When I first arrived in Israel, I was surprised by the genuine look of fruits and vegetables. By genuine, I don’t necessary mean beautiful. I am rather referring to their natural look, which embraces imperfections as well as uniqueness. On the contrary, shopping for vegetables in Europe have become more and more of an aseptic experience: goods are piled up in perfect display, thanks to their unnaturally identical shape.
Peels are treated with wax to make them shiny and desirable (remember the witch’s red apple? That kind of spell – beautiful and poisonous). You can look as hard as you wish, you won’t find any scratch, hole, defect, or (God-forbid) soil attached to the fruits and vegetable. And please, remember to put on a pair of plastic gloves if you want to touch anything: hands contact with the goods is strictly forbidden.
So much for aesthetic and hygienic hysteria. But what about taste? It is not just the old folk lamenting that nothing tastes like it used to. All the embellishing treatments and the selective process, coupled with heavy use of pesticide for a fast growth and a plump look, cannot substitute for taste. The only escapism for an exigent palate so far was the organic market, where fruits and vegetables are smaller, sometimes uglier, but so much tastier.
In Israel there are quite many organic shops scattered in malls and city streets. Most have a small section for organic vegetables and fruits. What I really find amazing though, is the emergency of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where farmers deliver their customers directly. The concept was born in the early 1960s in Germany, Switzerland, and Japan as a reaction to issues about food safety and also the urbanization of agricultural land. Today it is mostly assessed in Canada and the US, where as many as 13,000 CSA farms are active (as of 2007).
CSA means you can get organic vegetables – and sometimes fruits – delivered to your door. After some hesitation, mostly due to price (I am one of those people who would walk a long way to get a good deal), I did sign up for a CSA. Well into my third week, I can tell I am a happy costumer. Here are some reasons why.
– fresher : the difference is unequivocal. You bite into a carrot and it is crunchy. When the knife goes through a cucumber, you can hear a snappy sound. Potatoes have peels so delicate you can scrub them away with a brush. Freshly picked veggies do taste different than the ones sitting in the supermarket under artificial neon lights, ripened in cold-storage compartments.
– healthier : this is something you can partially taste, but it is mainly entrusted in the relationship with the farmer, who is generally certified and very devoted about his commitments. I won’t lecture anyone about the importance of the quality and freshness of the food we eat – plenty of scientific papers are available for further reading.
– seasonal : there is something humbling in accepting whatever the earth has to offer. Of course it means no peppers in winter or cucumbers in August, but for the spoiled consumer who is used to get everything he wants at any given moment, it is kind of an interesting experience to learn to respect the seasonality of vegetables.
– surprising : the box will surprise you with real delicacies which are hard to find in the market. Rocket salad tall as a leek, a variety of green leafs which includes Tat Soi, mustard greens, Kale, edible weeds. . .
– local : You will know where, how, and by whom your food is grown. You can actually wear your boots and go out on the field to meet your farmer and harvest your own veggies. You can join the newsletter and read about the life of the workers and the stories of the community.
– creative : having to deal with different and more unusual vegetables each week will spice up your cooking, resulting in some worthwhile experiments.
– convenient : you are always stocked in vitamins and do not have to carry those extra kilo from the store. This is truly a relief, worth a try. The price has turned out to be reasonable, even more so if you proselyte on your neighborhood to cut off the delivery costs.
So what are you waiting for? Here is a list of the two main English- friendly CSA operating in Israel (I opted for the first one – smaller, funkier, not to mention it was started off by a friend-of-a-friend):
– CHUBEZA is located in Moshav Kfar Ben-Nun, near Latrun. It offers two box sizes:
Small box – 80 NIS per week – suitable for one to two persons, or those who do little cooking.
Large box – 105 NIS per week – suitable for 4 persons, or those who cook most of their meals at home.
Plus 20 NIS for home delivery, and 5 NIS for drop spot delivery
– OR-GANI, located in Emeq Hefer, near Natanya. Offers two options:
Big Family ~4 people, 125 NIS/week.
Little Family 1-2, 85 NIS/week
You can add fruit for 10 more NIS.
Plus 15 NIS for home delivery, and 5 NIS for drop spot delivery.