I have a little extra free time this week, so I’m writing a little more than usual.
Last night I sat down and tried to work out on paper what it would look like if we tried to eat local.
Some of it was easy: the meats, fruits and vegetables. All available from local farms. This is the Garden State after all. For vegetables, I have multiple sources: the farmer’s market (May through Thanksgiving), my own garden, and a number of CSAs. For fruits, there’s the farmer’s market and plenty of seasonal pick-your-own places.
One point that would have to be decided is whether local or organic is more important, if only one is available. Just as a hypothetical: if all the local apple orchards are not organic, do we not eat apples, or do we buy organic apples from Whole Foods from Washington State? Or just eat the local conventional apples?
I decided that an exception would have to made for citrus. Florida isn’t too far away. The little clementines that my younger son has been eating two and three at a time lately? I’d hate to take them away from him. But if they come from Spain, I might have to.
Ugh. This is the crux of it right here (and Barbara Kingsolver acknowledges this). It seems so wrong to deny your kids fruit when all this time you’ve been encouraging them to eat fruit, fruit, fruit.
On the other hand, something like this has to go:
I’d rather learn how to can Jersey peaches, honest to God, if little miss wants to have peaches in February. Another time that I looked at one of these jars, the peaches were from China, and I’m sorry, China needs to get their shit together as far as not poisoning people.
I’m sure to some people, the ability to have virtually any kind of fruit any time of the year seems like a triumph of modern food processing and transport. In a sense, that’s true. But at what cost? It’s not just the problems this poses to the environment. We’re also losing our food knowledge. (And BK writes at length about this.) My son isn’t the only kid who doesn’t realize that chicken nuggets come from chickens. When food is easy to get, easy to consume, just another product on a shelf, there’s a respect that is lost. The easier food is to get, the more we eat, and the more obese we get. I definitely believe that the more time you have to spend growing, finding, preparing and cooking your food, the more you appreciate it, the more you savor it, the less you waste it. More involvement in the journey of your food to your dinner plate = more mindful eating of said food = less mindless overeating.
So back to the list. Meats, eggs, fruits, veggies are no problem. What about dairy? Milk, butter, sour cream? I started to look into this last night and it’s complicated. This was one of the best overall guides I found. I have to think some more about dairy. I don’t know if raw milk is a way I want to go (although I’m pretty sure it’s illegal in New Jersey and illegal to transport across state lines). Also, I think we just need to drink less milk. How about cheese? BK says it really is pretty easy to make your own soft cheeses. Otherwise, I’d have to find a local farm. Pretty sure I have seen cheeses at our farmer’s market.
(It’s scary, right? Obviously this is not something you implement all at once.)
Coffee. I’m not going to go there with coffee. I just found my husband a K cup he likes so he isn’t going to Wawa every day. That was enough of a feat.
Oil. I cannot give up olive oil just because olives aren’t grown around here. (BK didn’t either, so there.) We have a local store dedicated to oils and vinegars, so they might be helpful. I wonder if there is any local source of vegetable oil. BK points out that importing shelf-stable stuff is not as bad as stuff that needs refrigeration.
Sugar. OK, let’s not get too crazy here. The sugar trade is time honored! I cannot grow sugarcane in New Jersey! (But could look into organic/fair trade, etc.)
Flour. Need to see what the most local source is.
And my list goes on for several more pages, thinking about all the things we use. Maple syrup. Mustard. Hot sauce. Hummus. Most likely all 50 states and several countries are represented in our pantry and cabinets. I have a global kitchen, but not necessarily in a good way.
I brainstormed a locavore menu to replace our current menu, for breakfast, school lunches, and dinner. Dinner is the easiest one. School lunches and snacks are tough. I have some ideas, though.
I ended up drawing up an “exceptions” list: coffee, hummus, olive oil, and American-grown citrus. I’m sure there will be more, but I want to do more research first. I also think that we will not completely cut out bananas, but maybe limit them to once a month instead of every week.
My husband just informed me that organic milk tastes horrible and he refuses to try to drink it anymore, so add “conventional milk for hubs only” to the exception list.
Since right now is probably the worst time of the year to start this, I’m thinking that I keep researching, join a CSA, and otherwise ramp up to start a major attempt at locavore life on… let’s say… the first day of summer.
If nothing else, it’s an interesting thought experiment and is already teaching me more about what is grown where. For instance, chickpeas are in fact grown in the U.S., in dry places like Idaho, and U.S. farmers have increased chickpea production over the past several years to keep up with our new fascination with hummus.
Here is a nice little essay on eating local as a learning experience.
Last night for dinner we had strip steaks from 7th Heaven Farm, and they were delicious. Also mashed organic Yukon Gold potatoes. Their provenance, I failed to catch. Canned Del Monte corn, from Walnut Creek, California. Frozen broccoli, product of Mexico. And the winner for distance traveled: apple juice, with concentrate from Chile.
It would be easy to say who cares. I think our food distribution systems are generally safe, in the sense that the vast majority of people who buy food from a supermarket don’t get acutely ill from it. So what if the apple juice is from Chile. Some kind of efficiency in the apple juice markets must determine that it makes more sense to send apple juice concentrate from Chile to the U.S. even though we have plenty of apples here. Who am I to question economic systems when I got the only “D” of my life in macroeconomics?
But for everything I mentioned earlier in this post and the other day — humane treatment of animals, knowledge of and control over what goes in our bodies, mindful eating — I must keep questioning.
I literally just saw there’s an event devoted to beans at my library tonight. Sponsored by GMO Free NJ. Here we go!