Eating Local, aka Eating

So the 2012 Eat Local Challenge started here in my area on September 7 and is running through the 16th. A fine tradition, I’ve been meaning to participate ever since we moved here over five years ago.

When we were newbies to the valley, I was a bona fide foodie. My mother-in-law once said to me, “That was the best Thanksgiving turkey I’ve ever had.” I had over 500 recipes from Epicurious.com saved to my recipe box. I was unafraid of weird ingredients and I believed in the power of brining. I earned my kitchen cred with plenty of knife mishaps and a really good second-degree burn.

But I still ate Annie’s Mac & Cheese. What?! It was ORGANIC!!!

I had read Fast Food Nation and Omnivore’s Dilemma. I was a lay minister with the church of Michael Pollan. I nodded my head through numerous articles in Gourmet and Food & Wine. I shook my head at all the stories covering our obesity epidemic, patting myself on the back for running 5 times that week. And yet, I still ate heaping bowls of Cocoa Krispies for dessert. Sometimes two.

I would go to the Farmers’ Market here and wander aimlessly amongst the stalls piled high with produce, local flowers, honey, local meat, and baked goods. It was more of a social event, a true see-and-be-seen atmosphere. I would always eat something naughty, like a peach turnover, molasses cookie, or freshly fried donut. Maybe I’d buy some lettuce or tomatoes. The truth is, without the shiny packaging and advertising, I was a bit lost.

That’s the beauty of Paleo—it keeps you honest. I realize it isn’t financially feasible for everyone to source everything locally, but I am lucky enough that it is for me and my family. But I’m not sure I would’ve become the local foods aficionado I am today without making the Paleo leap. That framework is so important, it’s the difference between thinking you know something and knowing it deep-down.

I would estimate that for at least half of a year, 80% of my groceries come from local sources. Nearly all the meat we eat is a neighbor of mine: beef, bison, chickens, eggs, rabbit, pork, lamb. Even some of the fish we get is caught only a few hours away from here. If I want to get really crazy with the local vibe, I can also buy organic spirits (gin & vodka), beer, cheese, and wine. We are blessed to have access to locally-made olive oil from olives grown only a few hours south of here.

Being so far north, the veggies are a different story. This time of year is the best, the perfect intersection of the high summer yield and the first appearances of the fall staples, which is probably why the Eat Local Challenge is now: berries, lettuce, carrots, melons, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, corn, herbs, beets, turnips, potatoes, green beans, kale, peaches, apples, pears.

But in the winter, it gets pretty scarce around these parts. The markets shut down the week of Thanksgiving and don’t reopen until March. That’s when I’m a frequent forager in my friendly local co-op. Luckily for me, they do the best they can to source things regionally, and doubly lucky for me, we live close to California. I place orders with the bison/pork folks and literally meet them in a dirt parking lot across from the post office. I tease Ray and tell him he’s my illicit meat dealer. We should come up with a secret handshake.

But this year, when I heard of the Eat Local Challenge, I had to chuckle and shrug a bit. It wasn’t even intentional, but the last two nights’ worth of dinners have been amazingly local:

  1. Grilled local, organic brats with sautéed spinach, carrots, and garlic in butter. Only the butter and S&P were from elsewhere.
  2. Pork ribs in a sweet glaze (local honey) with a salad of greens, carrot, cucumber, and Thai basil (local olive oil and garlic in the dressing). This featured a few exotic ingredients like fish sauce and lime, but all the main players and most of the small ones were locals.

The cool thing is, if you’re eating locally, chances are you’re accidentally doing a few other things: eating seasonally, eating organically, supporting the local economy, voting for good food, sending a message to the Industrialized Food Complex. Who knew putting your money where your mouth is could be so delicious, healthy, and subversive?

 

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