Tag Archives: 100 mile diet

8 Benefits of Eating Locally

I think it’s funny that this is a conversation people need to have.  (And we do need to have it)  In all of human history people ate mostly locally because that’s what was available to them.  With some things reaching them from far-flung exotic places, like spices and other dried goods, there was certainly some access to imported goods but this wasn’t something people indulged in on a daily basis.  Of course, in the earliest days we were more nomadic and sometimes traveled to our food rather than it traveling to us.  Even so, we burned our own fat doing it, we built muscles hunting for our food and relocating on foot.  If we had to do that now there would be no obesity.

Here we are now.  We have become so used to everything in the world coming to our home town without the least inconvenience we actually have to work hard to figure out what is being grown and produced in our own regions.  I think it’s fantastic that people are rediscovering their local industries and economies but it’s surreal that those who do so are sometimes considered extreme or hoity toity for wanting to only eat apples grown locally.  I’ve heard the local eating movement spoken of derisively as though it’s some precious elitist activism and to me that’s really twisted.

There are a lot of reasons to eat what you want when you want it wherever it comes from.  It often costs less, it’s right in front of your face – so why not?  You want what you want and all your life there’s been no shame in eating tomatoes in the winter so why are people getting up in your face about it now?

What’s less apparent to people are the reasons why they should go out of their way to seek only locally produced foods.  If it’s more expensive and they actually have to work to find stuff and also not eat things that aren’t grown in their region what possible motive could they have for doing it?

  • The colossal use (and waste) of fossil fuels in the transportation of food across the world.

It’s a big reason to reduce the miles between you and your source of food.  A huge reason.  A reason with layers.  First of all, our unrelenting use of fossil fuels is polluting the planet.  Plain and simple.  I know some people still don’t believe in global warming or environmental pollution (I can only assume they’re being intentionally blind to smog and landfills and the plumes of exhaust being released in the air even from well regulated trucks on the road) but the fact of the matter is that our use of gasoline to ship produce and packaged goods creates a lot of pollution.  The more we truck food across the globe the more packaging we require and most of that packaging is either made from petroleum or uses a lot of it to fuel the factories that produce the packaging (factories that produce paper products usually run on fossil fuel).

Our incredible hunger for convenience, packaged goods, tomatoes in winter, and treats from around the world is so great that we are burning through crude oil as though we will never run out.  But whether we do it in our lifetime or the next doesn’t matter in the debate.  We will run out.  When we do, without much expense or effort going into alternative sources of safe power- where are you or your children or their children going to get your food when that happens?  Every time you buy apples that came from New Zealand you keep it from the pockets of local growers.  If enough local growers stop growing because they can’t compete in the global food economy, who’s going to feed you when the global food economy crashes and you have to eat what you can find around you?  It’s big, it’s important, and I know a lot of people sleep well at night believing it’s never going to happen in their lifetime.  But we don’t actually know when it will happen.  Only that it will.  So a really important reason to reduce the miles between yourself and as much of the food you eat as possible is because we need to reduce the rate at which we consume crude oil as a nation and we need to make sure that we build very strong food security close to where we live so that if a day comes when getting olive oil from Italy is no longer possible, we’ll know where to get fats to saute our food in.

  • Strengthening your local food security.

If your community is ever cut off from shipments of food from other places, what are you going to be left with?  Does your community have a good source of potable water?  Does anyone in your region grow grains?  Can you even get your hands on them or are they all being exported to other communities?  Oregon produces a tremendous quantity of beet sugar but we export most of it.  This means it’s actually more likely  that you can buy sugar that was produced in Oregon on the East Coast and in Russia.  Does your community have a grain mill?  Do you have a solid quantity of farmers growing a decent variety of produce?  And if so- how well supported are they by their own community?  Are YOU supporting them?  A strong community is one that is self supporting.  The basics of being self supporting (in any context) is being able to provide yourself with your basic needs for survival.  Food, water, shelter, and coffee*.

  • It tastes better!!

When it comes to produce this is unequivocally true.  When you stop eating non-local produce you will almost automatically be eating more seasonally.  You won’t be eating apples from New Zealand in spring and summer.  You won’t, most likely, be eating apples after winter because even good (local) storage apples begin to decline sharply in quality by spring.  Just ask my son who is an extreme picky eater- texture is hugely important to him and there’s not an apple that can last until spring and still be good quality.  Eating seasonally means you’re going to taste produce at it’s peak.  This sounds like a smug little sentiment.  It reeks of cozy cliches but I promise it’s true.  Not only does food eaten in season taste better, a lot of farmers who are growing for their local community don’t have to grow varieties specifically best for shipping long distances which means there is a resurgence of produce amongst farmers that is grown specifically for taste.  If you’re eating local produce it also doesn’t have to be picked early – if you’re buying from farmer’s markets and the produce is actually grown on a local farm it has often been picked that same day you bought it.

  • You get more in touch with the seasons.

So eating more seasonally will also get you in sync with your seasons in a way you may never have experienced before.  If you don’t eat fresh tomatoes that aren’t local, you’ll only be eating them as long as your local farmers (or you!) have them available in the fields.  Fall is marked by the end of the tomatoes, and for some of us it is marked by the frantic canning of as many of them as we can get our hands on.  There will be no more for months.  At first this seems like a  huge deprivation.  No tomatoes on salads for nine months.  No tomatoes on sandwiches for nine months.  Sometimes longer.  That’s hard if you love tomatoes like I do.  The first year it seems like a sacrifice.  However, when the next tomato season rolls around you will look forward to and appreciate those fresh tomatoes in a way you have never done so before.  Your late summers will be more poignant for what you’ve been looking forward to eating and have missed.  All your seasons will be punctuated by different foods.  No longer will you eat all the same foods all year.  Every season will bring special delights.  Late spring brings asparagus and the season is very short.  You will notice the blessings of each season more and you will have more to look forward to with each season.  It may seem, if you haven’t experienced this for yourself, such a small matter that there’s no way it can really change your life.  But it will.  For the better.

  • It will make you a better and more resourceful cook.

The average person shops on whim.  If they want sauteed summer squash they put it on the grocery list and buy it.  Doesn’t matter if it’s mid-winter.  If they see a recipe in a cookbook and they want to try it right now, they go and buy what they need and make it.  If you’re eating locally then you’re eating more seasonally and you’re not going to be able to make whatever recipe you see in your cookbooks until those things become available locally.  So you have to learn to cook with what’s in season.  In some ways this brings things more into balance in your diet.  Foods that grow together go together.  You know what I’ll never see on a plate together in my house?  Asparagus and fresh tomatoes.  Which is fine because when I’m eating fresh asparagus I don’t crave tomatoes anyway.  Different regions will have some big differences in what comes into season when so in the south you might be getting your first tomatoes in at the same time you get local asparagus (if your region even grows asparagus).  I don’t live in the south so they’ll never appear on the same plate in my house.  Maybe this sounds limiting but being limited can spark a lot of creativity.  The produce I eat in the winter is definitely much more limited in variety than what I eat in the summer but I don’t feel limited.  I get more creative with what I’ve got on hand.  If you’re not used to cooking seasonally then you may want to check out some seasonal cookbooks from the library for some guidance.  More and more seasonally arranged cookbooks are being published.

  • Supporting your local economy.

I mentioned this earlier but I can’t mention it enough.  This is vitally important.  For a community to be viable it needs to be producing commodities, it needs to provide jobs for the people who live in it.  Even though it may seem like commuting to other communities for work is a great idea, it won’t be as gasoline becomes increasingly more expensive (which it will) as it becomes increasingly scarce.  You want to be buying milk from the local dairy rather than the one that’s 600 miles away because the money that goes into that dairy’s coffers will then go back into your community via paychecks for jobs in the dairy, and local taxes from their business that help pay for things the community needs, and it will flow back through local restaurants and other businesses the people running the dairy will use.  Every dollar you send out of the community stays out of the community.

  • A stronger connection to your community.

The more you know about who is growing and making your food the more connections you’ll be making to your community.  It happens slowly and it’s subtle but it’s absolute.  To eat mostly locally you will have to do some sleuthing, box checking, talk to people, and you will get to know the people who grow your food.  You will go to the farmer’s markets and you will talk to your grocers, you will probably spend more time shopping at smaller markets that buy more predominantly from local producers.  This will connect you to people.  You will get to know more people and feel more connected to what’s going on in your own community.  You will care more because you will become more dependent on the welfare of local producers and artisans.  The more you support your local producers and economy the more you will also be a value to your community.  People notice.  People care.  Nothing has made me more connected to my community than doing my ten month local eating challenge which turned into a lot of permanent changes so that I remain a strong supporter of local dairies, farmers, and craftsmen.  While I was already a firm supporter of buying from the local farmer’s market, I now put a much larger proportion of my food budget into my own community and also into my own state.

  • The more a community supports it’s local food producers the more accountable they will be to their community in their practices.

If you get to know your local food producers you can raise concerns with them, let them know what’s important to you as a consumer.  You can visit their farms and their facilities to see how clean they are or if they’re being honest about pesticide use.  When both the consumer and the producer know each other, business becomes more personal.  It’s much harder to be an anonymous irresponsible business when you’re being supported by your community.  Food producers should not be able to hide behind corporate shields from responsibility.  I personally know most of the people who grow the produce I eat.  I can raise complaints and questions and make requests and I am more likely to be heard by them than I will ever be heard or considered by a corporate farm two states or a country away from me.  Local producers will feel consumer pressure and respond to it much more quickly than international ones will.  This gives the consumer more control over the food  being produced and the practices used to produce it.  But it also gives the producers more power to create a business that’s supported and revered by the people it serves.


Eating locally isn’t a fancy food trend to amuse ourselves with.  Eating locally is a fundamentally important way to strengthen our communities and our connection with the earth that we depend on to keep us alive and healthy.  I think the habit of wild and wanton global eating was the fancy trend that’s made us forget the importance of nurturing what’s right under our own two feet.

*Haha.  That’s what I need for survival anyway.  I don’t even need much caffeine in it.  This is one of those imported goods I don’t ever want to live without.

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.

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.