It’s still only February, but California’s strawberries are already blushing as if it were mid-summer. As I carried three pints of the radiant morsels home from the farmers’ market yesterday — on my bike, wearing a T-shirt and sunglasses, I should add — I smiled and forgave SoCal all its sins. This is what living on the West Coast is all about, I thought.

But as much as I try to prolong them, those moments of blissful consumption just never last. Although my berries were grown organically by local farmers I know, I couldn’t help considering the broader socioeconomic factors that keep our state’s $2.1 billion strawberry tractor tilling year-round. In particular, I thought back to last December, when the California Department of Pesticide Regulation approved the use of a cancer-causing fumigant known as methyl iodide.

While the chemical poses no direct threat to consumers, the DPR’s decision floored scientists and activists alike due to the serious health impacts that it could have on farm workers across the state. Samuel Fromartz summed up the issue well:

“I wonder if the state, or even the EPA, would have thought differently about the pesticide if there was a consumer risk. Farm workers and farm communities tend to be abstract and distant — we don’t know who these people are. Often, because they are immigrants, they remain silent.”

Even at the farmers’ market where I work, over half the strawberries for sale this weekend were conventionally grown, meaning that there is a good chance they didn’t get so red and delicious all by themselves. This is a grave public health issue that must be addressed at the state, if not national, level. Please join me in urging Gov. Jerry Brown to reverse the CDP’s decision. You can also sign the national petition here.

In the meantime, if you manage to find yourself some organic (preferably local) strawberries, make Jonsi and Alex’s raw strawberry coconut pie. It will make you wish you had made two. (This video is a riot, but the recipe is also available in written form if you prefer.) Enjoy!


Walmart wants to build a dozen new stores in San Diego over the next five years in the name of public health, and as of Tuesday night, the City Council is on board. So is Michelle Obama.

All of Walmart’s healthy food initiatives make great soundbites. For example, it’s about time the store cut back on the levels of sugar, sodium, and trans fat in its products. The company also intends to reduce the cost of healthy foods, label them more clearly, and make them more accessible for people living in low-income food deserts such as Logan Heights.

But as Marion Nestle points out, the nutritional improvements only apply to processed foods, and Walmart’s new labels are based on the company’s own nutrition criteria, which aren’t much stricter than the good-for-you guidelines written by Pepsi and Kraft. In addition, Nestle writes,

“The idea that Walmart is going to do its own front-of-package label to identify those products is particularly annoying. They are doing this just when the Institute of Medicine and FDA are trying to establish research-based criteria for front-of-package labels. So here is one more company trying to preempt FDA regulations.”

Food quality aside, can we really trust Walmart to reform American lifestyles and promote healthy communities, given the company’s infamous reputation for exploiting workers and crushing local businesses? Just last month, the Miami New Times published a story exposing the not-so-responsible sourcing of Walmart’s “Love, Earth” jewelry line. Is there any reason to believe that their food sourcing will be any more virtuous?

And what will the consolidation of our food supply mean for small farmers, including the 6,000 in San Diego? In order to make fruits and vegetables more affordable, Walmart buys in mega-bulk, meaning that single-crop yield (not diversification) is the name of the game.

I desperately want to believe that we can improve food accessibility and incentivize local production without relying on the business interests of Walmart — or even Whole Foods, for that matter. But are farmers’ markets, CSA boxes, and community gardens sufficient to feed every neighborhood in San Diego? In America? I’m still not sure.

Cheap, simple and green

If you’ve ever ogled the fresh salsa selection at your favorite natural foods store, and then, upon scrutinizing the price tags, glumly walked out with naked tortilla chips, I have good news for you.

When I arrived for work at the J.R. Organics stand last weekend, my friends from the Rodriguez family gestured toward a huge pan of chunky salsa verde in the back of their truck. My first bite must have contained about half a jalapeño, but it was the kind of electrifying zing that keeps you hovering in spite of the pain. And the best part: Nearly all the ingredients were available at the J.R. booth. (The rest I found at the same farmers’ market a few yards away, with the exception of salt, which we would all probably do well to omit anyway.) I glutted myself on that salsa for the rest of the afternoon, and then went home and made a bulk batch of my own. I recommend that you do the same.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 lb tomatillos, peeled
  • 1/2 lb jalapeño peppers
  • 2-4 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt to taste


Roast the whole tomatillos, peppers, and (unpeeled) garlic. A barbecue would be ideal, but you can also use a frying pan, or stick your roastables in the oven on aluminum foil (to save yourself the work of scrubbing a pan). If you use a hot enough flame, this should take no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Some blackness is good, as that will add a smoky flavor. Combine roasted items with cilantro and lime juice. If you want smooth salsa, put everything in a blender or food processor. If you want it chunky, simply chop everything and mix it using a mortar and pestle (or another sturdy bowl-utensil combo). Taste the salsa as you go, and add salt as needed.

Note: If you like garlic as much as I do, consider chopping it up raw. The health benefits of raw garlic are numerous.

Growing up in drizzly northern California, I developed a list of cozy winter meals that will forever carry a seasonal connotation for me. Root vegetables like potatoes, beets, carrots, and yams come to mind, and there is a Brazilian-style black bean soup that fills an especially sacred page of my mental cookbook. Another food (actually a fruit) that never fails to hit the spot for me is squash.

Winter squash refers to over a dozen hard-skinned squash varieties (think pumpkins) that are harvested in the fall, but traditionally stored through the winter. It has been a staple at the Hillcrest market for the past few months, and there are few things that are as easy and satisfying to cook. My favorite variety has always been the delicata (hands-down the sweetest), which is great stuffed with bean and rice pilaf, or simply baked with butter. However, I have recently found myself with a surplus of butternut and acorn squash, and these two blend perfectly as a soup.

My recipe varies based on what’s in my fridge, but I usually go with something along the lines of Michelle Madden’s minimalist Squash Soup with Ginger and Cumin. The flourishes are up to you, but I recommend a few cloves of garlic and a generous pinch of garam masala for a savory boost.

Also, save your squash seeds! Lubricate with olive oil, spread out on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and roast in the oven at 150 degrees F until they start to brown (about 15 minutes). Yum.

I scored a work-exchange job at the Hillcrest Farmers’ Market last fall, and I was hauling home bags of Escondido-grown heirloom tomatoes every Sunday until December. Meanwhile, I was eating strawberries from the same farm, passion fruit from Vista, avocados from San Marcos, and rose apples, pomegranates, and pineapple guavas from my backyard. To top it all off, I greeted 2011 with a New Year’s watermelon from Temecula.

It was hysterical, really. Did nature forget? How was it that I could eat so well without straying 60 miles from my house? And in December!

My point is that if you have even the most nonchalant interest in incorporating more local food into your diet, San Diego is just about the easiest damn place to do it. With over 6,000 farms in the county and farmers’ markets every single day of the week, there’s really no reason to buy your apples from Chile. We have one of the longest growing seasons in the world, and most markets are open year-round. Plus, with sun in January, why wouldn’t you want to get on your bike and go meet the people who grow your food? There are lots of flowers and excellent people-watching opportunities, too.

The goal of this blog is to get you — the frugal, yet adventurous, eater — to join me in embracing the local bounty that San Diego has to offer. I will do my best to keep you up-to-date on the fruits and vegetables available each week, and also share some recipes that will help you make the most of these seasonal delights.

I hope you will follow me from soil to market to kitchen. And remember, a little dirt won’t kill you. ¡Buen provecho!