Friday, December 09, 2005

Eating locally - some musings

It's officially winter now. The first real snow is coming down outside, and all I can think about is farm-fresh vegetables.

It's hard to eat locally in New England in December.

Hard, but not impossible. I've been thinking more and more about what it would take to eat completely locally for, say, one year. Various people in the eat-local movement have done this. Many of them are, admittedly, located in much warmer and more hospitable places, but some are not.

I don't think I can engage in this experiment quite yet, though I think I might at some points. I think anyone attempting this in New England would need the following things:

A deep freeze
A dehydrator
A "cool, dry place," aka, a root cellar
A car, for taking trips to farms

I have the first and could easily manage the second, but I don't have the third or fourth and likely won't for another two years or so. But with all four, I think it would be possible.

In the summer, of course, there would be no problem with vegetables and fruits. In the winter, I could still have root-cellared potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, beets, carrot, cabbage, winter squash, celery, collards, apples and pears; frozen green beans, peas, corn, broccoli, blueberries and peaches; various pickles and relishes; and dried and canned tomatoes, assuming I start in the summer and plan ahead.

Local meat is easy to come by, of course, and local dairy is available at the regular grocery store. There are quite a few local producers of cider, which I prefer to beer, so that's no sacrifice. There are some local wines, though the quality of most is questionable. There are some providers of local mushrooms, or I could grow my own. There's even local sea salt.

Sugar would be a problem. I am sure it would be good for my health to replace all the white sugar in my diet with local honey and maple syrup, but it wouldn't be easy. I have been able to find no commerical growers of nuts in New England, so I couldn't even make maple walnut ice cream.

I haven't been able to hunt down many producers of local grains. Gray's Grist Mill grows and grinds Rhode Island flint corn, the proper basis for jonnycakes. Littleton Grist Mill stone-grinds organic grain, some of which comes from Vermont, but the rest supplied from South Dakota. There is a farmer in Aroostock County who is growing grain for a Maine bakery (interesting article here) who could perhaps be persuaded to sell some grain to an idealistic blogger, although Northern Maine is pushing the outer boundaries of "local."

Anyway, it would be an interesting project, but not really possible for me at the moment. Until it is, however, I intend to try to deepen my commitment to local food. Rather than just eating the food I normally would, but trying to find local versions, I want to make an effort to choose local foods whenever possible and plan my meals accordingly. So instead of picking up wine for dinner, I'll buy cider and enjoy what was once the most popular drink in New England. I'll try to use more maple syrup and honey and less white sugar. I'll buy smoked seafood as a treat, rather than pate. I'll order some of that cornmeal and eat more cornbread and less rolls.

Maybe I should make this an early New Year's resolution.


Oh, and there are new links up for local farmers' markets, maple syrup, honey, and specialty food providers. I'm working on lists of farms and CSA programs, but obviously that's a much bigger project and is going to take a while.


Walter Jeffries said...

Making a goal of eating as much as possible locally for one year would be a great experiment and wonderful daily blog entries. After you've done one year of "as much as possible" you would have a sense of if you could actually do it for a full year at 100%.

I must admit I do not eat 100% local food. We grow most of our own food but there are things we enjoy like lobster and oceaon are regional but not actually local. Sugar we can make our own (maple syrup and honey) but salt is another thing I can't get. A fair number of spices are a challenge. Cinnimon is one I don't think I can do locally and I really like it. Olive oil is a staple in our cooking and another thing that we must import. I could substitute pig fat and chicken fat in some recipies but that is not as good.

The non-local things though are mostly extras, luxuries...

mzn said...

I would be suspicious of anyone in the US who claims to eat 100% local food, Walter, and you're doing way better than most. I agree, though, that a year of local eating would be a fantastic blog project. And an experiment in depravation, no? I don't think I could go a year without coffee, chocolate, and vanilla and none of those things are the least bit nutritious.

I'm thinking about getting more into pickling vegetables. I think everyone should eat more of those.

Urban Agrarian said...

Interesting thought. Do you have a definition of 'local'. Last summer I had decided to only eat things I grew myself as a game/experiment for one month. I was going to do it for August and my "rules" would allow up to a pint of extra virgin olive oil. Sadly a death in the family caused me to forget the plan, but now youe've reminded me of it again.

groundlings said...

Hi! It's Groundlings again! Thanks for the comment. I'm in to Lemony Snicket and I'll definetly check out the "His Dark Materials" Trilogy. By the way, that Indian Pudding looked delicous. What brand is it?

Walter Jeffries said...

Ah... Chocolate. I forgot about that one. That settles it. Impossible. Life without chocolate... *shudder* :)

Helen said...

I read an article in Gourmet couple of months ago about a guy in Vermont who did that -- survived New England winter on all local ingredients. That sounds like a very brave experiment to me, so I admire you for even thinking about it :)

By the way, I was inspired by your post about chicken stuffed with sourkraut and prunes, so I tried a variation on that dish last night. Yum!!! In my family, we often serve chickens and ducks with sourkraut OR prunes, but not both. Well, they make an amazing combination that is greater than the sum of the parts. I browned the sourkraut in duck fat, then added prunes, sauteed garlic and scallion. Thank you so much for this awesome idea. I should start a list of things I learned from The Seasonal Cook :)

Jennifer said...

I began the month of December with the attempt to eat mostly local--and its hard--I haven't even blogged about it. We are eating mostly from our freezer and root cellar, and we can easily get local milk, eggs, and other things I didn't actually grow. I was inspired by Bill McKibben's article in Gourmet magazine last July. Like the August Eat Local Challenge, this is something I would love to do in "community"--meaning the blogosphere--which is particularly helpful for those of us in the northeast. Any takers?

Urban Agrarian said...

Just came across the following link for Massachusetts