Food Philosophy: Eating Local

I have agreed to give a talk about doing the 100 mile diet at my local library.  I did the 100 mile diet for 10 months a couple of years ago.  It changed how I eat irrevocably.  I didn’t stick to the 100 mile diet but I did stick with a strong dedication to eating mostly local produce and a determination to seek out as many pantry staples that are produced locally as I can.    Before I write up my notes on how I ate during my 100 mile diet challenge, I want to chronicle, for clarity, how I eat now.  What does eating local mean for me?

First of all, eating local is NOT a contest.  It’s not a “trend” to follow and then abandon just because too many other people are doing it and it’s stopped being cool (that’s a particular species of personality I disrespect in general).    Eating local is something all people need to re-learn to do for the sake of regional food supply security.  Eating locally means eating seasonally which means that your food will taste better and be texturally more appealing (think of out of season mealy apples).  Eating locally supports your local economy and naturally ends up supporting smaller local farms.  Eating locally will connect you to your own community in new (and good) ways.

The best reason to eat local is because it brings greater pleasure to the table.

I am not a zealot about eating locally.  I try not to be a jerk about it.  There are people so serious and dedicated to eating locally that they would definitely not think I’m doing enough.  That’s okay with me because to me this isn’t a contest to see who can eat the most locally.  My rules for eating are not severe, not difficult, yet so many people I know think I’ve taken a vow of food chastity just because I won’t buy most produce out of season.

I am going to try to break it down into lists of how I eat NOW, this is NOT the 100 mile diet:

Imported foods I buy:

coffee, tea, oil, sugar, spices, limes, dry pasta, rice, some dried legumes, condiments, sometimes tofu, sometimes wine (I can’t afford local wines though we have lots of them), some nuts and seeds, food for Max, Parmesan cheese, avocados, fresh ginger, garlic (when the local farms don’t have any), flour, polenta, olives, some juices, chocolate (we consumer very little chocolate), canned tomatoes (when I run out of home canned), canned coconut milk.

I don’t consume a lot of rice, tofu, or wine.  Even though I don’t buy lemons (only on very rare occasions) I do keep limes on my constantly exempt list because I use it for seasoning in cooking a lot and there’s no good alternative.  I don’t buy any other citrus regularly.  Max food is one big exemption I’m okay making so my kid won’t starve to death.*  The list looks long and I assure you it was much shorter when I did the 100  mile diet.

Produce I never buy out of season (and buy strictly locally):

green beans, tomatoes, asparagus, all fruit (except apples for Max), eggplant, summer squash, winter squash, favas, tomatilloes, hot peppers (I don’t even eat sweet ones because they don’t agree with me), fennel, cabbage, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, lettuce**, corn, peas (fresh, though I will eat dried split peas).

Produce I will buy out of season but only from local sources (root vegetables can be eaten all year due to excellent storage quality):

beets, potatoes, carrots, onions, rutabagas.

After doing the 100 mile diet for 10 months I decided to lighten up a little on the rules so that they would be more livable for me.  Every week I go shopping I allow myself a small portion of imported produce.  On my list of exceptions I included avocados and limes.  Here’s how it works: if I want to buy bananas, I can, but I can’ t buy bananas AND avocados.  I basically have two spots available on my grocery list to buy something that doesn’t ever grow here.  The following list is of produce I rarely buy and when I do I can’t also buy avocados and/or limes the same week.  Truth is, I haven’t bought most of those items since doing my 100 mile diet challenge.  I love avocados so much it takes a strong urge for tropical fruit or imported vegetables to oust them from my weekly indulgence list.

Produce I buy only very rarely:

pineapples, kiwis, bananas, tamarind, jicima, most melons, oranges, tangerines, dates, coconuts, pomegranates.

Things I ONLY buy locally:

honey, seasonal produce, walnuts, bread, milk, butter, eggs, most cheeses, fresh herbs (I grow most of my own) and dried herbs, beer, vodka, canned corn (there is a company within 100 miles that cans local corn, I rarely buy canned corn anyway but when I do I only buy from this company whose name I will get and record for those who want to know), fruit***.

I want to note here that I do quite a lot of food preserving so I don’t buy much commercially frozen or canned produce.  I make an exception sometimes for canned tomatoes when I run out of home canned, but I really don’t do that often.  Most years I just stop making anything tomato-y until the season starts again.  I freeze a lot of eggplant and fruit.  So it’s all local even though I’ll eat those out of season from my pantry- I never buy them out of season.

I think that sums of the bulk of my food buying habits.  Enough for now.  Next I want to do a post covering what those lists looked like while I was doing the 100 mile diet.

*He is an extreme picky eater largely because of tactile issues connected to his OCD and ADD, we don’t punish him for it.  I concentrate on keeping his food free of HFCS and preservatives and making his diet as organic as I can.

**This year is the first one I’ve cheated and bought out of season non-local lettuce.  I am determined to knock that off.  It really is worth waiting for it to come back in season.

***My policy has always been to buy Max whatever produce he’s willing to eat whether it’s in season or not, local or not, because he eats so little produce and I’m desperate to get him to eat any at all.  The funny thing is that he’s been learning (without my help) that the red grapes our friend Laurie grows and shares with us are a hundred times better than the ones I have bought him from the store which he now refuses to eat.  He’s discovered that apples out of season aren’t so good either.  This year he refused the out of season carrots, cucumbers, grapes, watermelon, and apples.  That’s all the produce he ever eats.  So this winter and spring he didn’t eat any produce.  Just tater tots.  So frozen potato products was the only “produce” he ate.  On the one hand this is very stressful to me, on the other, it’s proof that once you’ve gotten used to eating truly ripe seasonal produce there’s no going back.

3 thoughts on “Food Philosophy: Eating Local

  1. NM

    Your list surprised me by being unexpectedly close to my own shopping habits.
    Since we put a greenhouse up, I’m hoping to grow lettuce through the winter. It’s unheated, but my understanding is that the rain is a lot of what does it in, so, theoretically, under cover, it should do better. Theoretically…
    Kept thinking I’d try cloches, but never did get around to it. Also hoping to overwinter carrots. So far, my carrots are not germinating well, and I must replant.
    Fascinating development by Max. (Kind of makes me think, hey, neat! Except, of course, for the whole no-produce bit.) Makes me wonder a few things: Would he like dried watermelon? I don’t especially, but my husband loves it. Of course, it is thin and sticky, not juicy and crunchy, so the texture might kill the issue without ever getting to the flavor …
    Huh. Now that I say that, I notice that most of the produce he likes is specifically cool, juicy and crunchy. Interesting; is that the aspect of it that appeals to him? Would he eat jicama?
    Have you ever tried miner’s lettuce? It’s thick, sweet and mild, native here, and according to one source I talked to, grew fine through unusually icy weather … I got seeds from Territorial, but haven’t found room to plant them, not surprisingly.
    Territorial also offers hothouse cucumbers and tomatoes, and I thought about trying them, but they’re only hybrids, and I’m on an open-pollinated only rant. But I wonder if you could grow a cucumber indoors through the winter if you have a highly sunny spot. I don’t have such an area, but my lime tree is surviving even so, and once in a rare while growing limes, though they seldom mature.
    Enough of my ramblings, but I hope one or two were of interest.

  2. angelina Post author

    I’m not at all surprised our lists are so similar. I feel like you’re a very local eater. Next I’m going to do the list I used when doing the 100 mile diet. Quite a lot more strict. Writing this all out re-inspires me to tighten up again and make a new search for locally produced things- cost is prohibitive with some things like the grains but I’d like to see myself make greater efforts in some departments. Philip was talking about this wiht me and pointing out that there are some fairly cheap Washington wines we haven’t tried.

    Max’s thing is largely about texture and he does mostly love things that are crispy/juicy/cool. I did get him to try jicima- but he didn’t like it. I was glad he was willing to try it though. He hates mushy textures and the only dried fruit he’ll eat is fruit leather and I have definitely considered making that at home. In fact, I should do that this year. I might be able to get him to try dried watermelon- he’s often willing to try. I would love to have a greenhouse and try growing cucumbers for Max in winter. It’s funny because even with the things that store well like carrots- they’re not as good after a while. The texture becomes a little woodier and they become less sweet. Max can always tell when they’re less than prime and he just doesn’t see why he should eat carrots that don’t taste good and have a funky texture. I find it hard to fault him.

    I want to go into the hierarchy of making food choices where you’re having to decide between local, organic, and genetically modified foods. You can’t always have all of those things. Oregon is a HUGE producer of beet sugar and I’d love to buy that but I also read that beet sugar is almost exclusively made from GMO beets. bummer. So I’ll choose imported cane over that. I think I might start restricting myself to California, Oregon, and Washington for everything but a very very few things. Which would mean I would definitely follow an actual season for avocados. Which I should do. I love eating seasonally. Anyway, I’m so happy you guys asked me to do the talk. I’ve been meaning to write more about local eating and to tighten up my exceptions list. This is really inspiring me.

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