Sunday, October 21, 2007

Eating Locally

Today's sermon was "Food Sacrificed to Idols" (I Corinthians 8, 1-13). Or, "A harvest message about the price we pay for inexpensive food; about how our starving souls and the soul of the earth can again be nurtured and fed." What are the "idols" of today's world? The mega-corporations that control some 90% of food in the US. We were challenged to eat one meal a week that consists only of locally produced foods.

That was the second time in two days I had heard the idea, so I knew it was something I had to try to do. Since today is Sunday, I couldn't go to the farmer's market, and most grocery stores don't tell you much, if anything about the origin of the food you're buying. I ended up at the People's Food Coop.

For dinner, we had

Organic chicken breasts, grilled and smoked, "raised by Michigan Farm Families".
Organic green beans from Tantré Farms, steamed.
Squash grown in Homer Michigan, (might have been Sweet Lightning variety) baked, filled with
Applesauce made with apples and pears bought at the farmer's market, and starting to get soft.
Salad comprising leaf lettuce grown at the church,
radicchio grown in an Ann Arbor community garden,
and basil leaves from my back yard.

As I started to plan the menu, I realized that certain ingredients were not available locally, such as salt and pepper, olive oil (or any oil?) and vinegar. I couldn't sweeten the applesauce, because I didn't have any local honey (our white sugar might have been made in Michigan, but there's no way for me to tell for sure.) Luckily, it didn't need sweetening. I could have gotten local butter, but I didn't think of it until I was telling my daughter to put a pat of butter inside each squash. I don't mind the salt and pepper, because those have always been shipped, and the transportation cost per meal is tiny. I'm not sure I could give up olive oil, though. I probably could find locally produced vinegar.

Ok, so that was one meal. It wasn't too hard, but it raised a lot of questions. I can buy locally baked bread, locally made pasta, and the like. But where does the grain come from? Probably not anywhere nearby. Am I not able to have any grain products in my local meals? Or, is "locally made" sufficient? What if I wanted to use tofu? I can buy tofu that was made in Ann Arbor, but where did the soybeans come from? And it's still possible to find local produce, but what about in the dead of winter? Should I be blanching and freezing veggies?

And how about the spiritual aspect of this change? Did making and eating this meal feel different, somehow? Am I enriched by being closer to the producers of my food? Do I feel good that I "saved" some ounces or pounds of CO2 because my food wasn't trucked or flown long distances? Is it a good thing that I'm helping local producers of food keep their livelihoods, vocations, and farms?

I don't know. Certainly, I can answer yes intellectually to most of those questions. I think I'll have to keep doing it before I can know if my spirit is lifted, or whether I'm dragged down trying to find new ways to fix food from a limited palette.

Have you tried, or would you consider trying, to eat at least one meal a week completely locally? What rules would you use to define "local"? How do you think it has/would change your life?


Spencer said...

Amy responded by email with some ideas:

On local foods, I think we should recognize a gradient of "localness," e.g., Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Michigan, the Midwest--kind of a "harm reduction" practice.

Here are Michigan-grown commodities.,1607,7-125-1570_2468_2469---,00.html

Some packaged foods...also Spoon Foods, of course.

This chef has a TV show in Lansing using Michigan ingredients.

Regarding oils, this Michigan farm sells soy oil:

I bet there are Michigan wineries that make grapeseed oil. It has a high smoke point and is good for sauteing, is said to have a nutty flavor and to be neutral enough for making salad dressings.

Eden Foods (Clinton, MI) strives to use local or from-not-far-away ingredients, and may have some local grains, but I think you'd have to call to ask.

I think cooking only from local foods, while valuable, would be very oppressive if one had to do it all the time, but a nice challenge to do less frequently.

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