Photo: Chris Eckert/Studio D
Pea shoots, he calls them. Dau miu. I've never seen them before. The green tendrils dance onto the table, delicately intertwining with pink-tinged radishes and stalks of asparagus. It's such an elegant tableau, like an 18th-century still life, that I pull out my iPhone to take a photo. If I only knew how to turn this bounty into a meal, however, the pea shoots could be more than good-looking—they'd be something I'd buy and eat, supporting the people who grow them and improving my own health. I'm sure I'm like a lot of Americans, who feel that transforming a bunch of raw greens into something you'd happily eat requires a burdensome investment—whether of time or culinary know-how. "People are gaining access to local food, but there's still a disconnect because they don't know how to prepare it at home," says Angela Davis, community food education program coordinator at the New York City nonprofit Just Food.
To close the gap, Just Food organizes workshops for urbanites who need a little do-it-yourself inspiration. Volunteers strive to make seasonal fruits and vegetables more appealing by demonstrating easy, creative ways to prepare them. The instructors teach at farmers' markets, schools, and CSA (community supported agriculture) drop-offs, reaching everyone from moms picking up their weekly supply of vegetables to Saturday morning browsers. In particular, they focus on low-income neighborhoods, which often lack fresh produce and have high rates of diet-related disease.
Lately I've become evangelical about good, fresh, accessible food. Which is why, on a recent Tuesday night after work, I'm scribbling directions in my notebook as a chef shows us how to make citrus vinaigrette, grill asparagus for a salad, and yes, prepare pea shoots. Our small group of young professionals cluster around the table, mastering techniques and variations. We won't just re-create this dish in our own kitchens, however—we're training to be volunteer educators, teaching others in our communities what we're now learning.
I share my interest in working toward a healthy food system with many of my fellow 20-somethings. Every generation identifies with a cause, and this might be ours. It's the wide-ranging efforts—from shopping at farmers' markets to keeping chickens in urban backyards—of everyday people like us that are making sustainable eating mainstream. Sometimes we're lucky enough to see the effect we're having, on people and the planet. At a recent demonstration, a Just Food educator prepared kale with caramelized onions and sautéed apples (a four-ingredient, ten-minute dish), to rave reviews from community participants. Making kale less mysterious is a small undertaking. But it's something I can do. That's how we're all doing this—lots of people, taking little steps, in the pursuit of fresh food for everyone.
Oprah.com Exclusive!: Get the list of volunteer organizations promoting equal access to healthy, local food, plus Just Food's pea shoot salad recipe.