Galley Girl: What's Cookin'?

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Buying an apple can be a revolutionary act. Don't believe it? Read The Real Food Revival: Aisle by Aisle, Morsel by Morsel, a new book by Sherri Brooks Vinton and Ann Clark Espuelas (Tarcher/Penguin). Galley Girl had breakfast with Vinton, 37, at a swank midtown Manhattan restaurant and chewed the (non-trans) fat:

Galley Girl: What's your food bio?

Vinton: I had sort of a split existence at home. My mother made only processed foods, but my grandmother made everything from scratch. If she made chicken soup, she would make her own noodles. I think that hard-wired my taste buds to look for authentic flavor.

GG: What was the turning point for you, foodwise?

Vinton: I had an ah-ha moment on a summer motorcycle trip across country. I was looking for mom and pop diners and authentic flavor. I thought that bounty would just be before us. There would be fruits and vegetables everywhere. I expected family farms. I found just the opposite was true. The family farms were absolutely melting into the ground. They were disappearing, and the rural communities that depended on agriculture were boarded up and abandoned, because they had been bought out by agri-business.

GG: What does food represent to you?

Vinton: I think food is political. It's also cultural. It's economic. It's everything in our lives. It can be creative and artistic. Many disciplines come into eating.

GG: So how do you shop?

Vinton: During the summer months in particular, I just thrive on the farmer's markets. Around Connecticut, we have farmer's markets in most of the towns. I load up with fresh and wonderful things from neighboring farms.

GG: Is there anything wrong with buying strawberries or blueberries or grapes during the winter?

Vinton: Any of those things eaten out of season is going to lack the flavor punch that you have when it comes from around your area. Those fruits and vegetables, when shipped from a long distance, have to be picked unripe, so that they are hard enough to survive the journey. They've taken a long time to get to your doorstep, and lost flavor and nutrition every step of the way...During the summer months, when it's so easy to support your local grower, you're not only enjoying a fresh meal the minute that you pick up that fork, you're also keeping agriculture in your culture, keeping your landscape in a healthy condition.

GG: What about meat?

Vinton: I buy all of my meat directly from the farmer. I do that because of ailments such as mad cow disease that are in the food chain, and not being tested for thoroughly. Also, I believe in raising animals on pasture, which is the diet that nature intended for them to have. You hear the term "corn-fed beef" thrown around. Nothing could be worse for cattle than to eat corn. They're ruminants. They can turn grass into protein. Feeding them corn is a diet that's too rich for them. It makes them very ill and requires that they be fed a constant stream of antibiotics in their daily rations, to help them survive their feed.

GG: What do you do about restaurants?

Vinton: When I go out to eat, I think it's most important to support a local family establishment. In the best-case scenario, they're using local ingredients as well. I ride by the national chains and opt for the local pizza place, the local taco stand, anything that's run by the family. Then I'm going to have influence over what I want to see on the menu, and I can express my desire for local ingredients directly to the CEO, because chances are he's running the oven. He's got the skillet in his hands.

GG: Are you a good cook?

Vinton: I love to cook, but I don't think you have to. The fresher the ingredients are, the less you have to do to them to bring out their flavors. If you can get to the farmer's market, I don't think there are many vegetables that would suffer from a quick saute with garlic and olive oil, fish run under the broiler, a steak fried in a pan. Scramble an egg; toss a salad. I think that the industrial food industry, the processed food industry, has spent a lot of money and has been very effective in convincing us that cooking is something difficult, some sort of archaic knowledge that is hard to unravel. It's not.

GG: Short of enlisting in the foodie army, are there any small things that people can do?

Vinton: That's the most beautiful thing about the real food movement. It's not an all or nothing proposition. Start with your basics, the things that you eat the most of, or things that are easiest to come by. Pick one item from the farmer's market that's grown locally. There's no reason to be importing those. If you would just commit to only buying local apples, that would make a huge impact. The Northeast Organic Farmers' Association of Maine did a study. If families spent just spent $10 a week on local produce during the six-month growing season in Maine, [farmers] would retain $100 million in revenue every year. So it's very powerful just to make a small effort. Once you do it a little bit at a time, the flavor really hooks you.

For another helping, visit Vinson's website.