It’s not always hard to be an ethical eater. I grew up on Long Island where fresh fish is easily found and organic produce comes from local farms on the east end of the island and nearby New Jersey (surprisingly fertile), and winters are relatively mild.
Montreal, however, provides a distinct set of challenges to ethical eaters. While during summer nearby Quebec and Ontario farms produce delicious foodstuffs, the harsh winters place limitations on vegetable production. Is it possible to eat fresh vegetables and still be an ethical eater? Yes and no. There are some seasonal vegetables that are available to satisfy fresh-food cravings. But there are some vegetables, I’m afraid, that we’re going to have to forego in their just-picked form if we want to be environmentally responsible and treat ourselves well.
Winter produce is pretty obvious: dark greens like kale, chard and broccoli; roots like potatoes, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes; and the gourd family. The meals this ingredient list calls to mind seem heavy – along the lines of thick stews and roasts – and they are. Salads in the middle of winter don’t make any sense at all. For instance, one of the most disgusting inventions of agriculture is the winter tomato. It might be grown in California, or South America, but after it’s been flown to Montreal, it arrives pale pink, mealy, and a pathetic reminder of what tomatoes are supposed to look and taste like in August. Please stop purchasing these monsters. Chop up a nice pear instead to throw into your salad.
Here’s what I’m really babbling about: eating sub-par produce out of season just isn’t worth it. In the frigid winter, our bodies crave warm meals with a ton of carbs and fat. And I think we should listen. Out-of-season vegetables should be purchased in their canned, dried, or frozen forms. I know that we’ve been taught that every vegetable is better when it’s just been pulled from the vine, but in this case, that’s wrong. Fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, raspberries, and peaches in January, in Montreal, are bizarre.
Last night I cooked a dish that I enjoy more or less year round. I seared a few thick chicken breasts and braised them in white wine and tomatoes. This time, I began the dish with chopped shallots, dried oregano, and a bay leaf. When I had browned both sides of the chicken, I stirred in some wine to deglaze the pan and added half of a can of diced tomatoes. I served the chicken in its thin sauce over beautiful, thick mashed potatoes blended with some sautéed leeks (keep the tops of your leaks to make vegetable stock). In the summer I would have used fresh tomatoes, perhaps added some baby spinach, and fresh basil instead of dried oregano.
Winter doesn’t look bleak to me at all from my kitchen window. It looks a little bit rich, with some extra tablespoons of butter here and there, but honestly it’s what I believe nature intended.