Eating Local for Urban Families. Gluten-free and Dairy-free, too!

Saturday, June 30

Linky Love: Local Eating, Vol. 1

Eating local does not have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. Local-eating proponents say that even just spending $10 a week on local choices makes a big impact.

For us, having gluten sensitivities (Clara and me); the dairy allergy (Aaron and Clara and maybe Iris); and just being busy, working people makes it feel impossible to buy all of our food from local sources. Someday I hope to do a kind of local eating “marathon” but for now it’s just not sustainable on a daily basis. So we do the best we can, knowing every little bit helps.

Radishes from the farmer's market

Here are some of the sources that got me started, along with some current info (and a little rant):

1) 100 Mile Diet - This site is my inspiration for incorporating more local food into our routine. I’m going to start their new book, Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally during our holiday.

2) Buy Organic, and you’re supporting Big Industrial Food. [The graphic on this page is a little awkward in that you see one chart and then you have to mouse over it to see the other one.]

I guarantee you that you’ll see some of you favorite organic brands on this list, and see that they’re owned by the biggest industrial food manufacturers in the world.

In fact, I just realized that the brand of cashew butter I buy, Kettle Foods, which used to be owned locally here, is now owned by a U.K. company. Wah.

This is not to mean that you should not buy the products on this chart. You should. If it’s not local, organic is still better than conventional industrial food. I buy these products every time I go to the store.

3) That said, I always try to see if there is a locally-grown product, or at least a local company who may use some locally-grown ingredients. Even if all the ingredients are from somewhere else (like with my Kettle Foods Cashew Butter), at least the dollars are staying close to home. Experts say that for every $1 you spend locally you create value of $5 - $14 in the community.

4) “Grocers Get Organic Certified” - I honestly never thought about the fact that my organic broccoli might be touching non-organic broccoli in the grocery store. I wonder if it’s really worth it to spend $500,000.00 to “upgrade” a grocery store to have fixtures and equipment that separate the two types of food.

Couldn’t we spend that money to pay local farmers more for their crops which will encourage them to use fewer pesticides (though most small farms use less than you probably think), as opposed to “certified” organic, which often isn’t totally pesticide-free anyway? This seems more of a cosmetic issue to me.

Clara collecting herbs for our garden at an independent nursery

5) Time Magazine: “Eating Better than Organic” Nice little article about the process of buying local food and how it may be a better choice--in the big picture--than organic. Because the best part of eating local food is the connections you make with people along the way.

Thursday, June 7

Finally. Pizza.

Serving food at Clara’s preschool is always an exercise in “living without.” For her third birthday party I brought fruit on a stick since no one seems to be allergic to fruit. (I’m not going to post a recipe other than to say I bought wood skewers, cut up melon into chunks and added some grapes. I made 18 skewers and it took a really long time.)

We’re lucky that one of the teachers, Andrea, has celiac disease so she’s always on ball about making sure there is food for all of us when the school has gatherings. At the last event Andrea served something that I didn’t know existed: gluten-free, dairy-free pizza! I had been buying this horrible, tough and sticky rice crust from Nature’s Hilights (can’t find a website for them, strangely enough) and I was about to give up on pizza altogether.

The pizza Andrea served was the Spinich Pizza with Rice Crust from good ol’ Amy’s and it really wasn’t bad. It’s not something I would ever serve to guests, but both Clara and Iris couldn’t get enough of it so I’ll put that on my shopping list.

Sunday, June 3

Baby's First Chocolate Cupcakes

I’m not going to whine and sob about how my baby—my last baby!—is now a year old and then not even really a baby anymore! And she’s walking! And yesterday she said, “Da’nt UP!” Which means, “I want up!” Even her sister, the QUEEN of gab and sass, wasn’t talking this early.

But seriously. For some reason this birthday didn’t hit me with all sorts of panic and regret that I will never hold my own newborn babe in my arms again. Maybe I'm learning to live in the moment. Or maybe I was actually was looking forward to an excuse to have a bunch of people over, play hostess, and watch the kids go crazy in the kiddie pools.

I really like to make a big deal out of my kids' birthday parties. It's the only kind of party you can throw that’s expected to be unsophisticated, loud, with tons of sugary food and no fancy hors d'oeuvres. Compared to say, a dinner party with only real grown-ups and kids sent over to grandma’s house, it’s very low pressure.

This was my third kid birthday party and this time I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. I did an Evite instead of paper invites. I didn’t do balloons. The goody bags only had a little candy and a little plastic crap. The house was clean hours before guests arrived. My mom and I made a salad and we put out a cheese and pesto torta (these always make me feel so fancy). I actually got the cupcakes made the day before and frosted them after the kids went to bed.

But no, I didn’t make them from scratch. I’m still too intimidated to try gluten-free baking. Too much chemistry! Instead I used a gluten-free boxed chocolate cake mix from Cherrybrook Kitchen that I tested out over Mother’s Day. I really thought I’d never find anything as good as Pamela’s mixes, but this one was even better. Not too sweet, with a deep, dark chocolate flavor. Moist, but not oily. The frosting—I made it with margarine—was a little salty, but I decided it was a nice contrast to the cupcake itself. And not only is it gluten-free, it’s dairy-, eggs- and nut-free, too.

And the birthday girl, of course, thought they were delish.

Friday, June 1

Getting into local eating

Local eating doesn't have to be all or nothing. Just like we all learned in the waste recycling movement, reducing the amount of non-local food products that we eat can make a tremendous difference in our local economy and the world's environmental health.

My family is like many families: my husband and I both work, he in an office in downtown Portland, I have my own business and work at home.We have a preschooler and a toddler. We like to cook and eat well, but we're not chefs and we need guidance in food preparation. And there is only so much time we can devote to grocery shopping.

(And what’s this “we?” I’m the one that cooks in this family. Though my husband is an excellent dish washer.)

So finding out where to get food staples, packaged foods and how to put it all together is a big challenge for us. But as we get into this project, meeting farmers and cheese makers and enjoying the company of friends at the farmers’ markets, it’s also making our lives a lot richer.