Local-food guru Joan Dye Gussow offers nutrition advice for the ages By Susan Clotfelter
If you hope to stride into your ninth decade with strength, humor and a weeder in one hand, Joan Dye Gussow is your role model.
Through her first two books, “This Organic Life” and “The Feeding Web,” Gussow, 81, has been one of the pioneers of the local-food movement. Such foodie icons as Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver and Alice Waters call her an inspiration.
Gussow’s latest book, “Growing, Older” ($17.95, Chelsea Green), starts from an unlikely place: The disconcerting discovery that her life hasn’t been devastated by her artist husband’s sudden death from cancer in 1997. From there, she looks back, and forward, on her life as a daughter, a mother, a scholar and, especially, a gardener: Gussow grows all the vegetables she eats, year-round, on the banks of the often- flooding Hudson River in Piermont, N.Y.
Not everyone can do that, of course, but Gussow’s voice as she reports on life, food and the ironies of modern culture make her the kind of gardening instigator anyone can enjoy: acerbic, inspiring and definitely down-to-earth.
The Denver Post recently spoke by telephone with Gussow, a professor emerita of Columbia University Teachers College’s nutrition department.
Q: What’s going on in your garden right now?
A: Well, I’ve got lots of brussels sprouts coming on, lots of collards, lots of chard; the chard just went crazy this year. I’ve got a few tomatoes just hanging on, though I picked almost everything two days ago because we were supposed to have a freeze. I cooked them all up yesterday. And this morning I picked raspberries to put on my breakfast cereal. I have these heritage raspberries and they’re fall-bearing. And I just think that’s the most decadent thing in the world, to have raspberries in November.
I have some of these what I call karmic plants. You know, mache, chicory, and I’ve got miner’s lettuce coming up everywhere. It was Eliot Coleman who told me that mache is actually a winter annual. It grows in kind of a rosette, maybe an inch or two across, and then in spring it goes to seed. And I have lots of rocket, you know, arugula.
Q: So you’re growing salad-y things through the winter?
A: I have it pretty well if I want it. Of course, my mother’s idea of salad, since I didn’t like her version of Thousand Island dressing, which she made with ketchup, was to put lemon and sugar on my quarter of an iceberg lettuce. So I never really developed a lust for salad not like people who think they haven’t had dinner without one. And nutritionally, it’s not very valuable. It’s the crunch that people crave.