Lum: Edible dichotomies

Have we gotten so lazy that we can’t even cut up our celery anymore?

It seems lately that a trip to the market is more like a trip to a restaurant than to the grocery store, with shelves of prepared meals, salad plates, trays of sliced cheeses and cold cuts, pre-cooked chicken, acres of frozen dinners, little baggies of sliced carrots, broccoli buds and, yes, celery sticks.

Next thing you know, the stores will be opening your canned beans and corn for you to save you the annoying trouble of using a can opener.

Are we turning into a country of folks who can’t cook anything that isn’t pre-packaged, prepared, ready for the microwave — and willing to pay twice the price for the convenience?

The direct antithesis of the trend to transmogrify our grocery stores into gourmet catering services is the movement toward home-grown, organic, slow-cooked community dining experiences, creating something of an edible enigma.

I don’t know if it’s a division like the Republicans versus the Democrats or lassitude versus industriousness or something else entirely — it’s puzzling.

When I was growing up in (gasp) New Jersey, my mother tended a large garden, in part because citizens were encouraged to grow Victory gardens but in most part to save money. We ate fresh green beans, peas, tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, apples, black walnuts (a bitch to shell) and asparagus, and we bought fresh corn from the nearby farmer.

The harvest was canned for the winter, because freezers were just on the verge of common usage. The freezer part of what we still called “ice boxes” held two ice-cube trays and required regular defrosting.

I appreciated this bounty not one whit. The garden meant serving time weeding, hoeing and picking in the summer heat and staggering humidity. In the winter it meant going down into our mother of all nasty basements — dank, dark and full of spiders — to fetch a jar of applesauce or green beans.

Of course I would kill for that garden now, the black soil enriched by my mother’s piles of compost. You couldn’t even think about slipping a vegetable peel into the garbage but had to go all the way around to the compost piles and add your scrapings onto the newest one of them. Over the course of decades, without any fancy equipment, nature did its job.

Now, in my dotage, cooking is about the only activity I can engage in. My friend Hilary maintains scattered gardens in the yard including a lot of flowers, but my main interest is in the edible fava beans and peas — veggies you can’t get unless you grow your own — supplemented by the farmers market.

But I stray from the dilemma: Are we headed for more fast, processed foods, or are we headed toward the slow, organic lane?

The best of all worlds for Aspen might be top-of-the-line produce, meats and bread, prepared very slowly by someone else. Chateaubriand avec petits pois, City Market?

Su Lum is a longtime local who already misses fresh tomatoes and corn. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at


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