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Wishes for This New Year

They might as well be romance novels: I don't really want anyone to see me reading year-end food trend forecasts. The forecasts appear in nearly the same copiousness as hide-the-cover pulp fiction. And once I peep at the first trend article, I tend to yield to the whole messy profusion of competing trend forecasts; I indulge in trying to figure out the plot, the characters, and whether to expect a happy ending.

Quite a few of this year's forecasts centered on expected deepening commitment to locally grown, sustainably produced foods, both for home cooks and restaurants. Others noted blasted broccoli replacing kale chips, cauliflower knocking at the door for its time atop the veggie royalty throne (replacing its cousin, Brussels sprouts, the unlikely 2013 rave), and Brazilian cuisine succeeding Filipino food as the next international flavor we will be welcoming on our plates. Some Brazilian foods—iridescent rainforest insects, for example—sound challenging to all but the adventurous, edge-loving palates profiled in Dana Goodyear's late 2013 book, Anything That Moves.

I read the book, and I get one of its points, that some eaters view food as a competitive, thrill-seeking sport. I'd like to quibble with quite a lot in the book, but not right now. I'd rather concentrate on a favorite question: what can I cook for dinner, using anything we have, especially if it's homegrown or local? My favorite kitchen sport: looking around, seeing a few ingredients, imagining combinations, preparing dishes with friends and loved ones, and sitting down with them to savor every bite (and sip.)

That habit led to this no-recipe soup one night. The freezer held roast Reed Valley Orchard winter squash and local sweet potato, leftover from big holiday meals. On the same shelf: homemade organic Elmwood Stock Farm chicken broth. Aha! Elmwood shallots in the root veggie bin. Some exotic orange juice concentrate and a few spices from Good Foods Market, and a few chestnuts left from holiday meals. A little sautéeing, a little blending, a little sprinkle from the still green chives near the back door, and there it is: Winter Gold soup.

Often now, vegetables and meats come from our garden, our town, or our state. Ditto for seasonal fruits, and any we preserve by freezing. Cornmeal, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and winter squashes add locally produced nutrients and satisfaction. We can find Kentucky-sourced butter, milk cream, and buttermilk. Sources for beautiful Kentucky-raised eggs seem to be increasing each year.

I know I am among the luckiest of people, having access to such bounty, and usually knowing the healthy, earth-friendly practices that produced it. I know my family's choices and our access to good, local food are a privilege. I wish our good fortune can become the norm. All of us in Kentucky, a food-growing Eden, deserve good, clean, fair food we can afford from our own gardens, communities, and region.

We do not yet have a food system that can feed Kentuckians from Kentucky. My biggest wish for 2014 is substantial progress toward that goal. It's reachable.

A lot of people work daily toward better production, processing, marketing, distribution, and transportation of Kentucky-grown food to Kentuckians. These issues have yet to resolve in favor of Kentucky farmers and eaters. Help in your own community if you can find a way.

We are asked to commit to making at least 10 percent of food purchases Kentucky Proud. That's good, if you aren't at that level yet.

Let us also encourage growers to produce some of the key foods now missing in Kentucky's pantry. In addition to affordable basics, would you buy Kentucky wheat? What about nut oils? We can't grow olive trees (yet) in Kentucky, but our forests produce many nuts. Hammons Black Walnuts in Missouri produces black walnut oil.  What about cider vinegars from Kentucky apples? Shouldn't that be doable, and affordable, unlike these orchard-based vinegars from California? For that matter, what about hard cider itself? New York state's Blackbird Cider Works uses spent Kentucky bourbon barrels for aging its Buffalo Bluegrass cider. Yet here in the Bluegrass state, very few orchardists or fermenters appear to be experimenting with producing this tasty, low alcohol, food-friendly drink from our own land, for our own economic benefit. Even salt: we have salt licks, a Salt River, and a Salt Festival in Kentucky. Could Kentuckians season our food with Kentucky salt if we needed to?

Feeding ourselves—that's food security. Feeding ourselves clean food—that's food safety. Feeding all of us—that's food equity. All are worthy of our attention and effort in 2014.

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Bonus: The 2014 food trends I would most like to come true, from Anna Thomas Bates at jsonline.com in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

 

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