The journey of a thousand miles. ... Oh, you know the rest. Here’s how to begin your local food journey without feeling overwhelmed.
Start slowly. Try replacing one item in your diet — say, apples — with a local one. Or earmark a small portion of your food budget for local foods. If you set goals that are too unrealistic (“I’ll eat within 20 miles of my home for an entire year with no exceptions!”), you might not only burn out but be hungry and cranky — or, worse yet, nutritionally deficient.
Start in the summertime, when the livin’ is easy. It’s much easier to find local foods at the height of growing season.
Get social! Form a supper club, start a blog, or join an online community such as The 100 Mile Diet. Join a CSA as part of a group, such as a church group. Look for local food events such as pig roasts and clambakes. Take a buddy to the farmers market, sip fair trade coffee, and shop together.
Find an expert. Take a class on cheesemaking, get a guide for learning about wild edibles, or find a friend who knows how to make fruit leather.
Involve the kids. From growing tomatoes to picking apples and making pies, kids can be a part of finding and enjoying local foods. My daughter loves going to the coffee roaster to see the big Willy Wonka–ish coffeeroasting machine. My infant son gets toted by backpack to farms and farmers markets.
Be gentle with thyself and set realistic goals. For those items I can’t find locally, such as coffee and tea, I opt for fair trade products, which means that the farmers, often disadvantaged ones in developing countries, receive fair prices for their products. If I can’t buy something sustainable and local, I’ll try to go for organic. If I can’t buy something local or organic or fair trade, well, I’ve given things my best shot, and I don’t lose sleep over it. And sometimes I just want a Snickers. For me, local eating is a choice, not a mandate. A monotonous diet is not only a recipe for failure (ask any dieter) but antithetical to our need for nutritional variety to stay healthy. Citrus fruit in winter is a blessed thing that I try not to take for granted.
Make a game of it. Are you the up-for-a-challenge type? Organizations such as the Ecotrust of Portland, Ore., provide guidelines and scorecards. Locavore blogging groups, such as Eat Local Challenge, can offer support. I ate locally (within 50 miles of my house) for two months one summer and had a lot of fun. Don’t be afraid to draft your own rules, ones that work for your family. Eco-author Bill McKibben coined the term “Marco Polo exemption” for the seven-month local eating stint in Vermont that he wrote about for Gourmet magazine. McKibben allowed cooking items a 13th century explorer would have brought along, such as salt, pepper, yeast and so forth. Best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver, who wrote about her year of local eating in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," let her family members choose a few items they couldn’t live without, such as chocolate or coffee. (These are sometimes called wild cards.) I never gave up coffee, but I did find a company that roasted its organic coffee locally.
Alter your expectations. As I have mentioned, sometimes produce raised without pesticides isn’t pretty. Don’t be shocked if you occasionally find bugs — yes, bugs — in local produce. Got your first pound of grass-fed beef? It tastes a little different from grain-fed beef, and it needs to be cooked more gently. Farm-fresh eggs may come in different colors (blues, greens and browns) because egg color depends on the breed of chicken. Other thoughts for the uninitiated: Farms smell farm-y. Gardens are dirty. Cooking a meal from scratch takes more time than heating up a Lean Cuisine frozen dinner. An organic carrot is more expensive than a regular one. It’s not always easy or comfortable to pipe up and ask questions about what the bleep is in your food. But take a look at your child’s face, your waistline, or a gorgeous stretch of healthy farmland and tell me it’s not worth it.
Meet other locavores online. Check out blogs or post comments on websites. (I like the posts by farmer/chef Tom Philpott on grist.org.) You can also look for friends on social networking websites, such as MySpace.
"Eat Where You Live"
From "Eat Where You Live", Copyright © 2008 by Lou Bendrick. Used by arrangement with The Mountaineers Books.