The Eat Local Challenge is upon us again and we’re going to take this opportunity to step up our game a bit. It’s summer and it’s been easy to eat mostly local since the farmers’ markets opened but we know we can do a little better. I’ve been meaning to search out local providers of some odds and ends—like vodka and vinegar, goat cheese and farm-fresh eggs—but I’ve needed a kick in the pants to get me going. This is it.
And since eating local, for us, isn’t just about what we eat, but about keeping dollars in our local economy, reducing our usage of fossil fuels and building community, we’re going to add a few other commitments to our September Challenge. Because I’m totally insane.
Here’s what we’re committing to:
1. As much as possible, eat produce grown and meat and eggs raised in Oregon and Washington. I thought about doing the 100 mile thing, but the kind of research involved is just not realistic for us right now (though I'm finding in my prep that I'm still doing plenty of Googling as it is). This regional approach isn’t going to be all that different from what we’ve been doing but I’m going to do my best to find some local suppliers so I’m buying from them and not the grocery store. This, I’m sure, will be my biggest challenge given the time involved, but it’s something I’ve been meaning to do anyway. I especially want to find farm-fresh eggs. After eating local, fresh eggs on Orcas Island, we’re all totally hooked.
2. If it’s not local ingredients, buy from a local company. We want to keep those dollars in our own economy.
3. If not locally produced nor a local company, then organic. Now if you’re familiar with Jamie from 10 Signs Like This and her tips for eating local published on the Eat Local Challenge website you know that her #2 is if not local, then organic, and following that if it’s not organic then buy from a local company. For us, we’ve reversed these and here’s why: the vast majority of organic products in our local grocery store are made by companies that are owned by giant conglomerates [see a chart here] and I’m not convinced they’re committed to sustainable farming or reducing their carbon footprint. So most non-local organic is low on our list.
4. Bring lunch to work. This mainly applies to Aaron, since I work at home, but realistically it’s going to be up to me to make it possible, since I do all the food shopping and cooking. hopefully, Aaron will be happy with local leftovers.
5. If we eat out, eat at locally-owned restaurants that use locally-grown ingredients. We usually do this anyway. Portland is pretty anti-chain. Though this may mean neither Thai Ginger nor any Fire on the Mountain Buffalo wings this month.
6. Stick to the average American food budget. We need to do this anyway, and the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge of last April is a great inspiration. Our budget, according to their guidelines (from the US Department of Labor’s Bureau Statistics): 2+ persons in the family, 2 wage earners: $144 a week. This will definitely be a challenge. I often spend twice that.
7. Start a garden. I’ve got the tomatoes going. Now it’s time to get going on those late fall crops. Did I tell you that recently I was mistakenly referred to as a farmer? And it was better than being told I look like Gwyneth Paltrow?
8. Preserve. I don’t know if I can commit to any more than the jams, butters and straight freezing of fresh produce I’ve been doing. I just commit to keeping it up.
1. Pamela’s Ultimate Baking Mix. I justify this because it’s not going to do us any good to hunt down a local supplier of wheat; we can’t eat it. I do have a local supplier of wild rice – Oregon Jewel -- but at $6+ for 4 servings we can’t afford to buy this to mill into flour. I don't even know if wild rice can be used as flour. And I already use Bob’s Red Mill’s Rice Flour (the rice if from California). The Pamela’s mix is the product that helps me incorporate a lot of leftover local produce into our diets.
2. Gluten-free pastas. Again, if I can find a local supplier, or local ingredients, I’m there. But this is a staple that makes the local stuff come together.
3. And along those lines, if I can’t find a local or organic or gluten-free or dairy-free version, I’ll buy whatever. We’ve got a lot of birthdays coming up this month and I think I’m going to have to buy a lot of margarine for baking so no one gets a horrendous exzema breakout from butter.
4. We’ll eat whatever is already in the house, wherever it came from. I’m not letting perfectly edible food go to waste.
5. And the ones that gets everyone: coffee and olive oil. We already either buy coffee from a local company and/or fair trade. And I buy olive oil that’s produced in California rather than Italy. I wish I could use butter for sautéing, like the 100 Mile Diet folks did, but that’s too much dairy for Aaron and Clara.
Some other challenges we’re taking on, again, because this isn’t just about the food:
1. Bike, walk, or train as often as possible. Again, we do this already, but we’re going to really try to stay out of our cars as much as possible. This requires a lot of planning ahead and takes extra time. But since I’ve been walking Clara to preschool a few days a week and walking or taking the train to the farmers’ markets I’ve managed to work off the final pounds of pregnancy weight. Aaron recently started biking to work a few days a week, too, and loves it. He’s committing to taking the train, instead of driving, on the days he doesn’t bike.
2. Buy (almost) nothing new. This is just for me, and there are going to be a lot of exceptions. We’ve got some remodeling projects going on and I’m going to try to get a lot of materials salvage, but I won’t be able to avoid Home Despot, I know. I’m talking about clothes, random things for the house and kitchen--the little things you can go without for a few days (or forever) until you find a used version or make it yourself.
3. Tell friends about what we’re doing. I feel like I must talk about local food constantly and I’m boring everyone. Actually, I don’t. (I just think about it. Sometimes, obsessively.) The best way I can think of to do this is have a potluck with all of my favorite people. Oh, yum.
In my head this all sounds easy and only a step-up from what we’re currently doing. And now that I have it all down on paper I’m, uh, panicking.
Can we really do all this?
If you're taking the Eat Local Challenge, even if you're just committing to one local meal a week, let me know in the comments below! I need all the company in this that I can rally.