The Real Food Supercenter

This is the time of year that we flatlanders pine for during the snows of January, when it’s a full 100 degrees colder than it is right now, and all the humidity is frozen to our windshields. September in Iowa is what makes things grow so well here – the hot, sticky dog days that bring us the sweet corn, hot peppers, and the very freshest tomatoes.

We are indeed fortunate here that we can shop at farmers markets every day of the week as long as we pay attention to the schedules and know the locations. They range from just a couple of awnings in a parking lot to massive affairs with cooking demos and live music.

As of 2004, Iowa had more farmers markets per capita than any other state.

This is a great thing not only because it provides fresher food with a smaller carbon footprint, nor even just because it keeps more than $20 million in the state’s economy every year, but because at a farmers market, people relate. They socialize. They connect.

Watch people for a little while in the typical WalMart “super center.” They push their massive carts down halogen-lit aisles as if they are wearing blinders, totally unaware of the other people near them. Then they gather at the checkout lines looking like a cross between deer in the headlights and lambs to the slaughter.

Compare this to people at the farmers market, where they walk with their bags and baskets around brightly colored stands of fresh food, always waving and saying hello to those they know, comparing items with complete strangers and asking insightful questions of the producers. There is laughter, witty banter, and genuine human interaction. It is another way that real food brings us together, while mass-produced edible foodlike substances further divide and isolate us.

People seem to trust the food in my restaurant more because they feel they know me – and that comes primarily from my being at the market every chance I get. I trust the food more because I know the farmers making it. We all feel better as part of a community and as participants in each other’s lives.

It seems silly to need to point these things out, but this is where our industrialized food system has brought us; out of the fields and the gardens and the kitchens and the dining rooms, and into the drive-thru lanes and checkout aisles. So a little reminder of the sustenance that comes from human interaction is needed now and then.

So I went to the market the other day and got all the ingredients I needed for an awesome salsa. Well, almost all – I’m still waiting for the Iowa limes (go global warming!). Then I went back to the restaurant and prepared it in about 10 minutes, whereupon I served it to our guests – some of whom were at the market with me – over a piece of grilled sablefish. Smiles abounded over all the tables.

Iowa Sweet Corn Salsa

2 tomatoes, one red, one yellow, roughly baseball sized, diced

1 cup fresh local sweet corn (cut from 2-3 cobs)

1 red bell pepper, seeded & diced

1 green bell pepper, seeded & diced

1 red onion, peeled and julienned

2 serrano pepper, seeded & minced (or jalapeno, or whatever turns you on)

1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

Juice from 2 limes

Simply mix all the ingredients 1 hour to 1 day before serving. Makes about 6 servings.