Thursday, October 28, 2010

Local Eating Challenge: Last Few Days

I've learned a lot about myself, cooking and the bounty of local farms in just 4 short weeks of this edition of the Local Eating Challenge.  To recap, I limited my family's consumption of vegetables, fruit and meat to that produced within 200 miles (often less) of our home.  This wasn't meant to be an exercise in homesteading or living a life in isolation of coffee, cinnamon and olive oil-- none of which is produced to my knowledge in any part of Virginia...or ever was.  The purpose of this was to see if with a reasonable high-cost-of-living-area grocery budget and a reasonable amount of meal planning and prep, eating as local as possible could be done.  I have felt for a long time that local eating from small farms that are either "eco-ganic" or practice Integrated Pest Management is better for the environment and, quite possibly, my health (less exposure to pesticides, fresher produce may have more nutrients, etc).  However, it felt like this would be an expensive endeavor.  Thus, armed with our usual $100/wk grocery budget and a few cookbooks to keep things interesting, I embarked.

And, in the words of my I-Like-To-Have-Pasta-with-Red-Sauce-Every-Week-For-Lunch-No-Matter-the-Season "Ya know?  This isn't as hard as I was expecting."

What We Learned
I was always pretty good about saving chicken bones and parsley stems for stocks, but this challenge has really forced me to use every little bit of vegetables and meat...with delicious results.  Partly because of the original expense of them and partly because the "local eating rules" meant that I couldn't use some other flavoring.  This meant using the water from steaming the broccoli in the broccoli soup instead of plain water (I didn't have any stock using all local ingredients) or saving the green leaves of the turnip for another recipe.

In order to stay within budget, we ate less meat than we usual.  We were used to having a vegetarian meal a few nights a week, but this challenge had us having vegetarian lunches and less meat at our non-vegetarian meal.  While I haven't lost any weight during this month but I do feel more energetic and overall "better."  And, I must say, I think even devout carnivores could enjoy the Vegetarian Cassoulet, African Peanut Soup, or Butternut Squash and Greens Risotto.

Local meat tastes 10 times better than grocery store meat and well worth the price premium.  The pork was especially amazing.

The prep did take a bit longer, though.  Granted, this may be a function of the recipes I chose, but I felt like meals took longer to make.  I had to make my own stock, couldn't use pre-prepped frozen or canned vegetables, etc.  Additionally, meal planning took longer as my usual recipes didn't fit the local eating challenge.  However, it wasn't excessive and after a week or two I got more in the hang of it.  I have a feeling it will be easier going forward.

It wasn't expensive as I thought it would be.  Granted, as previously mentioned, we ate more vegetarian meals, but they were so good, it didn't matter that they were meat-free.  Plus, getting our protein from beans or whole grains, is probably better for us too.  I was expecting to be really pushing out $100 budget each week but for most weeks I was well under...more along the lines of our usual grocery budget.

In the Meantime...
The next month of Local Eating Challenge is May 2011.  Until then, I plan to visit the farmer's market as long as they are open.  And, with the exception of chicken, we'll continue to buy our meat from them.  However, I'm not going to lie...canned tomatoes and out-of-season celery will probably weasel their way back to our menus.  Especially in the winter when nothing fresh is coming out of the fields.

The Final Days
I did it; I went under budget again!  I spent $30 at the grocery store (this included getting some paper towels and toilet paper), not just food.  I did awesome at the farmer's market too; $50 got me: 2 bunches of kohlrabi, 2 big handfuls of green beans, 1 quart of onions, 1 bunch radishes, celery, 2lb carrots, 3lb pork shoulder, 1 tomato, cauliflower, 2 summer squash, 4 asian pears, tomatillos, and lettuce.  Grand total for the week was $80.  (I have no idea why the photo won't go horizontal.)

Thursday (tonight), lunch for weekend: Oven-Roasted Tofu with Apples  (apples leftover from U-Pick, carrots, onions, and mushrooms--local, but from grocery store)

Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Pork Tacos with Salsa Verde and Chili-Roasted Butternut Squash (pork shoulder, tomatillos, some of our hot peppers, onions, cilantro, lettuce, radishes & local butternut squash from the grocery store)

Monday (Nov. 1st!), Tuesday, Wednesday: Bolognese with Pasta (will use some of the carrots, celery, onions.  I have some beef in the freezer I need to use)

My lunch:  Fall Vegetable Curry (tomato, cauliflower, summer squash, butternut squash, onions & cilantro)

Husband's lunch: Pasta with Red Sauce (hehehehehe)

Plus, I got some green beans & 2 bunches of kohlrabi that I haven't allocated to a meal.  Maybe I'll make them as a side dish for the pasta or add them to my lunch.

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