these farms, and I did a produce farm in upstate New York and a farm that raises animals in Vermont and a small cheesemaker and a dairy in Connecticut, was to go to these farms and meet these people and see not only how dedicated they are in spite of the fact – I mean, they make no money, which sort of gets to your issue about the priciness of farmers markets. I mean, they really, you know, they’re barely breaking even a lot of the time and they are all very, very committed to their communities. I mean, you’re not just supporting a farm when you buy produce from a small farm, you are supporting, you know, probably a business that employs local people, people who are, you know, literally and figuratively rooted to the land where they work…


REHAK: …and want the community to thrive around them. I mean, it’s a whole, you know…

CAVANAUGH: It’s a whole…

REHAK: It’s a whole passel of things. It’s not just the food and the farm.

CAVANAUGH: It’s not just the price, it’s not just the transport, it’s the…

REHAK: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …commitment was well.

REHAK: Right.

CAVANAUGH: We have a lot of callers…

REHAK: Good.

CAVANAUGH: …who want to join our conversation. Let me get some of them online. I want to tell you that you can call us at 1-88-89 – 1-888-895-5727 or go online at Alex is on the line from Rancho Bernardo. Good morning, Alex. Welcome to These Days.

ALEX (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. One of the best things people could do is basically start growing their own food. For example, on my backyard, instead of having the eucalyptus tree, I have a walnut and a almond tree that goes very well with – here in Southern California. But also, in regards to getting good meat here in Southern California, we actually do have a lot of farms here in Ramona or Valley Center, or if you go to east county. I know they have, for example – When I want meat, I go, for example, I don’t want to give them a plug but like go to North Park Produce.


ALEX: They get a lot of the halal meat, it’s called, they’re all local. I think they’re from like San Diego even. So you’ve just got to look for it and maybe pay a little bit more but there’s a lot of things you could do, you’ve just got to look for it.

CAVANAUGH: Alex, when you grow your own, did you say almonds?

ALEX: Almonds and walnuts. It grows very well in Southern California. You barely ever have to water it and provides nice shades. In spring, there’s very nice flowers.

CAVANAUGH: Did you ever think of selling them?

ALEX: No, I eat them before it gets…

REHAK: I can’t even…

ALEX: And you know what? One of the best things, you know, is raw, young almonds.

GOLDEN: Oh, yeah.

ALEX: I don’t know if you’ve ever give it a try on a salad. I mean, right after they flower, just start to bud up. And, you know, then even if you have some left over, when they dry up, make perfect snacks. You just, you know, got to give it a try. And stop wasting your water on a eucalyptus tree, grow some fruit trees, you know.

CAVANAUGH: Alex, thank you so much for the call. I really appreciate it. We have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue to talk about food confusion and how to overcome it. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS, and we’re talking about food, local versus organic, organic versus slow food, where you buy your food, what it means. And what it means to buy – to have a sustainable type of menu. Does it interfere with your enjoyment of food? Give us a call with your questions and your comments, 1-888-895-5727. My guests are Caron Golden, food writer of the column Local Bounty for San Diego Magazine, author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff, and Melanie Rehak is a – is just out with a new book, "Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid." I’d like to start with a phone call, if we may. Gordon is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Gordon, and welcome to These Days.

GORDON (Caller, San Diego): Oh, thank you very much for calling, and it’s kind of nice to hear the word slow food being used because I’ve been involved with that movement for a long time and now it’s – the word slow food is becoming vernacular when it’s talking about food, so it’s pretty nice. But what I’m calling about is CSAs, and that the Community Sponsored Agriculture…


GORDON: …in the San Diego area is booming and, you know, places like Sea Breeze Organic Farm and Be Wise where you can buy your food directly from the farmer to the house or to a pickup spot. And these are really great ways to support your local farmers because if we lose our farmers, we lose a part of culture that we’ll never get back because it’ll go to the way of the big corporate businesses and we’re going to lose a piece of culture that is so necessary to our whole country and so I say support any way you can and don’t worry about the price. I mean, people are so worried about the price of food. The object is, you buy good food, you have good health, you have good – you have a whole different kind of attitude than buying cheap food which is processed or something like that. You’re going to have problems down the line. We were – we spend too much time thinking…


GORDON: …it’s too costly. Well, it’s going to be costly if you don’t buy good food.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Gordon, thank you. That’s a very good point. I want to go on because I know—I know—what he’s talking about, of course. We’ve talked about it several times on our food show, and that is receiving a box of locally grown produce basically every couple of weeks, every month, no matter kind of whatever schedule you’re on. But, Caron, these things arrive, do people know what to do with them?

GOLDEN: Quite often they don’t and it’s really amusing when I’m with the farmers and they – A lot of the smart ones are putting recipes on their websites because they understand that people are going to be pulling out rutabagas or beets or just whatever thing that they, on a whim, have gone through the seed catalog and decided to plant and then people are very confused by them. It’s – I know, for instance, if you go to Suzie’s Farms website, they are very good about posting recipes for the various things that are in their CSAs. So you have to – but be adventurous. And, my God, there’s so many blogs out there and cookbooks and food shows and whatnot. It is not hard to identify something and then be able to find a recipe for it. So it shouldn’t get you down.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Melody is calling from Rancho Bernardo. Good morning, Melody. Welcome to These Days.

MELODY (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Good morning. I also had wanted to bring up CSAs but that’s been covered.


MELODY: So I’d like to mention that I have had the experience of going into a regular grocery store and looking around and feeling like there wasn’t any real food to buy. And I, you know, prefer to shop at places like Jimbo’s and Henry’s and Trader Joe’s. And there’s so much processed foods although there is, you know, some vegetables and fruit and other stuff at the regular grocery stores. Well, and also I think that they’re improving. But this is such a wonderful area for year round food, not necessarily everything all year round but…


MELODY: …so many things grow around here and it really is an easy area to buy fairly locally. Maybe not meat, but I don’t eat much meat, so…


MELODY: …that’s not of concern to me. And I think that your programs on this subject are wonderful.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. I appreciate the call. Melanie, in your book, “Eating for Beginners,” you talk about – It sort of runs on two tracks. You have the track of you working in a restaurant, learning about locally produced foods, learning about how they come about, visiting these farms. And then you’re trying to get your young son to eat food.

REHAK: Right, yes, and that’s not even an over simplification. It was really just to eat food.


REHAK: Any food. I think – yes. I think, in retrospect, this book is probably about the most schizophrenic year of my life to date.


REHAK: I mean, on the one hand, as you say, I was in this world of fantastic food and ever-changing menus and learning to cook and, you know, sort of conquering that CSA box problem of, you know, what do I do with this? And then on the other hand, I had a one-year-old who suddenly, you know, I’m not sure how this happened simultaneously but it did, just didn’t want to eat at all. And, you know, little by little we dropped our standards from, oh, we’d love our child to eat just the way we do to, you know, oh, well, it’d be just great if he wanted to eat, you know, local, organic, anything, you know, it doesn’t matter. Simple to, please, will you just eat something? Just anything. I mean, you know, if you’re going to have yogurt three meals a day, we’ll do that, that’s fine. And that was really where we were when this all started. So I would go to work at the restaurant and spend these 10-hour shifts cooking and making fantastic things like crab cakes and, you know, local lettuces and all these things, and then I would come home and there would be my son literally refusing to eat a piece of toast. I mean, this was a child that we couldn’t take to a restaurant for a long time because he wouldn’t even eat, you know, something from the bread basket, like a breadstick, which, you know, I think is sort of an old standby for parents in restaurants so…

CAVANAUGH: Well, I have to ask you, too, Melanie, not only being this incredibly picky eater but in talking with other parents, are they having problems kind of introducing their own taste in food, their own preferences in, you know, locally grown and slow food and different kinds of vegetables and so forth to kids? I mean, are kids adopting those food choices or are they resisting them?

REHAK: Well, I think what I learned finally, what I accepted finally, is that, you know, you get as with everything with children, you get the child you get. And some children, yes, will right away sit down and eat whatever their parents are eating or they’ll eat some of it or they’ll want to try – and some children won’t. And my child turned out to be in the won’t category. I mean, he never went through that phase where he would look at our plates, you know, and seem delighted and, you know, reach for food. He just wasn’t interested in it. And so, you know, I think that the moral of that story is that, you know, if you get a kid like that, it’s great. And if you don’t, it’s okay, too, and it’s not something you did. And I actually had—it’s in the book—I had a great conversation about that with Laura, the wife of the couple who own the restaurant about how when they had their first daughter, she would eat everything and they were so, you know, patting themselves on the back and, oh, it’s because we love food so much and we care about it and we bring her up in this environment where she’s in the restaurant kitchen and she sees it all. And then, you know, all of a sudden, one by one, she stopped eating chicken, she stopped eating all these things and, you know, they wiped the smug look off their faces pretty fast after that and, you know, that was very instructive to me to hear that even these people who are so deeply involved with food and cooking, you know, your child is your child. They come out, as everyone tells you, with a personality and they put it into action and…

CAVANAUGH: And there it is.

REHAK: …and that’s it. So…

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Sean is calling us from – Oop, Allison is calling us from Tierrasanta. Good morning, Allison, and welcome to These Days. We’ll wait on the phone calls for a moment and see where we are on that because I really wanted – You know, I actually really did want to follow that up with you, Caron, because, you know, it’s not just kids who don’t always get on the fresh food bandwagon.


CAVANAUGH: There are other family members who just, you know, really – They want what they want. Do you have any kinds of tips about what kinds of foods can maybe wean a fast food addict, you know, on to something that’s fresher and maybe even better for them?

GOLDEN: I think – Well, with adults, adults are pretty much set in their ways and I think that it’s a matter of the fresher the food, the better because, I mean, there’s just nothing like having a radish that’s pulled just, you know, from the ground or right now all the tomatoes…

CAVANAUGH: But some people won’t eat that.

GOLDEN: I understand.

CAVANAUGH: They don’t think that way.


CAVANAUGH: Not a radish pulled from the ground, no, thank you.

GOLDEN: Yeah, right. I haven’t come across adults who you can convert very easily. What I have discovered with older kids teaching at Olivewood Gardens, which is, you know, something that we’ve talked about and we had Michelle Cox on the show. I have started getting the most interesting comments from kids, we’re talking age 9 through maybe 15, who come and we do these programs with them. And this summer I’ve been making gazpacho and I’m becoming sort of a one-note cook with these kids but what we do is, you know, we’re using stuff from the garden and so – and we have to make it quick because we have 25 minutes to make it. And I have now found a child who—actually one of them was Michelle’s daughter—who said I don’t eat tomatoes. My mother has been making – trying to get me to eat tomatoes. She’s tried everything and I don’t like them but I like the soup and I’m going to eat tomatoes in the soup. And Michelle was like over the moon with that, and that’s all they make now is gazpacho…


GOLDEN: …so that her daughter will eat tomatoes. And then there was another kid that last week who was there who told me afterwards, I don’t like corn but I liked the corn in this. And those are like little triumphs and it’s not that it’s that recipe or anything, it’s just you never know in what context food will appeal to somebody. I remember my sister doesn’t like raw tomatoes but she eats catsup. She doesn’t like, you know, I mean, everybody has their thing and so you need to find – maybe it’s the context in which that piece of produce is made that makes it taste good for you.

CAVANAUGH: That’s very interesting. As I say, we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Ashley is on the line from Point Loma. Good morning, Ashley. Welcome to These Days.

ASHLEY (Caller, Point Loma): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

ASHLEY: Hi, I just – It’s kind of back to the price thing.


ASHLEY: And it’s not so much a complaint about it. It’s something I decided okay, I’m going to – this is something worth my value, I’m going to, you know, pay for restaurants that maybe charge a little extra a place – a plate because of organic or local or just what they’re doing altogether just costs more. So that’s something I want to do and I continue to do but I’m just curious as in the future, as more awareness is raised and as more people learn the benefits or just get involved and start paying an extra buck for something that’s just worth their value, if these prices will be able to go down for farmers and vendors?

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yes, thank you, Ashley.

GOLDEN: Melanie brought up a really good point in her book about prices and this is something that we talk about on a very superficial level because we’re pulling out our wallet and paying. We’re already paying for what you think is cheap food, we’re paying for it. We’re paying for it through taxes because many of these farmers are subsidized by the federal government. We’re paying one way or the other. It’s simply that with the farmers, we’re paying it to them directly as opposed to paying it to a chain of supermarkets which, you know, pays the – Yeah, I mean, there’s a whole long line in between, you know, the folks who – the distributors and then the farmers who actually are getting subsidized. This is becoming such a big issue now that I know many people are aware now that Walmart is selling organic produce. So once Walmart hits the scene, things tend to change because we’re talking, you know, that kind of scale.


GOLDEN: But, you know, Melanie can talk about that, too.

REHAK: Well, I think, yeah, I mean, that is a very, very good point that, you know, we are paying. Our taxes are going to subsidize larger farms and you pay for it one way or another. I mean, as one of the earlier callers also brought up, you know, if you buy a lot of cheap, processed food now you’re going to also pay for that later because you’ll probably have health problems and, you know, there are all these bigger picture issues that are very hard to think about, I think, when you’re, you know, at the grocery store.


REHAK: You’re just there and you’re trying to buy food and…


REHAK: …that’s what you think about. And I think that’s what happens a lot at farmers markets, too. You go and the prices seem so much higher than what you’re getting at the supermarket but, you know, there are – even putting aside, you know, government subsidies and things like that, I mean, you are paying for things – that farmer or that, you know, farmer’s helper, whoever it is, who’s at the farmers market, you know, packed the van the night before, got up at probably two or three o’clock in the morning and drove into the city or wherever the farmers market is, and set up the center. I mean, you are paying for a lot of work basically.



CAVANAUGH: Not only in actually getting the food out of the ground…

REHAK: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …but getting it to where it needs to be.

REHAK: And when you think about that, I mean, you’re not paying very much. I mean, I spent days on all these farms working. I mean, it is so much work. It’s more work than, you know, a lot of people will ever do in their lives, and they do it every day. And I think, you know, especially where produce is concerned, once I spent two days at that farm working. I thought I will give you anything out of my wallet you want at a farmers market, I mean, just for doing this. I mean, it’s an extraordinary amount of work and I think also the caller who brought up the point about losing a part of our culture, which was something that came up again for me in the book when I went out on a fishing boat. I mean, these are parts of America. These are subcultures. These are farmers and fishermen and they bring, you know, an interesting dimension to American life and we’re losing them and, you know, I think that that, while again it’s sort of abstract, for me, having written this book, all of these things are in the back of my mind now when I shop. And that doesn’t mean that I only buy at the farmers market or that I only buy organic or only buy local, but I feel like, you know, what I hope I did in this book is I hope I went out and I did all these things and brought the, you know, experience to other people through the book so that you can think about it, too, and just make a really informed decision about balanced purchasing. Of course, you can’t afford to buy everything organic and local but, you know, you know why you’re doing it when you do and you know that you don’t have to feel guilty if you can’t afford everything because you’re doing what you can.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to take some phone calls back to back. There are a lot of people who want to join the conversation. And, you know, you can also go online with your comments at Stephen is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Stephen. Welcome to These Days.

STEPHEN (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. I was listening to your show and listening to the fact that it’s very difficult to get sometimes greens on the east coast. The school that my child goes to, Chabad Hebrew Academy, recently bought an aquaponic greenhouse, something that I had never heard of before. I’d heard of hydroponics. But this is a system that’s in symbiosis kind of with tilapia fish so that the fish actually create the nutrients for the vegetables to grow in in a rock bed in this case…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s…

STEPHEN: …and there’s other systems but it’s the kind of thing that could be set up anywhere, any climate, especially if you have a greenhouse. But you can do it indoors with grow lights, too, if you wanted to. And it’s definitely suited for creating leafy greens, high nitrogen type nutrients.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Stephen. That’s something that I really hadn’t heard of. That sounds very interesting. Hillary’s calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Hillary. Welcome to These Days.

HILLARY (Caller, San Diego): Hi.


HILLARY: Are you there?

CAVANAUGH: Yes, indeed.

HILLARY: Oh, I’m trying to do my part as a local grower. I just got some chickens and they’re very fun to raise and I believe you can have up to 25 chickens in San Diego. And they eat all the scraps and it’s very inexpensive to feed them organic feed.

CAVANAUGH: Are you planning to slaughter any of these chickens?


REHAK: Ah, that’s always the question, isn’t it?

CAVANAUGH: And there we go.

HILLARY: I might but my kids are kind of attached to them. They all have names so I think right now we’re…

GOLDEN: Are you doing it for the eggs?

HILLARY: Say that again.

GOLDEN: Are you doing it for the eggs?

HILLARY: Yes, we’re doing it for the eggs. And they leave little gifts every morning and it’s just so fun to go down to the coop and let them out and then find, you know, a bunch of eggs in there.

REHAK: They actually just changed the law in New York to allow people to raise chickens because so many people were starting to do it anyway, of course, since we’re New Yorkers and we just go ahead and do it. But I think it was illegal and somebody finally realized, well, you know, this is happening so let’s make it legal.

CAVANAUGH: Hillary, thank you for the call. Scott’s calling us from Vista. Good morning, Scott. Welcome to These Days.

SCOTT (Caller, Vista): Good morning. I’m thrilled to be on your show. I’m a organic farmer but also a food educator and have worked with high school students. And one of the keys, I believe, is food literacy, that we as a culture have slipped away from a real understanding of food. Like you compared organic to slow food, well slow food embraces all the food movements and wants to bring them forward rather than let any of the parts fall away.


SCOTT: But the real key for us is rebuilding this food literacy concept because we have kids that came into our high school that never ate vegetables, for example, but they had always experienced them, you know, beets out of a can, not roasted beets in the school cafeteria. And if they have that opportunity, they can begin to wean themselves off of modern food where you need to read the label and have a magnifying glass and a glossary of terms…


SCOTT: …to what I call real food which might be local or regional. It might be chemically produced or organically produced but it’s closer to our heart and it requires less additives and that’s the real key. And as an organic farmer, I think of myself as a primary healthcare provider.

CAVANAUGH: I understand. Scott, we have to go. We have to take a short break but I do appreciate the call. You made very important points that we’re going to talk about after the break. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Caron Golden and Melanie Rehak, and we’re talking about the idea of buying organic foods, locally grown foods, food confusion for both parents and children. What to buy, where to buy it and what really makes healthy and adventurous eating. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 or online at I just wanted to follow up quickly on that last caller, Scott, who was an organic farmer and talked about food literacy and some children coming into, I guess, where he teaches and never – really not knowing anything about vegetables. Caron, you’ve had that experience as well.

GOLDEN: Oh, it’s really eye-opening when you think about kids who don’t know what a piece of produce is, who have never seen a pepper or a head of garlic and you have to tell them what it is. I do some volunteer teaching at Olivewood Gardens and I’ve had that same thing happen where I asked for a volunteer to help crack open eggs for some zucchini pancakes and the child who I asked to do it had never cracked open an egg, and this is a ten year old girl. And we have to remember that a lot of kids are being raised in households in which they are getting primarily processed foods as their diet, and even the parents aren’t sure what to do in terms of making food from scratch, meals from scratch. So the good news is that Olivewood Gardens is doing something, that there are a lot of schools now that are pairing up with local chefs who are coming in and teaching at the schools, and so we are getting some of this sort of food literacy that Scott was just talking about.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Tim is calling us from Ramona. Good morning, Tim, and welcome to These Days.

TIM (Caller, Ramona): Well, thank you for having me and mostly thanks to your guest because I’m a farmer up here in Ramona, Connelly Gardens, and it’s currently 105 degrees, there’s nothing nice about it whatsoever.


TIM: This is what we do. And for somebody who’s actually gone out there and tried to do this as well and also understand that there’s absolutely no money to be made in small scale farming, I appreciate the accolades. Thank you very much. And on a second note, up in Ramona there are four of us, my brother’s son, myself, Page Organics (sic) and San Diego Organics (sic), Dal Farms, five of us, who have farm stands open on the weekends and you can find mine via and as far as prices go, seeing that we are running off of our own piece, you will find that they’re substantially lower than a farmers market and the kids get to come out and actually see my chickens and touch the bell pepper on the plant and see what a hydroponic system looks like. So I’m promoting myself and I thank you for the accolades.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Tim, one more time with that website. What is that again?

TIM: The website is C-o-n-n-e-l-l-y, gardens-dot-com.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for calling in. Lynn is calling us from Carlsbad. Good morning, Lynn. Welcome to These Days.

LYNN (Caller, Carlsbad): Hi.


LYNN: Hi, Caron. I just wanted to, as a former junior high school foods teacher, a dying breed, I might add.


LYNN: I wanted to say that – to address the issue of getting children to eat vegetables, what I always found was, I mean, I think we probably all agree that there’s no tougher crowd than the junior high school crowd.


LYNN: But what I found was so many kids at home get the ‘you really have to eat this’ or ‘you really need to try this’ approach. And what I found really worked within the school context was more of a – I’d give a – you know, is just to say, look, here’s something that you might not have tried before, you might’ve tried and you didn’t like it because you didn’t really understand it. But what if we go with an open mind and try thus-and-such. Kids, I found, responded beautifully to the let’s consider this an experiment approach.


LYNN: And so I would suggest that for parents. And the other thing that I would like to draw attention to for just two seconds is to say something about growing a garden at school, gosh, what a wonderful thing that is for any school or any class that actually has a little bit of land. There’s a whole Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard movement in which she took a school in Berkeley and planted a magnificent garden with the kids. And I actually did my student teaching long, long, long ago in a school that had a quarter of an acre for the kids to farm.


LYNN: So both of those things really touch my heart.

CAVANAUGH: Lynn, thank you for the call. I appreciate it. I’m wondering, if you go out to eat and you’re wondering if the restaurant that you’re in – what kind of produce, where does their produce come from? Where are they buying their stuff? Melanie, is there anything that you can do to encourage a restaurant to get more locally produced foods?

REHAK: Well, I certainly think that, you know, asking…


REHAK: …will at least tip them off to the fact that a lot of people are thinking about this. So that’s one thing. And I think eating more at places that do get their stuff locally or organically or whatever your, you know, particular thing is, is also helpful because, you know, as we all know, supporting businesses that you believe in with your money is the best way to make sure that they thrive and that maybe the – not that we want to put anyone out of business but, you know, you send a message. You say, I want to eat at places that do this. So I think those are the two big things.

CAVANAUGH: And, Caron, you – asking, that’s the best way?

GOLDEN: Asking. Asking is always the best way. Asking about where their fish comes from, where their meat comes from. We’re not just talking about produce. It’s a whole ecosystem of food out there. One thing you have to be careful of, though, is we see this a lot now with restaurant menus where they are now on their menus sourcing, you know, listing their sources. But you have to remember to ask about that as well because some of them are sort of paying lip service to a lot of what we – they think we want to see. And they may get a piece of produce from Crow’s Pass Farm but the rest of it is coming from some big, you know, mega distributor. And so you – if that’s important to you, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but if it’s important to you that you’re eating something, a salad that is based on produce that’s locally grown, you want to make sure that all of it – You’re getting what you’re paying for, basically.


GOLDEN: You’re getting what they’re advertising.

CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, Melanie, you know, just to go back to our original idea about being confused about all this different information about food, you have some really, I mean, fabulous looking recipes in your book, "Eating for Beginners,” but one of them, though, I’m going to call out because it’s pasta with bacon, farm fresh eggs, and cream. Now…

REHAK: It’s very healthy, what are you talking about?

CAVANAUGH: That may be – that may be local…

GOLDEN: Make a little carbonara for your…

CAVANAUGH: No, that may be local but is it healthy?

REHAK: Yeah, well, I have to confess, you know, I – I didn’t worry about that so much with this book. And to be fair, the chefs in the kitchen at the restaurant, Applewood, also said, you know, hey, let’s face it, this is a restaurant, we’re throwing , you know, the large piece of butter that I threw into pots and frying pans at that restaurant just gave me such joy I just didn’t even think about it. I mean, I think, you know, again, there’s a lesson here. And, sure, are you going to eat pasta with eggs and cream and bacon every day? No, you’re not. But, you know, if you want to eat it once in awhile and you eat it with good ingredients and it’s homemade, unless you have, you know, other health issues, it’s not such a big deal. And I think we’ve also really gotten away from that idea that, you know, it’s okay to eat most things in moderation. You know, all the sort of trendy diets about giving things up and all that stuff, I mean, again, unless you really have health problems, you know, there’s not a reason why you shouldn’t be able to eat this dish, whatever, once a year, twice a year. Again, it’s not an everyday thing. On the east coast, it’s kind of a winter thing, so you can just toddle to your bed afterwards and pass out. But, you know, I think that that is the corollary to this. If you eat a lot of terrible food, you then feel like you have to give things up. If you eat good food, if you eat real food, as one of the callers said, you know, you can have these things and that brings a lot of pleasure. I mean, that pasta’s delicious. Food is delicious.

CAVANAUGH: I bet it’s delicious. Let’s try to squeeze in one more call. Carol is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Carol. Welcome to These Days.

CAROL (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. I wanted to share a personal experience. I started realizing that I wanted to eat mostly whole foods and completely unprocessed foods. And the surprise for me was that as I did this, my taste buds started changing so things I really like like red bell peppers, sometimes I’ll just have them for one of my snacks. And your body gives you feedback and starts telling you that was good. Do that again. And it really helps you, just that awareness. So that’s what I would like people to think about, that the body is – and the brain and everything are in collusion with you to be the best you can.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Carol, thank you for the call. And that kind of goes back to what Melanie just said, Caron. If you eat good food, if you eat food that has all the stuff in it that it should have in it without it being processed out and overly sugared and so forth, that your body responds to that.

GOLDEN: Oh, yesterday I had an heirloom tomato that I chopped up and threw just a tiny bit of olive oil on and some tajin seasoning and that was it. And I just loved it. It was so full of flavor. That’s the difference also between buying or growing your own produce where you get a tomato that is truly ripe and sun-ripened, versus something that was picked early and sprayed with something that would get it to turn red and it doesn’t have the same flavor. So even if you’re eating raw vegetables, for instance, there’s going to be a difference in flavor in terms of, you know, from where you get it and how you get it. But the other thing that I think Melanie brings up and I loved about the book, was the relaxed attitude about all of this, that you cannot – you don’t have to be truly rigid to be able to say I’m eating well. I love to go to the ethnic markets and I’m certainly buying a lot of things that are being shipped here from overseas. I try to balance it out with buying food from farmers markets. We all have our priorities, we all have a certain way we like to live. We have kids who will eat only certain things. I think we have to kind of not be too hard on ourselves and instead of proselytizing to others about, you know, in a very rigid way, that we take all of this into consideration as we’re going and buying our food and preparing our food, that there’s no one way to do this. And to just relax and really enjoy the food and, as Melanie said, eat it in moderation.

CAVANAUGH: I gotta tell you, I don’t think that there’s a better note to end this on. Thank you so much, Caron.

GOLDEN: Well, my pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: Caron Golden is food writer of the column Local Bounty for San Diego Magazine and author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff. Melanie Rehak is the author of the book, "Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid." And, Melanie, you’re going to be reading and signing “Eating for Beginners” at Warwick's in La Jolla tonight at 7:30 p.m.

REHAK: Yep, that’s right. So love to see anyone there.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for being here. And you have something coming up this afternoon.

GOLDEN: Yeah, well, you know, I’ve been doing the “Food for Kids Backpack” program fundraiser all of August and part of July and we’re winding down so we’re going to have one more opportunity to collect backpacks today and tomorrow, at the Adams Avenue Farmers Market today, and the North Park Farmers Market tomorrow. Both in the afternoon. And I will be there and sweating up a storm so make it…

CAVANAUGH: What times? What times?

GOLDEN: 3:00 to 7:30 today, 3:00 to 7:00 at North Park tomorrow.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. If you’d like to comment, You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.