The Imported Locavore

By February 25, 2011September 19th, 2019Cuisine, Lifestyle, Russia

I am a culinary schizophrenic.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Eremeeva

I spend half my time in the messy and energetic Russian capital and the other half in Northampton: the politically correct epicenter of the galaxy, nestled in the heart of the bucolic Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.  I designed this division of time to become a saner human being, but it has completely backfired.

“Have an olive,” I urge Vladimir over drinks in Moscow, “they’re from Spain.”

“Have some hummus,” I invite Caitlin at a poetry reading in Northampton, “the chickpeas were grown three miles from here in a humane solar-powered greenhouse co-operative.”

In Northampton, any invitation involving food necessitates sending out the following code, “Do you or your partner have any food allergies?” This reveals the extensive list of banned substances.  Your guest responds: “We eat everything, except of course red meat, caffeine, chickens, and eggs from non-local humane farms outside a six-mile radius. No alcohol, of course…no sugar, obviously, and oh, no farmed fish, or processed dairy.”  Which leaves a gourmand like me almost nothing to work with.

Which leaves a gourmand like me almost nothing to work with.

Contrast this with a recent exchange in Moscow:

“Come for Sunday lunch,” I email Posey St. Edmonds, mother of three,  “I’m making Boeuf Bourguignon.”

“Awesome,” she answers, “what can I bring?”

“Childcare,” I respond.

In Northampton, everyone is a passionately committed locavore, consuming only that food which is humanely grown within biking distance of her own front door. Even the garbage collectors in Northampton go around on bikes.   Imagine chickens being tucked in at night, and you aren’t far wrong.   Ground Zero for Northampton locavores is the Tuesday farmers’ market known simply as “Market.” When I first moved to town, I was totally fired up for “Market.”   I bought the tote bag and hid my car in the adjacent multi-storey car park, doing what I hoped was a credible imitation of someone who biked everywhere.  I felt sure the sisterhood of writers, poets, yogis, and fascinating friends I planned to make would all be there.   Two hours (and a desperate trip around the corner for some locally-made rum raisin ice cream) I reluctantly concluded that “Market” was great if you wanted to live on kale salad.  I didn’t.

I feel curiously off the hook somehow when I return to Moscow, where even the most committed Northamptonite would be forced to agree: you can’t subsist on a diet of local beets, sour cream, and cabbage, and you’d lose face if you tried.  It’s all about imports here in the Big Potato—a sushi bar on every street, a German beer in each refrigerator.

Nothing in Moscow is easy, though, and shopping for imported food at a decent price is an all-day contact sport necessitating stamina, my wingman Tolya-The-Driver, the gas-guzzling Land Rover, and a full water bottle.  Our objective: a large, wholesale cash-and-carry warehouse, catering mainly to restaurants, called METRO, where $100 gets you more than three items.  Cash is king here, so I secure a wad of 1000 RUR notes from HRH, tuck them carefully into a money belt, don my most comfortable shoes and dress in layers that can be removed as needed.

Oh, the thrill of METRO!  Much harder work than “Market,” but infinitely more satisfying.  I feel like a mighty Neanderthal hunter-gatherer, forging through the jungle of Leningradski Prospekt, stealthily sneaking the re-usable shopping bags (no five-cent discount for using these at METRO) past the watchful eye of the armed security guard, and stalking my prey.

List poised, I push the oversized, lopsided trolley around, parking it strategically at the end of an aisle blocked by surly staff re-stocking with their forklifts.  On goes my coat for a plunge into the chilly meat room:  Lamb chops from Wellington, chicken breasts from Lille!  Forward to the Dairy Annexe for Finnish milk and Swiss cheese.  Spanish anchovies in olive oil, and real cornichons from France, not Bulgaria!  Momentary confusion in the spice aisle: why so very much allspice and no cumin?  Alas, this day is not a complete retail slam-dunk: no Australian wine, but compensation looms in the form of Greek melting cheese and Israeli limes.

Once the bounty is safely stowed in the back of the Land Rover, Tolya and I celebrate with some local fare:  Quarter Pounders with cheese, from the Avto-Mac, made from beef raised just outside of Moscow.  We don’t want to be accused of not supporting local food producers or anything.

 


This post first appeared as an article in Russia Beyond The Headlines and The Washington Post on February 22, 2011.

Dear Readers,

Do you get embroiled in the “it has to be grown within a bike ride away from you” stuff?  Did you read “The Poser” where the narrator comes across a woman sobbing in a Seattle grocery store because she can’t find artisan cheese to take to her Nursery School’s snack thing…only something from Madison, WI?  Hilarious.  Alternatively, do you live in a place where everything is imported?

Hit the comment button and let us know how your shopping plays out each week!

11 Comments

  • Alison B. says:

    Awesome piece.
    Must, however, promote my sister-in-law’s raw kale salad: Remove stems of kale and chiffonade the leaves. Add lots of lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, pepper, and some garlic pounded with salt. Next (here’s the fun part): Massage firmly!! It breaks the kale down very nicely, and leaves your hands very olive oil-salty-smooth. While the kale must of *course* be local, do feel free to add Greek feta, Spanish olives, Italian sun-dried tomatoes, Israeli almonds, French anchovies, or copious amounts of USA bacon…
    I’m just sayin’, is all.

  • Hey Alison, that does sound like one to try!

  • Marilyn says:

    “This post first appeared in as an article in Russia Beyond the Headlines and The Washington Post February 22, 2011.”
    Not in MY Wash Post…was “invited” to subscribe to RB the H via e mail because it was implied that the real thing was only going to be inserted in papers purchased at stores.
    So you know what appeared in today’s Post…CHINA WATCH.
    Re 1000 RUB for food shopping..is that about $35 USD? Can you shop for a week at a time with that amount? Considering the process, think that I’d try for a month!!

  • Teri Lindeberg says:

    That pic really makes me not want to eat pork ever again…between the ‘Chunka Zhenshina’ and that row of stiff piggies, I don’t know what’s worse! I need an intervention…or a strike of lightening.
    Loved the piece,
    Posey

  • Sharon says:

    Edinburgh ‘Market’ – lamb, pork, venison, beef, wild boar or shortbread. Nothing girly like a vegetable. All reared by hardy, be-kilted farmers and massaged with Scotch Whiskey (and that’s just the shortbread). All purchased by the very smug, very rich and (I’m just guessing) very constipated.

  • OMG…. I am sitting here in my car with sleet beating down on the windshield (wasn’t Spring supposed to start today), laughing out loud as I read through your hilarious blog post. You have captured the experiences perfectly!!!! This coming from someone, as you know, who both shops at METRO here in Krasnodar (only place to get Helmans) and at the farmer’s markets in New England.
    Thank you…. you made my day. When are you going to write a book?
    PS: Happy Maslenitsa ))))

  • Hey Marilyn!
    I fear the Wash Post publication schedule can be erratic. All on line though.
    As for 1000 — note that I said a STACK of 1000 ruble notes. Not just one.

  • And we loved that childcare!

  • Shaz – No bagpipes????? None at all? I like the idea of the shortbread massaged with whiskey. Like that idea a lot!!

  • Thanks TP!
    I am writing a book. It writes itself very slowly, it is true, but you encourage me. Happy National Cholesterol Week to you too!

  • Hello,
    Quite an interesting post. I really enjoyed reading it. Above all I really admire your innovativeness, the way you have described Northampton saying “Northampton: the politically correct epicenter of the galaxy” is just outstanding work.I really appreciate it.
    🙂

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