By Kirsten Serrano
In addition to nutrition work, I am a farmer. One of my big revelations as a farmer is that when it comes to the diversity of food – we’ve been duped. There is a whole world of food that’s probably not on your radar, one that contains a rich diversity of color, flavor, beauty and nutrients. Where is this world hiding? The answer is closer than you may think – small local farms and backyard gardens.
Case in point: Today, I spent my morning harvesting ground cherries You probably have not heard of them. The ground cherry is a member of the nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers and potatoes) that produces a small golden fruit. It tastes mildly of pineapple with a big dose of vanilla. The ground cherry fruit is tucked inside a papery husk. They are versatile, nutritious and yummy. So …. why don’t you already know about them? Why aren’t they at the supermarket?
As I harvest, I ask myself the same question. They have many of the features of a successful commercial crop. Ground cherries are easy to grow and produce abundantly. They are relatively free of insect and disease issues. They even store easily (and thus) would ship well. They are snackable and tasty. The only downside I see is that they are tedious to harvest, but so are most small fruits.
What they represent to me is the overwhelming ranks of unknown foods. Here’s the scoop – there is a whole world of food only available to those willing to seek it out. That could mean growing it yourself or finding out who does. It is like not being invited to join a club, but you do not even know it exists.
We live in strange times. In many ways, we have more access to food than ever, but at the same time our diets have been narrowed. You can have artisanal salami delivered to your door from halfway around the world. Yet, everyday choices in the market may be limited – lacking flavor and nutrition.
When shopping at a typical grocery store, you see only a minuscule amount of the diverse foods available in the world. Sure, there may be five or six different tomatoes available, but there are upwards of 15,000 tomato varieties. Trust me, the varieties at the store are not there because they are the most nutritious or flavorful. Anyone who has eaten a homegrown tomato can tell you that.
At my farm, I have grown about a hundred different varieties of tomatoes over the years – in all sizes, shapes, colors and flavors. My personal favorite has been the Orange-Fleshed Purple Smudge. (The name says it all!) Tomatoes are just one example of a crop that can have a lot of diversity. Did you know there is pink celery? Red bananas? Green radishes? Tiny cucumbers that look like watermelons? You get my point.
Food variety is vast and amazing. If you want to get a better idea of what I am talking about, take a gander at the website for Baker Creek Seeds
(RareSeeds.com), a company that offers a wide array of heirloom seeds. This will give you an idea of some of the vegetable, herb and flower possibilities out there. It does not, of course, stop with plants and produce. What’s offered at the meat counter is just as limited.
I could go on and on, but the main point is that there is a world of food that is amazing, diverse and full of all the nutrients we need. Unfortunately, we do not get to tap into these resources on a daily basis and that is a shame. Our grocery stores only offer the illusion of choice.
Our sense of unlimited options reflects the limitless processed food combinations available, and that includes produce. In fact, we really eat only a handful of foods on repeat – soy, corn, canola, wheat, dairy, beef, chicken, etc. I urge you to venture out of the grocery store and eat some really delicious and nutritious food. Make yourself a member of the secret food club.
Kirsten Serrano is a nutrition consultant, chef, farmer, food literacy educator and the best-selling author of “Eat to Your Advantage.” You can find out more about her work at SmallWonderFood.com.