How strict should you be for your eating local challenge? This is a completely personal decision. When I did my 100 mile eating local challenge I planned to do it for a year. I ended up only doing it for 10 months. Since I knew I was going to be doing it for many months I tried to design it so that I would really be stretching myself but NOT so that it was impossible to do. The things I excluded from the challenge were all things that people have been trading for and purchasing from long distances for hundreds of years: spices, oils, tea, coffee, sugar, etc.
I thought about the philosophy behind this challenge and the spirit behind it. We have learned to eat apples imported from New Zealand because their seasons are reversed from ours which means that just as we should not be eating apples again for six months- voila! We can have apples that are in season in New Zealand. Those are apples that have traveled about 6,800 miles to get to you. Most produce that has to be shipped any fair distance has to be refrigerated. When you’re trying to reduce the amount of fossil fuel that goes into the food you eat (with the idea that you will become less dependent on it to survive) not eating produce imported from other countries is a huge step in the right direction.
I’m going to share what perimeters I set for myself with this challenge and then make some suggestions for how you can set your own.
- Time Frame: one year. (Though I only did it for 10 months, I went through the toughest two seasons- spring and winter)
- List of exceptions: coffee (but not tea), spices, sugar, vinegar, baking powder, selected grains (wheat flour, barley, corn meal), Parmesan cheese, oil.
Max’s food is also excepted due to his extreme picky eating, I wasn’t willing to refuse to let him eat an out of season apple since he eats very little produce to begin with. (Though I did work hard to feed him local too.)
- Definition of local: 100 miles
- Foods subject to challenge: dairy, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, pasta, everything that is not on the exceptions list.
- We do not expect family or friends to cook only local foods for us nor do we worry about restaurants which we don’t eat at often anyway.
- The Goal: To eat as seasonally and locally as we can for one year. We are not choosing to be extreme in our approach and are allowing some of the basics that we find indispensable and that people have been trading for for hundreds of years, such as spices. What we want is to learn what grows in our own region and when, to learn how to cook according to what is available fairly close by and reduce the over-all miles between us and our food. We seek an edible education.
If you are going to do your own local eating challenge I would decide how extreme to be according to how long you plan to do it for. If you’re writing a book about it then obviously you need to be very extreme to impress people. That will mean no non-local salt, among a million other things. But if you’re like me and you’re simply trying to eat more locally and aiming to push yourself to an uncomfortable enough place to actually learn something then I would make sure you allow yourself to have coffee. The shorter your challenge period, the more extreme your challenge should be. If you’re only doing it for a few weeks, and if it’s going to be in the high produce season (summer) I would suggest going even more extreme than I did. Your pantry is likely already full of things you can lean on. So force yourself to do without some non-local things you don’t already have on hand that you use a lot of. This will either teach you to find substitutes or to do without.
For 10 months I didn’t eat any pasta I didn’t make from scratch. While I allowed myself flours, I did not allow myself any non-local packaged pasta. As a matter of fact, there are some places that make local pasta so you don’t have to go without. Portland has several makers of pasta. I don’t get to Portland often and so I just made my own. It was pretty amazing actually. I’ve never had better pasta than what I’ve made myself. I also didn’t eat tofu that entire ten months. No soy (except soy sauce). As it turns out, a friend let me know that there is at least one tofu maker in Portland, so I could have been eating it.
What about ingredients in packaged things? If you buy corn chips made by a local manufacturer (Don Pancho for us Portland area people), does it count as local if they use cornmeal imported from another state? That’s for you to decide. That’s for you to define. For my challenge I did try to avoid packaged foods for me and Philip as much as possible. Partly to counter balance the fact that our picky eating son eats mostly food in cracker form. So I decided that when it comes to packaged foods like corn or potato chips (which we rarely eat anyway) they had to be made by a local company but I wasn’t about to source out all their ingredients. But I do admire those who have the fortitude to do that level of research and to uphold such stringent rules. I did not allow myself to buy salsa made locally in the winter – the kind that is in those fresh tubs (not jarred) because part of my local challenge was also eating seasonally. Tomatoes, unless they’re canned, are never in season in winter. Ever. Not unless you live in Mexico. Or Chile. Or Australia.
If you’re doing a long term challenge covering multiple seasons, I would give yourself a little more slack because it gets a lot harder to eat seasonally and locally in the middle of the winter if you don’t live in California.
Remember that this is a challenge meant to help you reduce the miles between you and your food, to reduce your own dependence on imported food. It isn’t about being better than anyone else or feeling the pain of deprivation but about stretching your knowledge of what your own region grows, making yourself get more in touch with what’s seasonal, and will hopefully inspire you to make some permanent changes that support greater local food security and put more money into your own local economy. Don’t break your back and remember to have fun and take notes to share later.