Local Taco Salad
I absolutely love Mexican food, way more than your average American cheeseburger. My mom and I share the same affinity for a dish called taco salad. We love to make it together, probably because we both eat the ingredients while attempting to make it, and we both love to stuff our bellies full of that savory salad. The ingredients include onions, avocados, lettuce, tomato, tortilla chips, rice, cheese, ground beef and taco seasoning, a squeeze or two of lime, and of course some salt and pepper. The dish is mostly composed of fresh produce, with a little protein and seasoning added in as well. However, as I went to Publix one day to purchase these ingredients, I was reminded of Wendell Berry’s argument that as citizens we should be “willing to Think Tittle” (80). Walking around in one of the largest-volume supermarket chains in the world, I did not feel that I was employing the ideals of Thinking Little. Berry calls us to be men and women “trying to live as a neighbor to [our] neighbors” in order to understand “the work of peace and brotherhood” (80). Feeling like I needed to make a difference in the world, or mostly just guilty, I left the ever-convenient and coupon friendly Publix in search of the neighborly brotherhood Berry spoke of.
On my ride home that day, I came across a little family owned market tucked away in a shopping center, about seven minutes away from my house. I had heard of the market but had never been inside to explore. I usually just pass right by and use the Publix 500 feet outside my neighborhood entrance. Reluctantly, I pulled off at this shopping center and decided to conduct a little experiment. I knew the shop, named Nature’s Pick Market, prided itself on only selling local or fully organic products. So, I thought there was no way this little store could compete with the variety and availability Publix offered. I wanted to see if this family owned and operated business would offer everything I needed for my usual taco salad in a more sustainable fashion. Needless to say, I had my doubts.
When I walked into Nature’s Pick Market, I was again reminded of Wendell Berry’s neighborly based thinking, because I was immediately met with a table and chairs emphasizing the local community elements I was trying hard to ignore. The bright and inviting colors I encountered as I entered the market started to change my tentative attitude.
Friendly employees welcomed me into the store, a stark difference from the beer stand that greeted me at Publix, and even the owner came to ask if I needed help finding anything. I told her I was interested in making a recipe more sustainable by having all of my ingredients locally sourced. She took on my project and proceeded to show me around her market, shattering my disbelief. She began by stating that all items sold here were locally grown or organically produced in the United States… well, of course.
We started in the produce section where she showed me the organic ingredients I needed that were grown here in Georgia such as onions, lettuce, and tomatoes. Next, she picked out a ripe avocado from a family-owned farm in California and a juicy lime from a small farm town in Florida. None of the produce had any artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and none of them were genetically modified. While all of this was good news for my experiment, it felt a little too good to be true. Surely they sold no meat which met all these conditions.
Nature’s Pick Market partners with different types of agriculture and cattle farmers all across Georgia to offer the same meats and dairy you would find in a large grocery store, like Publix. The owner led me right to the ground beef I needed for my taco salad which came from Carlton Farms in Rockmart, Georgia. They also sold organic cheese. With a few clicks on my iPhone, I was able to learn a lot about where that beef and cheese originated and how it got to Nature’s Pick Market. Carlton Farms focuses on sustainable agriculture through humane treatment of their plants and animals in order to create organic, healthy fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats for their consumers. I also learned that Carlton Farms would deliver their products right to my front door if I chose to use that service. Amazingly, their much healthier and more sustainable beef cost less than the organic option sold at Publix.
Next, I needed the grains for my taco salad. I found a “Non-GMO”, organic sea salt tortilla chips. Additionally, I purchased organic, whole grain rice from the Lundberg Family Farms in Sacremento, California. The farm is a member of the Sustainable Food Trade Association and considers itself an early leader in sustainable farming, renewable energy, and other environmentally focused practices.
Lastly, the spices had to be bought, and boy was there a lot to choose from…
Instead of buying a pre-made package of taco seasoning, the owner brought me to their spice stand where I could buy any amount, pounds, ounces, or a pinch, of any spice I wanted. Together we were able to create a baggy of special made taco seasoning without being wasteful by buying individual plastic packets. We mixed ground chili flakes (powder), red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika, cumin, ground sea salt and black peppercorns to create my own seasoning for the ground beef flavor. However, as I stood by the spice stand, I was easily distracted by the brightly colored mini-restaurant to my right.
Intrigued by the cheery space, I asked the owner what other secret charms they were hiding in their delightful store. She then began to tell me this was what they called The Juice Bar. Here they sold juices, smoothies, and yummy treats all made from ingredients found right there in the store. She told me if I could find it in the store, they could put it in a smoothie! So, I decided I wanted to try one of these delicious treats. But, since I had little time, I chose a smoothie off the menu. I know, boring, but still so yummy!
By the time I left Nature’s Pick Market, they had my heart, my stomach, and my wallet. Shopping here was far more sustainable and enjoyable than Publix. Most of all, it allowed me to Think Little and be a good neighbor to the local business owners and local farmers, which boosts the local economy.
Think Little. Shop Local.
Berry, W. (1972). A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural. New York, NY: Harcourt.