Simply in Season

News and reflections on all that's good about local food
from the co-author of Simply in Season,
a World Community Cookbook in the spirit of More-with-Less

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Experiments in local food

It wasn't so long ago that eating foods grown near by was the only option, but nowadays the average food item travels more than a thousand miles before it lands on our tables. Yet it's exciting to see more and more people growing interested in knowing where their food comes from and the conditions in which it was grown. Motivated by a belief that local foods are good for the environment, for health and for local communities, many consumers are going out of their way to find local fruits, vegetables and meats.

I've been intrigued by news of recent experiments in which individuals follow in the steps of author Gary Nabhan. His book, Coming Home to Eat, describes a year-long attempt to eat nothing but foods grown (or found in the wild) within 250 miles of his Arizona home.

You'd think this would be much easier in my neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest, but yow, from what I hear it still ain't easy. In British Columbia, one couple has been trying to survive on foods grown within 100 miles since March 21. It was hard enough, starting in spring when only a limited number of fresh foods are ripe, but worse, it took them a while to find a source of local wheat:

"We were unable to find any locally grown grains-no more bread, pasta, or rice. The only starch left to us was the potato. Between us, we lost about 15 pounds in six weeks. While I appreciated the beauty and creativity of James' turnip sandwich, with big slabs of roasted turnip as the 'bread,' this innovation did little to stave off the constant hunger. James' jeans hung down his butt like a skater boy. He told me I had no butt left at all."

Next fad diet, here we come!

As of their most recent posting in September, the couple was eating better, if getting rather weary of sauerkraut. I'm happy to take a pass on this kind of purist experiment, but their reflections offer excellent food for thought about food systems and our lifestyles.

More recently a major dining institution issued its own Eat Local Challenge: Bon Appetit Management Co., a national food-service provider, asked chefs to feature a lunch option made entirely of ingredients from within a 150-mile radius of their respective kitchens.

University of Portland kitchen staff decided that was too easy, so they opted to make every item on their lunch menu from local ingredients. What's particularly impressive is that they even decided to make their own salt by boiling down 25 gallons of seawater. Read about it in The Oregonian.

I have to wonder: how much energy went into boiling down that water? But then again, was this process any less efficient than it is where salt is commercially produced?

If nothing else, experiments like these certainly do a good job of helping us think about where our food comes from. And it makes me newly grateful when I pick up that shaker. Pass the salt, would ya?

* * * *
The SIS recipe of the week, Herbed Broccoli Sandwich, is seasoned with just a little salt in addition to dried basil, thyme and pepper. Topped with cheese melted under the broiler, it's a quick and satisfying meal after an afternoon of leaf-raking.

(Recipe changes weekly. To get on our recipe e-mail list, go to the SIS website and click on "Register.")

Simply in Season has a great recipe for Easy Homemade Sauerkraut for those harvesting big heads of cabbage these days, but it's also tasty in our Shredded Beet Salad, which couldn't be easier (and would go nicely with your sandwich):

Steam separately (or in sections of a steamer) until barely tender, about 5 minutes, 1 medium shredded beet, 2 shredded carrots and 1 cup / 250 ml shredded cabbage. Let cool to room temperature. Arrange in small piles on salad plates. Dress with favorite dressing or tahini dressing below. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (optional).

Tahini dressing: Shake together in a jar with a tight lid 1/2 cup / 125 ml tahini, 1/2 cup / 125 ml oil (combination of canola, sesame, olive), 1/4 cup / 60 ml lemon juice, 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari, and water to desired consistency. (Tahini is a paste like peanut butter, only made with crushed sesame seeds.)


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