Thursday, June 29, 2006

Local Eating: The Beginning

Saturday begins the extra-long July 4th weekend, and I am declaring my independence from shipped food. That’s right: my own Eat Local Challenge month is at hand.

It seems that people who take up the challenge range from the very strict to the very casual, from those who just try to eat something local in every meal to those who strip their kitchens of everything grown more than 100 miles away. I will be taking the middle road.

Here are my rules:

Everything must be grown in New England. I will try to buy from the closest possible source, but anything within the New England boundaries is fair game. I will also try to buy directly from the farmer whenever possible (farmers’ market eggs, rather than supermarket, even if both are grown in New England).

My exceptions:

Olive oil. I simply can’t bring myself to cook with only animal fat for a whole month, especially during salad season. Despite the fact that soybeans and nut trees and other things that can be made into oil can be grown in New England, there are no commercial sources I can find, and pressing oil is not in home-cooking territory.

Vinegar. I screwed up here. I thoroughly intended to make some vinegar with New England wine, but I didn’t hunt down the wine soon enough. I will most likely be using red wine vinegar I’ve got brewing from a leftover bottle of Californian wine, figuring that at least that brings homemade frugality points. Again, I need vinegar for salads, given that I can’t use lemon juice either. If anyone can think of a substitute, I would love to get rid of this exception. I might just try to live without – lately I’ve been eating some salads sans dressing. But I reserve the right to a bit of vinegar.

Yeast. Depending on how the sourdough starter works out, I might need yeast.

Spices. I would guess I use something like 6 ounces of spice in a month (mostly pepper, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, paprika and nutmeg). The shipping-weight-to-culinary-value ratio makes the spice drawer a reasonable exception for me. I will use only fresh herbs, though.

Eating with friends. I will try to have people to my house for dinners or drinks this month as much as possible. But I believe people come before projects. If my friend M.W. from the Cape has a barbecue in July, I will be there with bells on and will eat with gusto (damn, you bet!)

A few leftovers in my fridge. I have two eggs, a couple carrots, celery and my sauerkraut. I don’t intend to waste good food just because I wasn’t able to eat it up before the project starts.

The blogging plan:

I will give a complete accounting of everything I eat and, to the best of my ability, where it was grown, including the inevitable slips off the wagon (I’m guessing chocolate chip ice cream and Bing cherries). And if I give up before the month is out, I promise a full accounting.

The reasons:

I think anyone who is reading here probably knows why we should eat locally (fuel costs of shipping, the environmental benefits of preservation of farmland in urban and suburban areas, the transparency of agricultural methods that is involved when you can meet the farmer, etc.) But there’s a lot of grey ground. For instance, some have argued for the benefits of supporting organic farming in the developing world. And Wyman’s blueberries may help preserve open land in Maine, but they are probably shipped to a larger distributor before being shipped back to my supermarket. So why bother trying to be (somewhat) strict about local food for a month? What is the point?

I’m not going to give up mangoes or lemons or even those buckwheat noodles from Japan for good. But I want to try this experiment because I want to learn more about how I eat. I want to pay attention to every bite that enters my mouth and be mindful of how it connects to the larger food system. I want to challenge my cooking skills. I want to try new things and to go deeper into the culinary history of New England. And, heck, for health reasons I would probably do well to eliminate white flour and white sugar from my diet. Thoreau said that if there is an experiment you want to try, you should do it. Always listen to Thoreau.

So goodbye (for now) to chocolate, coffee, margaritas, lemons, wine, pizza, popcorn, peanut butter, Petsi’s scones, Toscanini’s ice cream, and those M&Ms the receptionist keeps on her desk.

Here’s what I’m starting with in my kitchen:

8 oz. dried mushrooms, Oyster Creek Mushrooms, Damariscotta, ME: 160 miles
2 # cornmeal, Gray’s Grist Mill, Adamsvilles, RI: 67 miles
Pork (trotters, butt, shoulder, hocks, ground, heart, liver, lots of fatback), Mamashoe, Petersham, MA: 70 miles
Beef (ground, liver, short ribs, top round roast) River Rock Farm, South Westport, MA: 65 miles 1 pint soybeans, Grateful Farm, Franklin, MA: 44 miles
Lamb (fore roast, leg, ground), Sojourner Sheep, Northampton, MA: 101 miles
Many bottles carbonated water, Polar Water, Worcester, MA: 45 miles
Pepper and smoked goat cheeses, Westfield Farms, Hubbardston, MA: 59 miles
1 dozen eggs and sharp cheddar cheese, Johnson and Sons, Westminster MA: 47 miles
1 bunch each arugula and kale, Stillman’s Farm, Lunenberg, MA: 41 miles
Cherries and garlic from a farm (uncertain which) in Pepperell, MA: 42 miles
Scallions, strawberries, zucchini and chard from a farm at the Brookline farmers’ market – stand too busy to ask, no signs.
1 can mussels, Look’s Gourmet Foods, Whiting, ME: 340 miles.
8 # whole wheat flour, Wood Prairie Farm, Bridgewater, ME: 372 miles
16 oz. plain yogurt, Butterworks Farm, Westfield, VT: 223 miles
12 oz frozen wild blueberries, Wyman’s, Milbridge, ME: 293 miles Posted by Picasa


susie said...

Oh, dear ... you had me right there with you (in spirit at least) ... up until you said goodbye to the coffee. Can't wait to read about your progress, though.

plentyo'moxie said...

hurrah hurrah! go go go! (that's me on the sidelines being a cheerleader).

my own challenge is next month, and you bet your canned mussles I am taking careful notes of your sources and matching what I can up with my own 100-mile challenge. New England seems more doable long term, and that is something I've liked from last year - how the new sources have leaked into every day year round eating. Especially the meat and dairy (obviously), and the smartness of freezing.

Kristin said...

I'm really looking forward to reading about your eating adventures for the next month!

Steph said...

I recently saw something on the internet about making one's own yeast using grapes, of course I cannot find it now but it is something I plan to try once we have grapes in season.