Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Mi Vida Local" Rules

In preparation for my Local Eating Experiment, I've been paying very close attention to what I eat and where it comes from. It turns out that, while local produce is plentiful this time of year, eating locally won't be as easy as I had expected.

Many of my cooking staples are canned or bottled and they don't come in "fresh and local" versions. Think chick peas, kidney beans, olive oil and soy sauce. Then there are the dry ingredients that I can't seem to find local versions of no matter how much I try: flour (and bread and pasta), sugar, and rice. I've even asked local bakeries about their flour and sugar purchasing, and they all get these ingredients from other states. The closest I can get is one state north or one state south, and then I'd have to have it shipped to me anyway, defeating the whole "local" purpose.

Finding local dairy products has been a major chore, too. I've found local cheese at a nearby Whole Foods, and at one of my local farmers' markets, but I can't seem to find any local milk or yogurt. I'm going to ask around at the market this weekend to see what else I can find. As for meat, I've found a local farm that also raises beef and various poultry, so if I'm in dire need of animal protein, I know I have a source. Trouble there is, the cost may hinder me from indulging. Local, organic, naturally raised meat doesn't come cheap. Thankfully, I don't eat much meat anyway, and sacrificing it for the sake of my wallet won't make me too crazy. A couple of pounds should last me all month.

So far it looks like if my little experiment turns into a lifestyle (which is my long-term plan) I'll still be buying a good amount of food from the local grocery stores. For the month of July, though, non-local purchases will be extremely limited.

I've come up with the following rules for my experiment:

  1. Purchase produce from the farmer's markets only. If I can't find it there, then it's not in season and it's not local. This means no canned veggies, no frozen veggies and no bananas, mangoes or avocados. I'll have to get creative with my recipes, but I'm ready for the challenge. If I can make Swiss Chard tasty, I can find plenty to do with the variety I'll be able to find during the month of July.

  2. Purchase bread from local bakeries only. They may not get their flour locally, but most of the bakery owners I've talked to swear that at least the rest of their ingredients are local. I'll have to take their word for it. And at least I'll still be supporting local businesses.

  3. Avoid canned and frozen foods. This includes canned and jarred sauces, soups, cand fruits and vegetables, multiple-ingredient condiments (i.e. salad dressings), and canned meats, to name a few.

  4. Avoid processed foods. On this list of no-nos are prepared desserts, processed cereals, and packaged meals and snacks. While I don't buy much in the way of snack foods these days, I do tend to rely on frozen meals like Lean Cuisines and Smart Ones, or frozen veggie burgers. They make easy workday lunches, and quick dinners when I get home late. But the more ingredients in a food, the more "cumulative miles" it has likely traveled by the time it gets to the grocery store. So for July, I'll have to plan ahead for dinners and make my lunches from leftovers.

  5. Buy only locally raised, organic meat. I'm even going to avoid the meat already in my freezer for this month. If I want to eat meat, I'm going to have to shell out the cash for non-corporate meat. Eating local isn't my only reasoning for this. I'm feeling more and more guilty about eating animals that were raised by factory farming (otherwise known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs). Luckily, I live near a bay, where crabs are plentiful this time of year. Now if I can just find a local fish market that actually sells local fish.

  6. Buy local dairy products where they're available. Since I know I can get local cheese, I'm not allowed to buy Kraft or Land O Lakes. I also know where to get local eggs, so I'm limited to those. I'll do my best to find local milk and yogurt, too. But if all else fails, I'll have to head to the dairy case at Giant.

  7. No canned or bottled soda or water. My Brita pitcher and Pur faucet filter will be getting plenty action in July.

Of course, I can't have rules without exceptions:

  • I found a free bread machine on Freecycle, so I'll probably try my hand at making my own bread at least once this month. This will obviously involve a few exceptions. Flour, yeast and other dry baking ingredients will have to be purchased from a grocery store. I'm still investigating my options in this area. I'll be avoiding any "special" ingredients that I can't get locally, though. If it's not essential for the recipe and it's not local, then it won't be in my bread.

  • I can use three of the basic pantry ingredients that I already have as much as I like: spices, vinegar and oils.

  • I can use a limited amount of canned beans (one can per week). (I might give dry beans a try, instead, but I've never had any luck with them. They always stay crunchy, no matter how much I soak them.)

  • I'm allowing myself the use of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, which I already have in the fridge and which I only buy a couple of times a year. No bottled salad dressings, though. Those I have to make from scratch if I want them.

  • I can also purchase (or use already purchased) rice, couscous and quinoa. I don't eat much of any of these, and I'll get them from the bulk bins for good measure. I'll avoid pasta for the month.

  • As for cereal, I'll buy rolled oats from the bulk bin, too. I'm an oatmeal lover, anyway, so this won't be too much of a change. At least I won't be buying the flavored, processed, packaged instant stuff like I usually do.

  • If I can't find a local milk/yogurt producer, I can get them from the grocery store. The yogurt has to be plain and in large containers, though. No processed, flavored stuff in single serving packages.

  • If I go out to eat, which I rarely do, I'll stay away from fast food and chain restaurants. I'll also investigate local-food restaurants in my area and do my best to patronize them. (My Love is very picky!)

  • When I visit my family mid-month, I get a 4-day reprieve. I'll have little say in what I eat, but I'll encourage local options when I can and stay away from non-local stuff as much as possible.

It seems pretty complicated when it's laid out like this, but the gist is really quite simple: eat locally as much as possible and be more aware of where my food comes from and how it gets to my table. Wish me luck!

4 comments:

Rick said...

I wish you luck. It certainly sounds complicated to me. :)

dawn said...

It is difficult but worth it, I think. Things will be less expensive, fresher, and better for you.

I can't wait to see how it goes for you!

easygoingcountrylady said...

easygoingcountrylady's beans:
Prepare this the night before.
For 1 pound dried pinto or red beans, rinse the rocks or dirt out in a small-holed colander, then put in a large pot and cover with water. Add oil, bacon pieces or butter at this stage. Bring to a hard boil for at least 10 minutes,cover and turn off. Let stand overnight. Next day, reheat to boil and put in crockpot on high. Allow to cook for at least 4 to 5 hours. Test for tenderness. When done, add salt or other seasoning last 20 to 30 minutes of cooking. Serve with cornbread or plain bread,sliced tomatoes, green onions, Mexican food or other garnishes. Serves 5-6, but leftovers are better.

nejyerf said...

just catching up on my reading here.

i am so impressed with your eating locally plan. i wish you lots of luck.

have you considered investing in a yogurt maker?

and maybe an ice cream maker too?!?

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