from “Ugh, I have to cook dinner tonight” to “We can’t wait to have you over for dinner.” We use food as the language of love to show we care for friends and family. Our celebrations of life passages most always center on it, but food can also represent dutiful drudgery. In the coming months, I hope to share with you the full spectrum of possibilities for paying homage to local harvests, to inspire you to adventures of taste, exploration of our community and joyful celebration of our Gulf Coast foodways and traditions. I also want to inform you about what is happening in our national food system and bring to your attention issues you need to be aware of for the sake of your health and your family’s well being. Food is too important to ignore or take for granted.

I have always been unrepentant chef groupie and food enthusiast, but lately you might call me obsessive compulsive about the food I eat. I have to admit, It’s an addiction that sneaked up on me . . . . tiptoed in the back door. One day I was begging for Tang, the drink of astronauts, and the next thing I know I’m asking at the farmers market how far away from town the arugula was grown. Fifty years ago, who woulda thunk it?

I loved white, spongy Wonderbread as a kid. I ate it smothered in navy beans and ketchup, or cream gravy, or slathered with margarine, and often sandwiching bologna and mustard. In other words, I was a typical child of the 50s. My avante garde mother was enamored with convenience food. In striving for the Jetson lifestyle she willingly jettisoned the traditions of her Bonanza childhood. Even though she admitted that processed food couldn’t hold a candle to the taste of fresh produce, it didn’t matter. We ate canned vegetables and frozen fruit and rarely saw a fresh green salad that was more than a thin wedge of iceberg, because we were modern.

It was my dad who insisted on a garden. Dad gave me my first nip of pure food. It was sweet corn on the cob, and I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough. I sneaked around mom and learned to cook straight from the garden. Pandora was out of the box and there was no going back. I wanted more. Julia Child captured my imagination; I read cookbooks like novels, went to cooking school in Paris, and became a sometime caterer and enthusiastic thrower of dinner parties. I wasn’t totally gone. I still bought Ranch-style beans and was known to use Cool Whip. I joked about Velveeta, but always made the queso with it. Fabulous fresh food to me was celebration of life, a hobby, like macramé, not a political position. It was all about taste.

But life-changed when I had my son. Food was in the news... boycotts, chemicals... Aspartame in baby food hit the headlines, then shocking reports that those jars of innocent looking Beechnut and Gerbers were made of 90% sugar. I started paying attention to details besides flavor. I realized that the world of chemistry had overtaken the simply canned food of my childhood and the results could not be assumed innocuous. Protective maternal instincts drove my decision to abandon commercial baby food. No more heavily processed food ever came through my kitchen again. Cooking from scratch was the way we rolled. Still, I was relegated to super markets for my ingredients and as factory farming became more the norm, the flavor drained from even fresh fruits and vegetables I found in their produce sections. I wished I had time to garden, but I was already juggling a career and family—and of course cooking. Herbs, a few tomato plants and lettuce were all I could muster. I started looking for better resources.

Texas lagged behind the national trend to famers markets and specialty food stores, but in the last fifteen years we have had an explosion of organic farmers, farmers markets, locally prepared foods and chefs who embraced this new “localvore” movement, and of course Central Market and Whole Foods. An abundance of seasonal, local, organic produce is now easy to find in Houston. If you haven’t tried cooking something that has just been picked at the height of its ripeness, then I urge you to try.

The difference inflavor will surprise and delight you. What better place to get your Thanksgiving ingredients that at one of the many farmers markets that now dot our urban landscape? The latest market to launch is The City Hall Farmer’s Market, which his held around the reflection pool on Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. You can find a whole list of area markets and farmers who sell direct here: http://www.realtimefarms. com. There are also dozens of informal impromptu pop-up markets in parking lots and parks all over town. Keep your eyes peeled and visit one. I’ll see you there!

By: Gracie Cavnar