Monday, September 27, 2010

Local Eating Challenge

My family has made many efforts to eat more local and/or organic fruits, vegetable and meat over the last 2 years. We get most of our vegetables from the farmer's market (or garden) during the growing season, our meat is free range/hormone- & anti-biotic free/vegetarian fed and we've started getting some of our cheese and butter from the farmer's market too.  I suppose our Local Eating Challenge will just be the next step of this-- turning the "most of our vegetables" into "all of our vegetables" and really moving to locally raised, free-range meat.

The Motivation
I firmly believe that while industrialized food has made it cheaper for the US to fill our bellies, it has done so with a large environmental cost.  I'm not just talking about the monocultures that require large amounts of pesticides or fungicides that damage the soil, but also the emissions from the trucks and planes that it takes to get the food from California, Florida or South America to my plate.

Additionally, I love the ritual of the farmer's market.  I've got an adorable little market basket I bring with me and everything.  I love picking up something for breakfast (maybe a chocolate-almond crossiant, maybe a whoopie pie, maybe a peach) and just staring at the best that Virginia and Maryland soil as to offer.  Baskets of berries, tables of tomatoes and crates of apples are such beautiful things to see in the morning. I also love that I'm directly supporting the farmer's in my local economy.  Any gardener knows growing food is hard work!

I would be lying if I didn't say that this was inspired by reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I'd also be lying if I said we were going to do exactly what they did: Eat only from food grown in her county all year around, save for a few non-local items (spices, coffee, sugar, and flour were a few of their exceptions).

The Rules
Barbara Kingslover had her "rules," and we will have ours.

Foods Covered
Namely, we're going to do this for one entire month each season the farmer's market is open (May - November) for a year.  Right now, I'm thinking about doing October 2010 (for sure), May 2011, August 2011 and October 2011. I'm also only talking about fruit, vegetables and meat here for meals we prepare at home.  Thus, coffee, tea, flour, sugar, bread, spices, dried herbs, condiments like ketchup or mustard, olive oil, rice, vinegar, dried beans, etc. are still going to come from the grocery store.  However, processed items of things we can make with fresh vegetables, like canned soups, are not allowed.

Storage crops, like onions, garlic, potatoes, and other root vegetables, can be eaten out of the season they are harvested but most be from a local source. However, local but non-storage crops cannot be eaten in the local eating challenge outside of the season when they were harvested.  This means we can't use the garlic scape pesto or the oven-dried tomatoes I froze if garlic scapes or tomatoes aren't in season.

We will also buy the dairy when it is available at the farmer's market, which is usually cheese and butter.

I'm also going to do a caveat on Sprout's food.  He'll be eating solid food in 2011. Ideally, I want him to eat mushy versions of what we are eating, but if allergies or unforseen issues restrict what fruits and vegetables he can eat, I'm going to do what is best for him.  This might mean applesauce in the summer, for example.

What "Local" Means
Barbara Kingslover only ate food from her county.  That's would be impossible for me as my county, Arlington, is farm-less and having an egg-laying hen is illegal.  Thus, I'm going to adopt a 200 miles radius for my fruit, vegetables and meat to travel.  The markets I go to have a 150 mile radius, but I want to leave a bit of extra room if we want to get a cow share.

Eating Out
Additionally, we can still eat out during out Local Eating Month, but it can't be for more often than we currently eat, which is about once a week as a family and once a week individually for lunch. Also, if we are invited to eat at someone else's house, we won't refuse non-local, non-seasonal food. (Because I just don't think that would be nice!)

The Goal
You might be thinking that this doesn't sound very "challenging" at all; we can still eat out, enjoy coffee and buy bread from the grocery store. Tell that to my husband that eats pasta with red sauce for lunch 2 weeks out of every month, year round!  It will be a challenge not to reach for celery for soups when it's not in season.  It will be a challenge to still be excited about squash when you've been eating it almost every day for 30 days.  It will be a challenge to cook/eat new vegetables. And, it will definitely be a challenge to stick to our existing grocery budget.

What I'm hoping to do is to, in incremental steps, force ourselves to eat seasonal and local all the time and to incorporate local meat into our diets.  I almost feel like our stomachs are on a kind of jet lag; they don't know what season it is when you can get apples in June at the grocery store. By doing an entire month for each season, I feel that we will get a better feel of the ebb and flow of the seasons as well as be pushed into trying new and creative ways to use each season's offerings. Also, I hope to make it to the farmer's market every week (let's face it, sometimes the grocery store is more convenient) more of a priority, as well as try growing new crops in our vegetable garden to supplement the market (actually, it would be nice if that market supplemented the garden!).

So, there you have it. I'm really looking forward to this. I'll post what I bought, how much I spent and our meal plan for the week to keep you all in the loop and me accountable.


  1. Sounds very exciting - I will live vicariously through you while you're on this journey. I'm interested to see how it affects your usual time spent cooking/preparing and shopping as well as budget. Some convenience items are more expensive, while some are cheaper. Then there's the cost of time. All very interesting factors.

  2. Sounds great - I love being able to tag along with your adventure! My inspiration for our changes in our shopping/diet comes from Diet for a Hot Planet, and we have been trying to make some similar changes. We CSA, garden, and are regulars at the farmer's markets. One new great addition to our Arlington neighborhood is The Butcher at Westover Village - where we can buy local meat Weds-Sun. Bought some delicious Italian sausage earlier in the week that was perfect with pasta....

  3. @ieatdc- Good point. I'll be sure to mention any time aspects that change during this experiment.

    @food4five- Sounds like you all are doing awesome things! I've added your blog to my Google reader. We often to go to Westover Market for the music & beer nights...we should check out the meat too!

  4. Glad you liked our blog - it's been fun so far. Just FYI, if you are on FB, you can like "The Butcher at Westover Market" and get information about what meat is available that day - and plan with that info!