Today’s post comes from Anabelle Harari, a peripatetic writer, gardener, and cheese lover who was born in Israel and grew up in Philadelphia, PA. With a Romanian and Tunisian family, she always ate foods that none of her classmates knew what they were. As a self-proclaimed local foodie, she recounts shopping at open air markets (aka farmers markets in the states), exploring the world and tasting local cuisines, and talking to farmers and restaurant owners alike on her site, The Local Belle.
As a local food advocate, I try to stay true to my beliefs. In America, that would mean only buying locally grown produce that is usually organic too. Why go through the trouble? For starters, eating locally grown food is good for the environment because the food travels fewer miles from the farm to your plate, which means a decrease in fossil fuels. Score. Local food also means reconnecting with your immediate community and meeting farmers who are staying true to their craft, and not buying into the big ag businesses that are slowly but surely destroying soil and polluting the earth.
Lastly, eating locally will most likely entail eating more fruits and vegetables and getting creative in the kitchen. Eating whole foods will surely improve your diet and make you feel good—remember, you are what you eat, and nobody wants to be a double bacon cheeseburger.
However, eating locally can mean something completely different in another country, as I discovered in India. Here in Israel, when I told someone that I write about local food, she responded with a blank stare. “What does that mean?” In Israel, everyone eats locally. People buy their fruits and vegetables at the shuk, which is usually selling fruits and vegetables that are available in season. In fact, Israel began as a largely agricultural community where people lived on either a kibbutz (a collective community) or later a moshav (every member received their own plot of land to farm what they wanted).
Following is my diary of a typical week spent searching out, learning about, and eating local food in Israel:
Its been four days since the escalation between Hamas and the Israeli army ensued. Two days ago there were sirens in Jerusalem, but luckily I was up north. Today I need to do my food shopping at the shuk, but I’m scared to leave my house. This whole 90 seconds to get into a bomb shelter thing hasn’t really caught on for me yet.
Despite this I head over to Machane Yehuda, the most famous open-air shuk in Israel by far. Today is a bit more somber as I buy my usual staples of tomatoes, cucumbers, and now sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin. I even saw some figs and strawberries today, which should be long gone. I asked a few merchants where the food came from. Most of them say the Golan or simply “Israel!” like I’ve just asked an incredulous question. No one wants to have a conversation about local food with me. Everyone’s busy worrying where the nearest escape route is. You know, just in case.
During my visit with the Nutrition Coordinator for Leket, the Israeli National Food Bank, I learned a few things. First, most supermarkets in Israel have their own farms, and regulate the amount of pesticides they spray on their crops. At the local markets, no one is monitoring and there’s really no way of knowing.
Second, the national food bank rarely relies on canned goods. Instead, they “rescue” food from catering companies, restaurants, weddings, etc. and also glean from farms all over the country, providing those in need with fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooked meals. It’s a process in stark difference to the American food bank methods.
Visiting the olive press in Latrun today was especially interesting—I helped a friend bring about 225 kilos of olives picked on his moshav, and watched it be transformed into 30 kilos of fresh olive oil. Typically one can expect between 10-20 percent of the olives to be made into olive oil, depending on the olives in question. The aroma in the press smelled like a really strong olive tapenade, and the oil was so rich.
As one friend told me, olives can very well be the symbol of the Palestinians, and while we waited in line behind groups of Muslim women, I saw the parallel.
In a chance encounter, today I got a kilo of fresh wildflower honey from a farm in the south of the country, not far from where I live. As rockets continue to storm on the southern part of Israel, I figured now more than ever is a good time to support small local businesses that struggle economically because they can’t conduct business due to war. Ah, the nuances of living in the Middle East.
Time to buy more strawberries and make jam, because, really, who knows how long this freak incident of strawberries in the winter will really last? I spend the better part of the day making jam and experimenting with ratios of fruit and sugar. I’m on a sugar high for the rest of the day and decide baking scones is a good idea—to go with the jam, of course.
Fridays in Jerusalem mean one thing: it’s time for Shabbat. Every Friday morning the city is buzzing in preparation for the Sabbath, the day of rest. Going to the shuk on a Friday morning is dangerous, but when you need something at the last minute, what can you do but brave the hustle, bustle, pushing of old ladies with carts that you inevitably trip over and test your patience?
It’s most certainly a scene out of a movie, with everyone pushing to get their groceries in time before the Shabbat horn is heard throughout the city. Rabbis go around to shopkeepers as the time gets closer and urge them to stop selling. This never gets old, especially if you’re the one trying to get those last few ingredients.
Shabbat. Finally, a day of rest. For me, I use this day to gather with good friends over good food. And today was no different. I had 15 close friends come by for a potluck lunch that lasted the whole day. Wine from the Golan, vegetable salads from all over the country, and friends from the South—a recipe for the perfect Shabbat.