Yesterday, my family finished a week of opening our eyes to something we thought we understood pretty well, but were humbled by reality – eating local food.
You see, for the last four years we have been making conscious choices about how we spend our food dollars, and, as a result, firmly believed that what we were doing was great for our regional food economy. We joined a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. We shopped regularly at our local food cooperative. We even grew a large family garden this year.
As it turns out our actions, while definitely important and pointed in the right direction, were much further from being classified as “localvore” than we realized. Because of that this week’s Eat Local Challenge turned out to be more “stressful” than expected.
Yet, I remain very proud of the job my family did, from my four year old daughter to my very patient wife, who thankfully has a gift of making just about anything taste great.
With that in mind, I am wrapping up our first Eat Local Challenge with 10 Joys we took from this eye-opening experience. We are already building on these joys and expect to leverage them again next year when we once again engage in the Challenge.
- Common Family Goal – When was the last time you can recall your family sharing a common objective for an entire week, an objective that you talked about every day? It’s hard to imagine too many things bringing people together more effectively than food, whether preparing a meal together or sitting down around a table to share the bounty. Last week’s Eat Local Challenge did just that for us. Even better, as a family that takes its food pretty seriously, we spent most of the time trying to understand how far eating local could take us, where it worked well, what was missing, etc. An invaluable experience on so many fronts.
- Breakfast Together – It’s funny how something like eating local for a week can force a family to spend more time around its kitchen table. With three distinct morning schedules (i.e., people eat at different times) and many of our standard breakfast options (bagels, cereal, toast) were off the table due to a lack of localness, we resorted to preparing breakfast nearly every day. This meant that to “get it while it’s hot,” everyone needed to be in the kitchen ready at the same time, ready to eat. A nice bonus, although there were definitely some gorgy kids!
- Food Found – Prior to this week, we never thought twice about reaching for the olive oil or all-purpose flour; and we reach quite often it turns out. Forced to reconsider these commonly used ingredients, we were happy to discover several Vermont-made alternatives, e.g., Rainville Farms Cold-Pressed Sunflower Oil and a wonderful array of flours from Gleason Grains and Butterworks Farms. Our pantry has made room for these newcomers, which I expect will retain their popularity from last week. Having said that, there are many more needed; an opportunity for the numerous food entrepreneurs tucked away throughout the region.
- Vermont Wine & Cheese – OK, so we’re not perfect. We didn’t give up wine for the challenge, but we did look for and bought only red wines made by Vermont wineries that grew their own grapes, including Boyden Valley Winery (our favorite VT winery), Shelburne Vineyard, East Shore Vineyard (really enjoyed their Cabernet Franc) and North Branch Vineyards (first experience drinking a Marechal Foch – liked it!). Of course, what wine drinking opportunity would be complete without artisan cheese to go with it? Thank God for Vermont cheese makers! They are arguably some of the best in the world, as everything we tasted was absolutely wonderful, especially Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar and Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue (my personal favorite).
- Making Something Out of Nothing – What I’m really getting at is how in the course of a single week my family learned ways to make something we were accustom to preparing out of different sets of ingredients. Improvisation is hard enough as it is for most people, but throwing a local requirement on top of that makes it all the more challenge. As my 11 year old said as we were finishing up our last Challenge dinner, “We made things different, but they still tasted good. It’s great to know we can make things with different stuff.” Another great lesson learned.
- A Teenager’s Perspective – What would an Eat Local Challenge be without the tension hovering around a teenager trying to carve out his or her own path? Peaceful? Less stressful? Perhaps. But what I found rewarding was watching my teenage daughter test new boundaries of her independence by objecting to something she didn’t think was all that important; this despite my active involvement in the overall Eat Local Challenge. It was admittedly frustrating, but also required compromise, both important parts of raising a strong, independent child.
- A Budding Chef’s Perspective – My 11 year old daughter loves to cook. She has been doing so for years, and has become quite good and is very helpful to have around in a busy kitchen. Perhaps that is why she was more aware than anyone in our household regarding local foods. She was also the one most dedicated to following the rules. To put this in perspective imagine someone who loves good food heading to the school cafeteria with brown bag in hand (all local stuff) where her friends offer her Positive Pie pizza or homemade cake with homemade icing. It wasn’t easy, but she not only did it, she also hip-checked me on occasion to make sure I stayed on course.
- Bradley’s Beat – Within moments of announcing that I was going to be officially blogging about the Eat Local Challenge, you could see my son’s wheels turning. You see, he’s an aspiring newspaper man, having started his own weekly (in home) newspaper when he was eight years old – The Plainfield Press. In fact, he had already written a piece for my Every Kitchen Table blog titled O’Donalds: The Organic McDonald’s, which describes his vision for sustainable fast food. It received a lot of praise from my readers, so I was thrilled when he wanted to write about the Eat Local Challenge, just like his dad! His Eating Local – A 10 Year Old’s Perspective post did a great job setting things up for the week.
- From the Mouths of Babes – If you’ve ever had children, then you know how funny they can be, especially when they are young. With that in mind, imagine a cute little four year old at Hunger Mountain Co-op shopping with her mom during the middle of the Eat Local Challenge. She asks for something, which her mom tells her she can’t have because it’s not local. After a couple requests, it starts to settle in that a lot of what she wants she can’t have. For the balance of the shopping trip she adapts. She points to something and instead of asking for it simply says “It’s not local. We can’t have it.” Makes me think that a generation of similarly enlightened kids has the power to change just about anything!
- Seeing Opportunities – As a budding food entrepreneur, what really jumped out to me this week is just how limited consumer choices are when shopping for food. Yes, I know, today’s supermarkets carry over 45,000 products on their shelves, so how can I suggest there are not lots of choices. It’s simple, really. The next time you go shopping try to determine which of the products you want to buy comes from within 100 miles. Make it 500 miles if you want. The point is that you can’t typically determine such things with the exception of a well-managed, local-oriented produce department. As our food system has become increasingly consolidated and centralized, consumer-friendly information has disappeared, as has the overall transparency of knowing where our food comes from. Building transparent, regional food systems has the potential to disrupt the status quo in important ways, so it’s time to get to work!
There was a more to the Eat Local Challenge than I could possibly capture here, but I hope that after reading this, along with my previous blog posts, you and your family will join us next year to experience similar things for yourself.
If you participated this year, I hope your experience was equally joyful (along with whatever other emotions you felt) for you and that you will be that much more prepared for the next Eat Local Challenge.
- Day 1 – Refrigerator & Pantry Stocked for Local Eating Challenge
- Day 2 – Wrapping Our Heads around Eating Local
- Day 3 – Thinking “Eat Local” Season v. Single Week
- Day 4 – Seeing Shades of Local Food
- Day 5 – Downsides to Eating Local?
- Day 6 – From Pizza Night to Crazy Saturday Schedule
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