Reconsidering My Olive Oil Exemption
After I wrote my last post, An Impossible Mango, I got uncomfortable. In case you missed it, it was a rant about how traditional foods can only travel to climates that match the circumstances they evolved in. But who am I to tell someone from the tropics that they shouldn’t eat mangoes when I, a Greek-American, granted myself an olive oil exemption?
I’m keeping my olive oil exemption, but I’ve modified it. It is to be used only when I’ll notice its flavor and appreciate it for the exotic ingredient it is (since I live in New York). Salad dressings, for instance, or pesto, or my grandmother’s recipe for skordalia. But I will not treat it as an everyday cooking lipid anymore.
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any sources of local vegetable oils. In theory our climate could produce walnut and sunflower oils, but nobody seems to be doing it.
Okay, so what’ve I got? Local butter, schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), duck fat, saved bacon drippings, leaf lard. On a flavor level there really isn’t a problem (if you’ve never had potatoes sauteed with duck fat you haven’t lived–my humble opinion). Is there a health issue? Sally Fallon and the Weston Price Foundation put forth convincing reasons why animal fats are not evil.
And of course, there are plenty of cooking methods that rely on water or dry heat rather than cooking in oil. (Yikes, am I about to be on a diet?)
I’ll keep you updated on my progress. But what I really want to say is something about how I believe exotic imports (including olive oil) can fit into our daily lives.
Not that long ago it was a big deal to get an orange in your Christmas stocking (if your family celebrates Christmas). Oranges come from trees that can only survive mild winters. To get one in winter as a gift if you lived where winters got really cold was a big deal. In my opinion, there was nothing wrong with indulging in that orange.
What is wrong is to live in a cold-winter climate and treat oranges as if they are something we are entitled to every day, because the environmental cost is unsustainable. But that doesn’t mean I should never again eat an orange (after The 250, of course). It means I should appreciate it as a remarkable, occasional treat that has been brought to me from a totally different climate thousands of miles away.
Which brings me back to olive oil. Olive trees can’t grow where I live. The winters are too harsh. I love olive oil, and have cultural ties to it through my Greek relatives. So okay, I gave myself an olive oil exemption in my local eating rules. I’ve been cooking with it almost every day. That’s disrespectful of the exotic import status of my olive oil. Better to save it for recipes in which it is truly noticeable and essential.
On a different note, today I signed my CSA contract for the year. Shares won’t start being distributed until June, but I still got excited about the growing season ahead. Fingers crossed and prayers said for my farmers. May this be a bumper crop season.
GT sitting on my CSA contract and delaying getting it to a mailbox: