"Shop the way your grandmother (or great-grandmother) did." That's a really rough paraphrase of one of Michael Pollan's best ideas in Food Rules.
I didn't shop for this tomato; I grew it, but that's one of the ways Grandma shopped - she grew it in her yard. Actually, she and grandpa came late to farming, and they weren't the complete farmers that I might, romantically, wish they were. They didn't grow tomatoes, but they grew boysenberries to sell, and they were really yummy. They sold eggs and the occasional chicken or turkey, all from a stand in front of the house.
But other people in that now-suburb of LA did the same thing, so we drove around to different people's houses and bought fresh stuff from them. Grandma wasn't the greatest cook, but at least the food she cooked was real.
I don't remember shopping with my grandparents, but I went with my mom, and it wasn't your big box market. Visiting my local Hen House market lately, I've been trying to notice what wasn't there in, say, 1947. No plastic-encased flats of vitamin-water bottles. No personal-sized individual burritos. No margarine except for cellophane-wrapped bags of oleo with a red button inside, to be squeezed and kneaded to simulate butter. No frozen dinners and few if any out-of-seasons fruits from far away.
When I was little, a beloved (to me) part of Christmas Eve was helping make the turkey stuffing. My grandmother toasted lots of bread in the broiler, I buttered it, and my mother ran each piece under the faucet, shredded it and seasoned it. It tasted great, but especially I liked the ritual of making it. Then someone whose name was more likely John Smith invented Mrs. Cubbison's stuffing mix. My mother was smitten, and the stuffing from scratch was no more.
Once Margaret Mead told an anxious working mother that it was for her that they invented frozen spinach, and heaven knows that we've been blessed with a lot of trusty and pretty healthy one- or two-ingredient convenience foods for those times when the farmers market just doesn't come through. And to give credit where credit is due, let me note that in that the friendly little market with the creaky wooden floors did not provide whole grain or crusty artisan breads, yogurt, sprouts or dark green leafy lettuces, or parmesan cheese that you could grate yourself. The most ethnic food was probably spaghetti. And at that time the difference between the salad my mother made and the salad I got at my friend Janice's house (Janice was from Kansas) was that Mom tore her iceberg lettuce and Janice's mom cut hers.
Short of, say, the Hunza Valley, probably no cuisine has been perfectly healthy or sustainable, but a look at our Wednesday food ads will tell us that we have strayed so far that the term "food" hardly describes what we're being offered. Like Pollan, I suggest that a look back at our ancestral shoppers, whoever they were, tempered by a glimpse at a few yummy, wholesome delights that we've discovered or rediscovered since then will help us fill our cloth bags with life-sustaining foods.
Oh, and p.s. - Did I say that the beautiful planter at the top was built by Jeremy and was the home of our first and so-perfect tomato?