… about the Eat Local Challenge? I know you’re all thinking it and, fear not, my dad actually said it to my face, so I’m well aware that my days on this topic are numbered. Still, I just want to recap some important points worth remembering so that I don’t slip completely back into my old patterns. Personally, I’d be more comfortable with a 50/50 split.
Here’s what I learned last month:
- Seasonality. I have a much better sense now of what’s in season when. True, the challenge officially took place during the harvest month of September, but my foray into eating locally started in June when we joined a farmshare (CSA aka community supported agriculture aka you pay a local farm to give you stuff each week). We only got what was harvested by this Massachusetts farm during each particular week. No more. So, I learned not to expect squash in June, forget about peas in September, but if you’re very lucky, you might get strawberries in June AND September.
- Shopping trips. I spent a lot more time shopping, and we all know how much I LOVE shopping. A trip to the farmshare for vegetables, plus a trip to the farmer’s market for fruit and cheese, plus a trip to a different farm for meat and eggs, plus a trip to the regular grocery store for trash bags and tampons. Grump. Luckily, we got our milk delivered in those old-fashioned glass bottles, but if we ran out (and we often did) I had to make a special trip out to get local milk. On the upside, farm stands and outdoor markets are pleasant. And when I leave, my Achilles tendons aren’t severed.
- The kids. Fussy eaters get hungry eventually. Or just plain tired of fussing. The Toddler is a much better eater now than he was before. Repetition really helps. After he was presented with his 26th apple and 112th raspberry, those seemed to be the magic numbers for complete and utter acceptance. As for the Preschooler, when he complained (and he really didn’t complain that much, the little trooper), I simply said, “That’s what we have, today.” Because, you know what, that could legitimately be all that we have. And it’s really pretty delicious.
- Cooking. I spent a LOT more time cooking and planning meals. Duh. This and the shopping were the biggest challenges for me.
- Cost. I didn’t keep careful notes on this, but my gut instinct is that we ended up spending less money for food overall. Some things were much more expensive to buy locally and organically, like flour and maple sugar (we ate fewer desserts as a result), but it seemed that by buying directly from the farmer, the fruits and veggies were cheaper. With the farmshare, for which you pay up front, we ended up spending $30 a week for at least two huge bags of produce. That’s way more vegetables than I usually buy in a week. And, in fact, that’s about what we spend to have a couple of pizzas delivered. Pizzas with no vegetables on them. The trick with a farmshare is to exercise restraint. To focus mainly on using what you get and not spend a lot of extra money filling in the perceived blanks.
- Health: I expected to lose a few pounds, but not 10. This was not all in one month, mind you. That would not be healthy. I’m counting since the beginning of the summer when the farmshare started. The sheer amount of vegetables we receive each week is virtually impossible to consume unless it’s at the expense of other things, like salty snacks and my beloved bevy of carbs. Joining a farm is like hiring your own personal shopper and nutritionist. They hand you your ingredients for the week and say, “Eat this.” And then you will. I did not go hungry (okay, well, I went slightly hungry in June with all of those goddamned salads). Most of the time, though, I ate good-sized portions. They were just packed with vegetables. All that other stuff I wasn’t eating, it turns out, has a lot of calories.
- Canning: I didn’t do it. One of the themes of this year’s challenge was to preserve some of our summer harvest for the winter. But, we didn’t end up having much extra food, except for the tomatoes, which I made into sauce and froze. We’ll have to save our adventures in botulism for another year.
So, that’s my love letter to the Eat Local Challenge. Next year, I’m keeping track of money. Until then, a big, hearty welcome back to nuts, rice, pasta, canned tuna fish, Florida citrus fruits, and an extra-special ass-slap to California and its bounty (so we don’t all die this winter). We missed you.