Dorset Harvest Farm in mid August
As I talk to folks about my participation in the August Eat Local challenge and as gas prices continue to soar (now at $3.29/gallon in my area for 87 grade) the case for eating locally is getting easier to make.
I've learned alot this month. Has participating in the Challenge changed my life or habits--absolutely. One of the reasons I started this blog was because I wanted to help others understand what great food there is to be had in the Syracuse area. And when I committed to trying to eat as local as possible I discovered many new food sources. I learned that there are more local producers making foods that I enjoy than I would have expected. But I wouldn't say that it has all been easy.
Eating local means thinking before I eat--imagine that. I can admit to bouts of mindless snacking. But this month, when the urge to snack came upon me I had to think and remember--where did those pretzels come from? How about some cherry tomatoes instead? I know what you're thinking, but with a little sea salt, I promise you I was able to satisfy both my sweet tooth AND my craving for something salty. And, occasionally, I'd grab a small handful of chips because, well, nothing else would do. But I had to think about it.
Eating local means that either there will be foods I won't eat because they're not locally produced or I'll have to make some concessions and exemptions. What am I craving about now? Bananas, oranges, lobster, proscuitto and Parmigiano Reggiano are the big ones. All these foods shape the reason why I could never eat 100% local--unlike Cookie Crumb, I didn't even try. Imported foods can be a beautiful thing. But I believe they should be the special exception rather than the rule. I remember when I was a child that receiving a box of navel oranges each winter was a much anticipated treat. I treasured it all the more because it was special and rare. For me, this restores a bit of the sacred to the act of eating.
But the issue isn't just about importing fresh and/or organic food--though I'll admit to being troubled by the increasingly high percentage of Wegman's organic produce that comes from Earthbound Farms--it's about being connected to the people who do the life-giving work of producing my food. I've grown to really cherish having a relationship with the farmers, roasters, chefs, bakers, and other folks who feed me.
From here on out, I'd like to commit to getting as much food as possible from within my foodshed and importing only what is really necessary and really desirable. If I could source 75- 80% of my food from local sources --I think both my body and the planet would be healthier. I am already thinking about planting next year's garden. I've been pleasantly surprised by how much can be grown in a small space--enough for my family and several friends. I've also come to really enjoy the work of putting up food and canning. Our shelves and freezer are slowly filling up with jars of fruit preserves, sauces, summer vegetables. Storage onions, garlic, potatoes and soon winter squash will continue to fill the root cellar. Prepping all this food took about as much time as a long trip to the supermarket and cost me pennies.
That last point is not insignificant. Eating locally saved us a lot of money. The money we would have spent on buying all of our vegetables I was able to use to pay the higher price for pasture-raised poultry and meat. I think it is a very fair trade.
I definitely plan to do the Eat Local Challenge again next year. I really hope that I will just be continuing what will have become a way of life. As I look forward I wonder if I will be able to follow the Eat Local guidelines for every meal of the day--and how will I fare once winter arrives. The delicious adventure continues...