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

Wednesday, October 3

ELC: The summary

September is over, the leaves are yellow and collecting in my flowerbeds. And the Eat Local Challenge is over.

How’d we do?

1. As much as possible, eat produce grown and meat and eggs raised in Oregon and Washington.

Grade: B

Of course, we strayed here and there, but for the most part this is what I bought at the store and markets. And it was easy! Our dinners were almost always all local (except for spices and condiments) and we ate well. Sausage, potatoes, veggies, chicken—all easy to get here. Breakfasts were second-best with eggs being the main player, rounded out with local fruit and accompanied by gluten-free pancakes (not at all local) or Bob’s Red Mill Rice Cereal (local company, rice from Cali).

Lunches were another story. See below for how well I did at making Aaron’s lunch (I made two, then not at all). And I had a lot of business lunches, though those really couldn’t be helped. Even the good days were a little dull with random leftovers. In fairness to myself, that’s how I always do lunch because I work at home and barely have time to eat. But I would like to make more interesting and satisfying lunches with local foods. I’m thinking soups this winter…

2. If it’s not local ingredients, buy from a local company.

Grade: B+

There are lots of local food companies here and our neighborhood grocery store, New Seasons makes it easy to spot local foods with their little shelf tags. They also make it easy to discern which is local produce by displaying place of origin labeling on prices signs.

We ate a lot of Kettle Chips, Kettle cashew butter, and Bob’s Red Mill products. All yummy.

3. If not locally produced nor a local company, then organic.

Grade: A-

This was pretty easy. The only thing that wasn’t local and wasn’t organic was the gluten-free pancake and cupcake mixes.

4. Bring lunch to work.

Grade: F

Totally flunked at this. Mainly I just forgot about it. And Aaron always likes to have a lot of food so our meager leftovers wouldn’t work for him. Sometimes he made his own sandwiches, I noticed. But I’m certain he ate out a lot. Not his fault, I’m the one who didn’t buy the right kinds of foods. But I still don’t know what those are.

5. If we eat out, eat at locally-owned restaurants that use locally-grown ingredients.

Grade: A

Again, this is easy. Portland is bursting with fabulous local restaurants and cafes (even the NYT think so). There were times when I was eating out and I felt guilty when I was eating something totally delicious because I knew the meal wasn’t entirely local. But I know a good chunk of at least the in-season ingredients were local, and I kept the dollars in my local economy, creating a bigger channel for local producers to sell into. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

6. Stick to the average American food budget. In this case $144 per week.

Grade: C+

Oh, I tried. And I got close. But I know just eating out one night a week through us over, and even without that, we were usually a bit over. There were a few things I could have done differently but chose not to: 1) bought cheaper eggs that were local but from a big chicken factory; 2) skipped the chips, as they’re not a necessity (we just wanted something snacky); 3) bought less fruit and more vegetables; 4) gone without the gluten-free products (if you don’t know, they’re $$$).

But then there are few things I did that I don’t normally do: 1) bought a lot of ground meat because it is always cheaper and bought whole chickens instead of parts; 2) bought the bare minimum of veggies except when it came to potatoes, which I bought a lot of; 3) when and item of produce was at its peak, bought a lot of it.

I do know how to buy food when you have no money, because I’ve done it before. But wow, after too many years of black beans, cheap cheddar, and ramen, I found my limits to deprivation. I really wanted the nectarines and the neighborhood-grown grapes and the strawberries and the cantaloupe. I knew if I didn’t indulge now they’d be gone for a year. So I indulged.

So could you feed a family of four on $144 with local food? Yes, but it might suck.

7. Start a garden.

Grade: A-

I did it! I bought starts and we have greens!

What I didn’t do is plant seeds. It's late but I may do it anyway to see what happens.

8. Preserve.

Grade: B-

I really didn’t do much beyond freezing a few things. Work was crazy and I didn’t have extra food prep time. And, with the self-imposed budget constraints, I didn’t want to buy more than we could eat. Will I regret this in February? I don’t know. But next year I’ll definitely do more.

Our exceptions:

1. Pamela’s Ultimate Baking Mix – Oh, yes, lots of this. And Bob’s Red Mill’s Rice Flour (the rice if from California) – Didn’t use this at all.

2. Gluten-free pastas. Skipped these completely! Shocks me. We just ate potatoes instead. I don’t think we’ll go back, either. Too expensive.

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. Yep, we had lots of Cherrybrook chocolate cupcakes. Someday maybe I’ll get creative and make a tower of pears or something and stick candles in it.

4. We’ll eat whatever is already in the house, wherever it came from. Amazing how much food is always in this house. And how sad is it that I had to throw away two things of CANNED soup? Who has canned soup so long that it goes bad? Me, apparently.

5. And the ones that gets everyone: coffee and olive oil. As expected. We bought organic olive oil (though I may be narrowing in on a totally US grown olive oil) and fair-trade coffee from local companies. I’m starting to look at shade grown. Any opinions?

Some other challenges we took on again, because this isn’t just about the food:

1. Bike, walk, or train as often as possible.

Grade: B+

We did really well on this! I walked to preschool most days, or drove what I’m now calling the BioBeast (the F250 that runs on biodiesel—its freakin’ huge). Aaron only drove a few times—he even brought home Clara’s new pink birthday bike on the train! Hung it from the commuter hooks and everything. He got some looks. Oh, I wish I had pix of that.

But we wanted to do more. So we signed up for Flexcar, a service that lets you rent a car by the hour (you go to where it’s parked and then park it in a designated spot when you’re finished). The thought is that we’ll go down to a one-family car. When walking or pub trans won’t work, and Aaron’s got the BioBeast, I can use the Flexcar. We’re still in “test mode” on this and I’ll blog more on this.

I’m also eyeing this little girl:

Trek Bike 7300 WS.
So. Cute.

2. Buy (almost) nothing new.

Grade: A-

We bought new stuff for the yard, like lumber, soil, and some tiki torches. And it was all pretty much new, as I expected.

But I haven’t seen the inside of a Target in over a month. Didn’t buy new clothes, though I did buy some tops for Clara at a second-hand store, Tickled Pink on Killingsworth.

What did I do about gifts? This was harder. For a friend of Clara’s I bought a handmade stuffed animal from Tickled Pink. New, but not mass produced or imported. And for my brother I actually bought him local food—two cheeses, mustard and bread from the New Seasons bakery. He loved it.

3. Tell friends about what we’re doing.

Grade: B-

I’m still a little shy about this. But we did have a potluck and asked people to bring local food, but didn’t make a big deal out of it. There were lots of Kettle chips, tomatoes, cheeses and potatoes salad, all delicious. But I didn’t speak up about our experience. I still fear appearing preachy.


I dropped a dress size.

We’re totally off packed snack food. Not sure why we thought we needed those at all. Though Clara actually asked for something “that comes in a package.” And she keeps asking about all the cereal with cartoons on the boxes. Damn marketing.

Even though there were moments when I felt guilty because I was sure we weren’t local enough (my husband assures me we are), I’m glad I made this sustainable for us. Because I think we can keep this up. I just have to figure out the lunch thing.

Edited formatting because Blogger is puking all over my code.


Kaleigh said...

Congratulations! That's really amazing to have accomplished so much of that. (And dropping a dress size? Bonus!)

Tay said...

BRAVO! Really enjoying your blog and admire your project. Wonder what the target dollar amount per month is for a single person? Eating out is a quick killer to a solid budget, of course. Yet, I'd like to make an attempt at something like what you and your family is doing. Very inspiring, thanks for sharing!

You should contact New Seasons and see if they will link their blog to yours. It's a natural.

Jazz said...

I can't tell you how awesome I think your project is/was! This is great! You should feel very proud of your efforts as a family.

AND the dress size drop! Not that you needed it :)