Inspired by an Adam Gopnik piece in the New Yorker last year, I've decided to venture into a little bit of social experimentation. For the next month, I'm going to try out the locavore lifestyle. Doing this is based on three reasons/assumptions: eating local is better for the environment, eating local tastes better, and eating local supports the local economy. Hopefully over the next month, I'll see whether any of that is true and whether any of that really matters.
Initially, I was going to try to get my daily grocery bill to be 100% local (the co-op we used to go to regularly before we moved had receipts that noted what percent of your purchases were local items), but after seeing that the bloggers over at "Splendid Table" are only shooting for 80%, I decided to loosen it up a bit. I don't have a specific number in mind, but I'm shooting for at least 80% local (not including salt and spices as per the "Marco Polo" allowances). Since I'm terrible with remembering how far away different towns are, I've decided to define "local" as coming from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, or either of the Dakotas. (I know, I know, why don't I just include Jamaica and Belize while I'm at it?)
Even though I live in Minnesota, a place where the black earth offers up abundant local nutrition, I decided to stack the deck even further in my favor by doing this little experiment in August, the month that gives us the greatest cross section of late summer and early fall harvests. Perhaps one day I will try this experiment in the dead of winter in Minnesota, but not, perhaps, before we have a large deep freeze that I can spend the summer months stocking or before I figure out a way to turn potatoes into blueberries.
I also knew that this month I would be just returning from a trip to the east coast where I would have enjoyed loads of seafood and various other cuisines (like sushi and dim sum), the consumption of which this experiment would severely limit.
I just got back into town, so today was my first day. This morning I ventured to the local coop for my first entirely local purchases for breakfast and lunch. Last week, I had tried the Birchwood's Granola that my sister had brought along on our trip back east. It was delicious and local, so I knew that that would be an agreeable way to start my morning. It's also berry season here and raspberries and blueberries make the perfect topping to this treat.
Getting local milk in the upper midwest is pretty easy, but I'm lactose intolerant. I typically eat my cereal in and my cookies with soy milk. Right away, I was having a hard time finding a local non dairy alternative. I made a new rule for myself -- anything already in the fridge or pantry is fair game. If eating local is, in part, motivated by the desire to limit one's ecological impact, wasting perfectly good food already in one's home seemed to be utterly counterproductive.
As luck would have it, I had some soy milk in my fridge -- enough to tide me over until I can find another local option.
At the coop, I also bought a nice loaf of hearty, grainy bread made in St Paul and some Wisconsin cheese and sprouts. I had my breakfast and lunch lined up.
I was feeling pretty good about my purchases (in spite of the fact that the granola was $7), but when I went to double check the ingredients, I remembered that one of the things that makes the granola so delicious is the coconut. I was somewhat sure that the grains had all come from Minnesota or at least nearby (the packaging includes a thank you to Whole Grains of Welcome, MN), but I was also pretty sure that the coconut could not possibly come from, well, pretty much anywhere in the continental United States.
It made me wonder about the bread. How many of the ingredients had come from the five state region I had restricted myself to? Even if the food I buy is made locally, how I can be sure that the ingredients came from local farms? Does it even matter if they do or don't? If part of the reason behind this is to support the local economy, aren't I doing that by supporting the local restaurant that's making the granola or the local bakery that's making the bread?
For dinner, I was largely able to put those questions aside. We had enough patty pan squash from the most local place I could get it -- our backyard garden. I stuffed it with some pantry bread crumbs, the cheese I'd bought, and some bacon from Kerkhoven, MN that I bought that the Farm in the Market at the Midtown Global Market and had some tomatoes from the garden on the side.
Admittedly, some of the greater challenges came from the back and forth with my husband. The Global Market had a great deal on rainier cherries, one of my husband's favorite summer-time indulgences. Picturing them being driven half-way across the country, I passed them up. My husband was not pleased. I'm finding it's easier to convince myself to go without than to force this experiment on others.