I often find myself in conversations talking about eating local, because I like the idea of my money supporting my economy. Sometimes I get those looks, you know the kind I am talking about. The kind of look that makes you feel like you just finished taping an episode of Portlandia…
Now don’t get me wrong, part of me does really care about Collin and how successful he feels his short life was, but let’s be honest, that is my own guilty feelings of conventional chicken farming projected onto my food. If Collin knew that 8 months from his birth he would be beheaded, plucked and boiled into Sunday dinner, I suspect his outlook on life would be grim regardless of how many cabbage worms he found in his 4 acre playground.
No, my version of being a “locavore” is less bleeding heart, and more fiscally responsible. Americans, it turns out, spend less on food than anywhere in the world. In the WORLD! According to a study from 2009, we spend on average 6% of our household expenditures on food. I suppose by comparison, CFO and I are out of bounds by spending about 15% of our expenditures on food. How dreadfully European of us. That, or we are ridiculously cheap in all other household expenditures. The odd part is, I am constantly battling our monthly food budget to see how I can lower it and cut waste. I think I do very well, for example, this week I spent $67.00 on groceries for two people and a rabbit child. That’s pretty damn good, even for American standards I think. So if we already spend less on food than anywhere in the world, why do I care about eating local? I will give you my top 5 reasons.
Reason #1: Culinary Adventure
I love to cook. Love. To. Cook. I don’t know what I am doing in the kitchen half of the time, and have no actual training apart from experiencing home cooking as a child, but the appearance of food makes me giddy to an extent that CFO questions my normalcy. I shouldn’t even be allowed at farmer’s markets anymore because I get so overwhelmed by all the bright colors and produce choices that I get heart palpitations, need to breathe into a paper bag, and down a glass of orange juice so I can stay upright. And, my farmer’s market only has 12 vendors. My point is, when I try to stick to what is available locally, I get to try vegetables and fruits I may never have otherwise. Had I never purchased 2 lbs of tomatillos, I would never have experienced fresh salsa verde in the summer. And trust me, summer salsa verde, that’s the dream.
Reason #2: Smart Home Economics
I am lucky enough to live near food Paradise, an employee owned grocery chain that carries every possibly kind of food ever wanted needed or invented. Paradise also happens to have the best produce prices year round. Produce is a commodity item, which means the price fluctuates with the market, and why you see prices of green beans fall in the summer when there is high production and soar in the winter when they are shipped from Mexico, and then fall again when they get moldy sitting in those water spray bins. Many grocery chains are beginning to carry locally sourced produce in the summer to appease a demanding public, but if you are lucky to have your own Paradise, you may be able to find year-round local produce at rock bottom prices. For example, in February, celery root, parsnips, turnips, parsley root, and rutabagas are being stocked by the bin full and they make delightfully filling meals. And, at less than $1.00/lb for these, it’s a pretty cheap way to eat in the desolate months. Compare that to $3.99/lb for out-of-season asparagus. For me and CFO, not a tough call.
Reason #3: Local Economy Feeding
The Wikipedia definition of a locavore is one who only consumes food harvested within 100 miles from their home. That is fairly limiting, and I am not one to collect wild dandelion greens from the elementary school playground. But, I do make a point to purchase products that are grown and/or manufactured within Wisconsin and the mid-west when I am able and can afford to, because the money I pay goes back into my own local economy. More money to the producers, means more production, which means more jobs to fulfill the demand, and more people earning money to spend money. Yes, friends, this is how we can resuscitate a broken economy.
Reason #4: Diet Diversity
The sad reality is, commodity produce that we see at grocery stores are cultivars that have been specifically bred to withstand long transportation rides and bad conditions, and they are often harvested before they are ready, and artificially ripened during shipping. Think about all those green bananas from Argentina. The negative of this, is what we end up eating is a bland, nutritionally flat diet. You know who you are, if this sounds familiar: you eat a half chicken breast with 10 asparagus spears and a quarter cup of brown rice on Mondays. On Tuesdays you change it up with green beans and quinoa. The rest of the week is a similar remix. Sounds healthy, the problem is that it’s extremely limited on nutritional content. Yes, chicken breasts are good and yes, so are asparagus and green beans, but they do not have everything we need to sustain us. This is why so many doctors recommend multivitamins, because they know we don’t eat properly. By eating with the seasons, you are made to vary your diet because asparagus is not meant to grow in snow banks. By purchasing foods locally, you get the best seasonal produce available and the most nutritionally complete because it was harvested at its peak.
Reason #5: Self-Sufficiency
I want my food to be local and I don’t want to rely on horse pills to stay healthy. This, and home economics, is one of the big reasons why I grow vegetables and fruits. I also want to be able to feed myself, CFO and any future bambinos wholesome, good foods and not just corn, 175 ways. Many of the foods we now purchase from stores were once made exclusively at home by our mothers, or grandmothers, or great grandmothers, and we have lost some of those skills. I think if we care to, we can relearn them. I am not a housewife, I work full time, and travel every other week, and I have no time to do any of this because, you know, I have a very grueling Netflix watching schedule when I finally get home. It’s a struggle not to eat frozen pizza or take out some days. But I try to keep in perspective that I do these things for me and CFO. I know that I can make chicken stock, bread, fresh cheese and yogurt, ice cream and almond butter, and I can do it with less ingredients and less cost than anything I can purchase, even from my Paradise. This gives me more control in a world where we increasingly have less control. And that makes me feel good at the end of the day. No matter how many dishes are left to wash.
I encourage you all to go buy a locally grown rutabaga, and report back.