May is the "Eat Local" challenge month. You will probably start to see a lot about this on the blogosphere, if you haven't already. To put it simply, it's a month where those interested devote themselves to eating foods that are locally grown and produced.
"What's the point?" you may ask. "I eat organic, why do I need to care where my food comes from?"
It's a long and multi-faceted answer, but let me give you a few reasons why I think it's important.
1. The term "organic" is quickly becoming little more than a marketing term. It's been coopted by large corporations and their lobbyists have succeeded in having the original organic guidelines relaxed. Many farmers will tell you that they might not even bother getting organically certified anymore -- it's expensive and more and more meaningless, so they walk the walk and forget about the label.
2. Eating local means that you know where your food comes from. We should all be informed consumers. If you can shop at a farmer's market, where all the food is local, you can ask upfront about farming practices and pesticides, and ensure that the food meets freshness and quality standards that are important to you.
3. It fosters relationships both economic and social between you and the growing community. Get to know the men and women growing your food. Ask them how to cook those purple baby artichokes or how to prepare fava beans (that's how I learned). Get recipes. Find out what'll be in season next month. Pour your money back into the local economy. Support family farms so they don't have to sell out to large agribusinesses.
4. Stop spending your money on shipping and petroleum and start spending it on better quality food. An oft-quoted fact is that food travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to the hungry mouths that eat it. That is a lot of fossil fuel required to fly the jumbo jets or power the 18-wheelers -- oil that keeps us in political conflict with the Middle East, oil that pollutes the environment, oil that we really need to conserve for other uses. Put the money instead into truly free range eggs or grass-fed meat, both of which are actually healthier for you (increased omega 3's, for example) than products from regular factory-raised animals.
The list goes on and on, and that's enough for now. There are also the simpler things -- like flavor.
Remember, this is not an exercise for bloggers. It's for everyone.
In the Bay Area, we are fortunate enough to be able to source most products locally, but I know that not everyone lives in such a food mecca. That might make your challenge even more difficult. Do what you can. The point is not to kill yourself driving miles and miles to the one local apple orchard so you can make your husband's birthday pie. The point is to raise your awareness.
Here's how I've decided to structure my own Eat Local challenge.
1. I am defining "local" (e.g. the foodshed) as anything grown within California.
2. If something is not grown in the state, e.g. wheat for pasta, spices like salt and pepper, coffee I will not abstain from eating them. I will just try to find the best alternative...
3. ...meaning buying bread, pastries, coffee and the like from locally owned businesses.
4. If I cannot find something locally, I'll default to buying something organically grown or, failing that, something that is regional where it is produced e.g. Brie cheese and Champagne from France, Chianti from Italy, etc.
5. If I absolutely have a craving for Twinkies, I'm giving in. Life is hard enough these days without making yourself feel guilty about something new.
6. I'm going to go to the farmer's market as much as I can, but I'm going to shop smart by renewing my subscription for a CSA. That's basically a box of locally grown fruit and veg that is delivered to your door step weekly by any number of participating farms.
Figure out what feels doable for you. Even if it's just making one meal during the month from locally grown produce or locally raised meat or seafood, that's plenty. The point is to support local family farms and increase awareness and appreciation of the bounty of foods that are available near you.
If you would like more information about how to craft your own eating local challenge or to join in, here are a few good resources.