Jane Says: Not All Online Food Gifts Are Created Equal

Sure, there's packaging and travel to consider. But some mail-order gifts have more conscience than others.

Even Santa can't trump a basket from America's Farmstand. (Photo: Americasfarmstand.com)
Jane Lear was on staff at 'Gourmet' for almost 20 years.

"I want to send the people in my life something delicious yet sustainably mindful this year for the holidays—any mail-order tips?" 
—Adrienne Reed

Every year, I know the holidays are truly here when I receive a shipment of oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms, which cultivates them, along with mussels and clams, in the shallow inlets and bays that open into Puget Sound. Those oysters are fat, juicy, and thanks to the particular mix of algae and micro-algae in the water there, taste superbly of the place. I slurp them with great enjoyment—and nary a twinge of guilt.

Yes, I’m well aware of the fact that they arrived in a well-packed cooler via overnight delivery. And, yes, I’m also aware that I live in New York City, on the Atlantic coast, and sparkling-fresh oysters are easy to come by. Still, Taylor Shellfish is a fifth-generation enterprise, one I’m happy to support in a small way. Food commodities, after all, have been traveling long distances for centuries. Granted, that’s been at a much smaller scale than it is today, but I’m not talking about a lifestyle here, just a way of getting some extraordinary products made with care and commitment into the hands of as many people on your holiday gift list as possible.

By the way, if you are industrious enough to make your own presents, and want to send them to loved ones in the continental United States or Canada, consider using a Life Box for shipping. Invented by mycologist and president of Fungi Perfecti, Paul Stamets, the box includes fungi spores and tree seeds (all native and noninvasive) embedded inside the packaging materials, which are meant to be planted. Gift recipients can get started by simply tearing up the box, planting in soil, and watering. This eco-packaging is far, far from cheap, but has a serious Coolness Quotient.

Below is a far-from-complete list of mindful mail-order gifts for the passionate foodies in your life—or for your very own wish list.

SUSTAINABLE EDIBLES

America’s Farmstand: At this virtual farmstand, based in Stonington, Connecticut, you can choose from family farm–produced goods that range from maple syrup, heritage lamb, and scallops to Douglas fir seedlings or an Adopt a Crop (or farm animal) option.

Mackinac Straits Fish Company: This Michigan family business buys its whitefish, lake trout, and more from fishermen who ply the upper Great Lakes and smokes the fish over indigenous hardwoods; it also ships fresh local fish when available. ($50 minimum order for product plus shipping.)

Port Clyde Fresh Catch: Lobsters, Maine shrimp, and Jonah crabs are among the seafood sustainably harvested by the last fleet of groundfishermen between Portland, Maine, and the Canadian border. Memberships in the nation’s first Community Supported Fisheries (CSF), based on the popular Community Supported Agriculture model, are also available.

Preferred Meats: Working in partnership with small- to medium-size ranchers who are vigilant about raising animals humanely is one hallmark of this Oakland-based company. Its consistent, breed-specific products include Berkshire or Duroc pork, Suffolk lamb, and Wagyu beef.

Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Food: The quality, freshness, and sheer beauty of the heirloom beans sold by this Napa purveyor are legendary. How could anyone resist bags of Santa Maria Pinquitos and Christmas Limas, say, plus an autographed copy of RG’s Heirloom Beans?

Robert Is Here: Nothing beats a personal visit to this Florida fruit stand, in business for 53 years—the tangy Key lime milkshake is to die for. The next best thing, though is a shipment of oranges or “local tropicals” such as guava, carambola, and black sapote.

South Tex Organics: This outfit isn’t small—it harvests from 500-plus certified-organic acres—but its Rio Red and Star Ruby Grapefruits are outstanding and they handle last-minute, last-ditch orders with alacrity. I’m just saying.

GIFTS THAT PAY IT FORWARD

People interested in food issues who are adamantly opposed to acquiring More Stuff might greatly appreciate a donation in their honor to a charity such as Heifer Project, Share Our Strength, Sustainable Harvest International, or their local food bank.

FOR THE DIYers IN YOUR LIFE

For the cook in a sunny clime, think about a Global Sun Oven solar oven.

Gardener-cooks may appreciate an attractive countertop compost pail from Chefs Catalog or a gift membership to the Seed Savers Exchange.

And for the ultimate immersion experience, what about a week learning to cook or garden at the John C. Campbell Folk School, in Brasstown, North Carolina? There are also classes in blacksmithing, tinsmithing (make your own Christmas ornaments!), woodcarving, fly-tying, and more. (The late essayist David Rakoff wrote about basket-weaving at the Folk School for The New York Times T Magazine back in 2007. It’s a wonderful, very funny read.)

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