Wednesday, September 26, 2007

eating locally - challenging in twists and turns

It's amazing how it's easy in some ways to eat locally, and so hard in others.

When I was at my stepson's house visiting with his family (home of the new baby!), the first thing his wife did was ask me if I wanted some tomatoes from the garden of one of her clients. Of course I said yes - I would never turn away a gift of food. In exchange, I gave her half a dozen ears of corn I'd picked up at the Regional Market. Supper that night included corn on the cob.

(Perhaps tomatoes are runners-up in the competition for most prolific vegetable, second to the ubiquitous zucchini? A co-worker brought in at least a dozen cheerfully red tomatoes with a Post-It note reading, "help yourself." She told me she was making a fresh batch of spaghetti sauce every week by pureeing her tomatoes, 18 at a time, and adding canned tomato sauce and spices. Frankly, I would love to see her garden.)

Later, at my sister's house, she had a bag full of rhubarb from a friend's garden. It was a mere fraction of her original quality of leafy goodness because she used the rest of the rhubarb to make some of her incredible strawberry-rhubarb pie, complete with lattice top. She also whipped up several loaves of, yes, zucchini bread.

Every day for lunch, I have a sandwich with locally grown lettuce and Sundance Farms' delicious organic heirloom tomatoes (or tomatoes from my own garden). I wish more of my sandwich ingredients were local. And that brings me to the finer points of what challenged me about eating locally.

But eating locally can mean giving up on some things, depending on one's level of strictness in regards to compliance. Rice, for example, isn't local to my area (that I know of). Wheat might be ... or at least, there's a local flour mill that produces outstanding flours and mixes. Then there's the bakery at the Regional Market that sells scrumptious loaves of artisan breads but their flour is made from wheat grown in Quebec. My husband (who is not participating in the Eat Local challenge in any way) came home with several varieties of (non-local) sandwich meats, but I can't find local sandwich bread. Is there a local pasta? Coffee isn't local - but there's a local roaster or two.

I debated all these things this month. How local did I feel comfortable going? Did I perceive the challenge to be about buying food that was 100 percent locally produced or buying from small, local grocers/producers? At what point on the map did "local" end? How much driving (ie., adding greenhouse gases to the environment) was I willing to do in order to get to where the local food was, and couldn't I just ride my bike and get some exercise in on top of that? Should I give up making curries because nobody around here grows the key ingredients in garam masala?

These are all valid questions that not everyone would answer the same way. Some would absolutely say if it isn't from around here, it won't make the cut. Others would commit to replacing as much "imported" foods with locally produced items as they could fit into their budget and busy schedules. To me, the important part has been being more aware of the benefits of eating locally - financially, culturally, environmentally.

It's been a exciting month (I know, it's not over yet!) as far as being more cognizant of where my food comes from and where my grocery dollars are going.

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