Sunday, January 07, 2007

Eat local, eat fresh!

The fridge was finally looking a little empty today as the holiday leftovers have been eaten. I went out to the large super grocers near our home and chose a few items for the week from an enormous assortment of foods from around the world.

My father-in-law grew up on a farm in this community and he often told me about the work done in the summer kitchen each year canning fruits, vegetables and meat. They had a dirt cellar floor and root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, turnips and beets were buried there in the fall. Food for the family and animals had to be prepared and properly stored for the winter months.

The slogan “buy local, buy fresh” is seen frequently in our area as our region promotes locally produced foods. Several restaurants in the city have seasonal, regional menus featuring local fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses. I was reading about a movement in British Columbia called the 100 Mile Diet. People are challenged to eat foods produced within a 100 mile radius of their home. This would be easy enough to do in the summer and fall, but food choices become more limited in the winter and spring. Apples are the only local fresh fruit available now. Locally grown root vegetables, mushrooms, green house tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and lettuce are reasonably priced in the stores as well. I can cook dried legumes and buy local eggs, meat and cheese. But we do not produce sugar, except for honey and maple syrup products, and I would miss citrus fruit and bananas in the winter.

Imagine the work our ancestors went to obtaining sufficient food for the winter. On a recent walk, I noticed fresh cattail shoots in a marshy area. Apparently, cattails can provide food year round, from these tender shoots to the roots and mature heads, which can be eaten like corn on the cob. Sumac is also edible as are many other wild plants. We have become far removed from our local food sources.

I am not about to start looking for my vegetables in the woods and swamps, but I think it is good to be more aware of where our food is coming from and the ecological impact of our food choices. Most fast foods and packaged foods can hardly be identified as coming from whole and natural sources. I have never tasted a papaya or mango in Canada that comes close to a tree ripened variety in Mexico. Our imported foods often lack flavour and nutritional value.

I shop at our excellent farmers markets as often as possible and am trying to be aware of food options that support our local economy and match the seasons’ “best and freshest.”

It would be a good exercise to try the 100 mile diet for a week. And who knows, I may even be tempted to see if a cattail shoot is as tasty as fresh asparagus.

6 comments:

  1. It bothers me that we eat so much food that has been transported huge distances. Being a vegetarian (since I was about 5), it's difficult to find some variation in local grown fruits and vegetables in winter. There's not much to choose from in winter, but the situation does seem to be improving along with the greenhouse technology. It's wonderful having the selection of fruits from places like Ecuador and Chile, but at what ecological cost? The same can probably be said about the greenhouse-produced crops too - I'm sure it must take quite a bit of NG or electricity to keep them warm enough to grow tomatoes and cucmbers in winter. I have a lot of admiration for the "old timers" who managed to grow and preserve most of what they needed in their own gardens. My husband's family did just that - and it was a large family. They had a dairy farm, a huge vegetable garden, and a big root cellar. Needless to say, they spent a lot of time tending the garden, picking produce, and canning all through summer!

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  2. The last time I purchased from an "Eat local, eat fresh" market was probably in he early 80s in Maryland. The fruits and vegetables were better than anything I ever grew at home. In Baltimore, there is "Lexington Market" where you can purchase all local foods, some prepared to eat on the premises! Seafood, meats, and a lot of ethnic specialty foods. Since leaving MD, I haven't seen a market like that in NC, other than roadside produce. I'll need to keep looking. Good post. Made me think about what we buy.

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  3. Bev- I think that awareness of the issues in food production and distribution is the first step in making informed choices and changing our behaviour little by little. I have been working towards a more vegetarian and local diet over the past several years for health and ecological reasons. I admire your commitment to vegetarianism. (My husband is a committed fisherman, and that would be the last bastion for me in becoming vegetarian.)

    Mary- It is unfortunate that small food producers are pushed out of the markets by megastore merchandising. We buy food at local farms too, not just at markets. Our community is small enough that it is not difficult to get to the farming areas, but in big cities it would be harder to do this on a regular basis.

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  4. Buy Local, Buy Fresh reminds me a patch I am sewing for my drum bag that says "Think Globally, Act Locally" for some reason. I think they are in some ways connected though.

    I do not like food that is overly processed (and on a whole, it does not like me either) so I make all my food from raw ingredients whenever possible, especially since I eat so many whole and organic foods. I prefer local ingredients because they are fresher and taste better. The plus side is it is supporting local small businesses.

    We live near a fertile farm area where they have a lot of pick-your-own farms. I enjoy the excuse to have a day out of town in the summer and getting the best produce. I can a lot of it for winter use.

    When Michael and I have a house (we eventually want a small farm), I intend to try and grow as much produce as I can in the space I will have. Maybe I will sell some and become one of those little local businesses I am supporting.

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  5. I have taken an oath to myself to start the "100 Mile Diet", but I have to begin slowly...like finding all the farmer's markets in our area.

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  6. Susan- Always best to start slowly. This is the hardest time of year to get local variety in foods in the north. If we all made small changes in this direction, it would add up to something much bigger for the environment. I read an article on food trends today, and the number one item was predicting more of a move towards local, seasonal food purchases.

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