Over the years, I've read several books that have focused on or touched on the topic of ethical eating. However, the book that impacted me the most and really made me think about practical ways to change my approach to sourcing my food was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. In this book, Kingsolver shares her family's journey of spending one year eating only locally-grown foods. This was obviously an extreme thing to do and required a lot of planning, research, and sacrifices. My takeaway from the book was that Kingsolver wasn't encouraging the reader to mimic her experiment; instead, she provided food for thought on how the reader can shift towards eating a more locally-grown diet.
Besides providing a month-by-month account of how her family ate locally for a year, she also includes essays from her daughter and husband. Her husband's first essay included this statistic which really stopped me in my tracks:
every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of
locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our
country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week
That's a pretty impressive statistic and goes to show how eating locally can cut down on our fuel consumption, and negative consequences of our food consumption, such as the pollution that results from all of those trucks that haul food across the U.S. (I'm looking at you, Mexican-grown tomatoes).
Here are some of my takeaways and ways I've been trying to change the way I source our food.
1. Grow your own food and preserve it. This year I signed up for a local community garden and it has been such an awesome experience. It's been so fulfilling to eat meals made from fruits and vegetables that I grew organically with my own two hands. Besides growing my own food, I've also experimented with preserving it as I made salsa and marinara and have also frozen over a gallon of green beans. Preserving food is an important component of eating locally for those of us that live in the cold, northern regions as obviously there isn't fresh, locally grown produce available during the winter months. It's not practical for me to preserve all the fresh produce we'll need to eat during the winter, but I'm trying to preserve as much as I can to cut down on the purchase of things that have to travel so far to get to my grocery store.
2. Support local farmers. It's not practical or possible for everyone to grow their own food, but it is possible for everyone to support their local farmers by purchasing produce, meat and eggs at the farmer's market. It's going to be more expensive than buying these items at the grocery store, but consider this statistic: according to Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, the average American spends about 9% of their income on food, which is half of what we spent in the 1950s and lower than any other country in the world. Cheaper food sounds better on the surface, but we are paying for it in terms of our health and the health of our planet. So yes, a dozen eggs is going to cost me $6 at the farmer's market compared to around $2 at the grocery store. But as Michael Pollan says, "we are what we eat eats." So I'd rather spend a bit more for eggs that come from chickens that were humanely raised and fed a healthy diet versus eggs that came from a factory farm where the chickens are crammed into a building and fed a diet of corn. Now, I recognize that not everyone is able to afford to purchase food from the farmer's market, but those of who can, should. Plus it helps us support our local farmers, which is important because we need them to be able to continue to grow food!
3. Eat what is in season. I will be the first to admit that I've made dishes with asparagus in the summer, winter and fall. I'm going to stop doing that going forward because asparagus only grows in the Midwest in the spring. Yes it is a bit of a sacrifice to avoid purchasing a vegetable I love but that means I will only be eating asparagus when it tastes its best because it will come from local farms instead of from a farm 1,000+ miles away! This also means that I am going to stop buying fresh tomatoes in the winter and spring ((I use the word fresh loosely here because winter tomatoes from the grocery store taste pretty awful). Again, because I live in the north, I can't buy fresh, local produce year round, but I can cut back on buying things that aren't in season in the U.S. For example, this means buying asparagus and berries in the spring, melons in the summer, and apples in the fall.
4. There will be sacrifices. One fruit that the Kingsolver family completely stopped eating was bananas because bananas are NEVER in season where they lived (North Carolina). I'm not going to say that I will never eat another banana because that is not realistic. But do I need to buy them every week when there are other fruits in season? The answer is no. My usual breakfast is oatmeal with a banana on top, but starting this week, I'm shifted to eating this apple pie oatmeal recipe using locally grown apples. It doesn't feel like much of a sacrifice since it's delicious!!
So those are some small adjustments I am making in how I source my food. I'm certainly far from perfect, but it feels good to make small changes that move the needle towards eating a more locally-grown diet!
What changes have you made or do you plan to make in the future to shift towards eating a more locally-grown diet? Is this something you give much thought to? Again I want to emphasize that I am FAR from perfect, but I'm really trying to be more mindful of where my food is coming from!