Eat Local Challenge: setting your perimeters and goals

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.

Doing a local eating challenge will inspire you to grow more of your own food and to preserve what’s in season while you can get your hands on it.


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.

6 thoughts on “Eat Local Challenge: setting your perimeters and goals

  1. amy

    Awesome ideas! I hadn’t thought about the local corn chips/tortillas either. I wish I could send this to a lady that my husband ran into last month at the farmer’s market. She was just walking around with some strawberries and offered him one I guess. He asked if they were local and she said “yes they came from winco.” Holy shit he about lost it and in telling me I wish I would have been there! We go to the garden, to a local farm market, then to Winco once a week. We get as much as we can from local sources first then we buy the non local stuff. I like also how you did this and your husband not including the kids. My daughters aren’t as picky as your son of course but are still narrow minded in their choices which include a lot of raw foods this time of year. 🙂 I have to tell myself it’s ok to fix two meals for dinner if it means we eat something amazing and the kids eat broccoli (one of a few veggies they eat some of) and burritos. 😉

  2. chelsea

    I am so not disciplined enough for this sort of commitment
    :sob sob::
    please don’t think less of me…

    I just read a really interesting post very similar to yours @ what’s for lunch honey.
    She talked of a project that she and her son started concerning local eating, and it’s
    especially interesting because she lives in Germany.

    Check it out!

    oh I mean well about the poll, but I have been too busy to type it up, sorry…

  3. angelina Post author

    I haven’t seen that post yet. I read that blog for work. I like her.

    Of course I wouldn’t think less of you for not being disciplined enough to do this challenge- this is what I did three years ago. I’m not so strict now. However, planning to give a talk about it is renewing my interest in tightening up the miles again.

    I miss you! Must call you!

  4. angelina Post author

    Amy- that’s funny! The totally crazy thing is that Max has come to realize that produce in season is much better than out of season produce and now if I try to give him a cucumber in winter he says “Is it in SEASON?!” and most of the produce he likes he won’t eat out of season. He never really did but now we all know why. Cause once you have home grown red grapes grown in a friend’s garden, the ones from the grocery store just aren’t worth eating. And Max, after three years of eating homegrown red grapes refuses to touch a red grape from the store even when it is in high season! The dude may be picky but he likes the good stuff, it’s really hard to blame him for it.

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