Kitchn Love Letters

These Vegetables Give Me Something to Look Forward To

published Apr 21, 2020
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In the Before Times, I always resisted the idea of a CSA box. Not because I didn’t want to support community agriculture, but because I wanted to be the one picking out all of the food for myself. I love grocery shopping in all forms: at the local farmers market, at specialty food shops, and, yes, at the regular old supermarket. An ideal Sunday for me involves stopping at all three, spending hours gathering individual ingredients from different sources. I am acutely aware that it’s a privilege to shop this way, but I justify the cost in terms of time and money by telling myself I’m being a thoughtful consumer. 

That was before. Now, shopping for food is a fraught activity. I still care about how and what I consume, but under a completely different set of criteria. Instead of thinking about who bakes the best bread or carries organic vegetables, I’m now concerned with which stores are enforcing social distancing guidelines, which will be the best-stocked, and which are doing the best to stay clean and keep their workers safe, among other things. I go in with a tightly cropped list and move through the store as quickly as possible, with no time for lingering or asking questions. If one market doesn’t have an ingredient I need, I skip it and make do without; there will be no popping in to other shops for “one quick thing.” 

There is one bright spot in my new food shopping routine, however: a produce box from a local farm. Los Angeles, where I live, has temporarily suspended many farmers markets, and I’ve generally been too spooked to visit the ones that are still open anyway. But one of the farms that I frequently bought from at the market, Kong Thao, now offers pre-packed, CSA-style produce boxes for pickup at various locations across the city every week. It has become an unexpected source of joy for me, and a way to support small farms, who are reeling from the sudden loss of wholesale accounts as restaurants, caterers, and institutions who typically placed large orders shut down virtually overnight. 

Despite my hesitations, I now find it both exciting and soothing to pick up a box of farm-fresh vegetables every week. I never know exactly what’s going to be in there, although I do know I will follow the same routine each week. Pick up the box. Take it home and unpack while simultaneously marveling over nature and the farmer’s ability to persevere. Spend an hour or two or three planning my cooking efforts around the contents of the box, prioritizing the most perishable items first. Make a shopping list for my harried grocery trips around said recipes, and try to get as creative as possible within the confines of what I have. Rinse and repeat.

I like to cook. I have about one million recipes I want to make saved in an extremely slapdash fashion: bookmarked online, emailed or texted to myself, scribbled across sticky notes, dog-eared in books. It’s impossible for me to remember everything I want to cook, which is why having a limited set of ingredients to work within is actually quite liberating. It gives me direction; a starting point. I can start my meal planning by searching for recipes using a specific ingredient, and this little prompt actually makes the task feel manageable, or even fun, as opposed to completely overwhelming at a time when … pretty much everything else does.

If it’s possible, I highly recommend seeking out a similar situation in your area. It’s a win-win for farms and customers, and might even make you excited about “shopping” for food again. That’s a small nice thing, which is all we have right now. 

This story is part of our Staying Home series, in which Kitchn editors and contributors share the recipes, tools, and habits that are helping them through the pandemic. As we work to flatten the curve, we’re cooking more, shopping less frequently, and looking for the good and the bright as much as we can. In this very disorienting time, here’s what’s keeping us going.