Sunday, June 15, 2008

"extremist" eating but without the fear factor

A few days ago, Nicole at Farm to Philly wrote about an article on MSNBC regarding "locavores" in which the author refers to the practice as "extremist." In fact, the title of the article is "Extreme Consumerism".

Much like Nicole, I fail to see exactly what is so "extreme" about eating what is in season, supporting local farmers, and just in general knowing a thing or two about where your food comes from and just who handled it—and how?

Let's take a look at this quote from the article:
Recently, however, a small but devoted number of Americans have started to think a lot more about the origin of the food going into their grocery cart. Worried about the environmental impact of shipping food hundreds of miles, plus the dwindling fate of local farmers [...]
Can't take issue with this. In fact, yes, this is why I've started thinking seriously about the food I eat. However, this is how the author finishes the statement:
- and obsessed with the idea of eating really good food - these extreme eaters try to only buy food that is grown within a 100-mile radius of their own home.
"Obsessed"? "Extreme"? I suppose it's all a matter of perspective. Again, quoting Nicole because I just woke up and am only a few ounces into my coffee [Craven's Coffee Earth & Sky blend, grown organically elsewhere and roasted in Spokane, WA ; half & half from Broadview Dairy, part of the Inland NW Dairies group which uses milk from cows in the region and processes and distributes from Spokane, WA], "I like the idea of being a rebel just because I happen to like uber-fresh food grown by someone I have personally met. Let's all be rebels! Rebels with a cause!" Ha ha. Read the rest of Nicole's take on it for her comments on canning and the cost-efficiency of her eating local practices; I'm just going to talk about my own action plan.

When I lived in California, I rarely took advantage of the local goodness that existed all around me. I paid little attention to where things were from—possibly because in a Whole Foods in California it's a good bet that a bunch of the stuff I picked up was actually local (if not within 100mi, then definitely within 200mi). I tried only to buy organics, but I wasn't entirely attuned to the production mechanisms involved in my food. Grocery shopping was a last-minute, unplanned, in-and-out experience for me, and although I could have, I did not carve time out of my schedule to go to a farmers market.

When I moved up here to Eastern Washington, the intention was to find more time for paying attention to everything. Although that hasn't worked out quite according to plan (see well-documented reasons why I still have my California job, and then some), I did start making a concerted effort to eat organic/fair trade/local/small farm stuff. I did not know there was a "locavore pledge" that said pretty much the same thing, only in a different order (obviously):
If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic. If not ORGANIC, then Family farm. If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business. If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Fair Trade.
It was a few months ago that I really started paying attention to my purchases, partially in anticipation of the One Local Summer challenge.

I resolved that as much as possible, only items produced within a 100mi radius of Pullman would find their way into my kitchen. As you can see from the list in the right-hand column of this blog, under the heading "my local food resources," I have a lot of options. But here's an example of the process I went through to find local dairy staples (milk, half & half, butter): try to figure out if there are local dairies (hello, Google!), realize the options are slim, find the blog called Year of Plenty (by a family in Spokane that is consuming only local, used, homegrown, or homemade products) and their discussion about local dairy products, go to the IGA and see how the Darigold/Broadview products are labeled (some say Inland NW, some don't), buy them because I was out of milk and butter, then when I was out of milk and butter the next week I went to Rosauers for my dairy products because I was sure they were produced locally.

That process didn't really take that much time, and now my shopping system is set: I shop for foodstuffs on Saturday mornings. I drive to Moscow (8mi) and get as much as I can from the farmers market. If there are other things I need that are not at the farmers market but I can get slightly outside the "local" radius (say, between here and the Cascades) and/or that are organic, then I walk across the street to the Co-op. On the way out of town, I swing by Rosauers and get the local dairy products. Then I go home and prep my veggies. I don't find that particularly extreme, nor do I find the extra ten seconds necessary to flip over a package and see where it comes from to be particularly extreme or even moderately troublesome.

The troublesome part for me has been switching my pantry over, bit by bit, to local products. For instance, I am going to start making fresh pasta with local flour and eggs. However, I still have some bags of my favorite store-bought pasta (organic Montebello, from Italy) in the cupboard and have to eat through it so it doesn't go to waste. Same with the bulk pack of (organic) chicken stock I still have from a Costco trip, or the family-size box of Grape-Nuts...things like that.

However, over the course of a week I can honestly say that the majority of every meal I have at home comes from local sources. That's something, and I will slowly but surely switch the percentages. I'll talk about all that more in my next post, which will be the "official" OLS post for the week.

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