I Take the Challenge to Eat Local Every Day

September 8, 2011 at 9:18 am

Rob Gardner

Once again, Chicago’s Green City Market has put out the challenge to Chicagoans to “pledge to eat only local food, to the best of their ability.”  The Locavore Challenge started yesterday, September 7 and it goes through September 22.  Can you do it?  Should you do it?  Every year at Local Beet headquarters, we debate our willingness to go along with the Locavore Challenge.  There is a strong contingent of Beetniks that believe a two week challenge artificial, dilettantish, dabblers; in fact, they argue, those who just dip their toes in the locavore waters undercut the hard work others put into eating local all year round.  After all, they argue, it’s not a detox program. You can not simply purge.  Still, the majority of us here reject the more cynical approach.  We believe the best way to encourage eating local is to eat local.  Like me, they feel that if you eat local a little, you might just take the challenge to eat local every day.  I say, take the Challenge.  You’ll thank me later.

I challenged the Local Family to eat local because I loved shopping at the Oak Park Farmer’s Market.  I loved shopping there weekly.  I loved that my tomatoes could come in several shapes, colors and sizes.  I loved that there were items like damson plums and ground cherries that I hardly every heard of before.  I wanted peaches that dripped and cucumbers that wept.  I loved each and every farmer at the market, and I came home each week, it seemed, with something from each and everyone.  The challenge we originally took, was to eat as much of our food as possible from the market.  It was not long, however, when we learned that eating from the market was “eating local”, even that there was a new word, “locavore.”  We found all sorts of reasons to eat local; green reasons, economic reasons, community reasons.  And always, taste reasons.  We made our challenge to eat as much of our diet from local foods as possible.  We bought big slabs of meat from local farmers to keep our carnivore side local.  We stocked up on Michigan beans when in Michigan to keep our vegetarian side local.  We canned and froze and kept a root cellar in the sky to make sure we could always eat local.

It’s over six years since we became the Local Family.  I surely don’t regret taking up the challenge.  If you’ve followed this column over the years, you’ll have seen that I do go through periods of locavore ennui.  Not the least, there are times, mostly in the winter, where I rebel against the effort it still takes to eat local.  I, and the rest of the Local Family, have never given in to the difficulties.  I will say that over time, I have realized that there are certain non-local foods that I just really enjoy eating.  For instance, now in various places you can find fresh dates.  A little bit of a splurge to begin with, but at least once a year, I’m buying a bunch.  Pomegranates.  Figs.  Avocados, here’s a funny thing, my locavore tendencies got me loving avocados much more than I ever did before.  Nothing’s as good as the guacamole I make with local sweet onions, fresh tomatoes, a really hot Farmer Vicki pepper.  I’d love local avocados, not so much so I could buy them with less guilt, but because they’re so damn expensive.  I’ve come to believe, strongly, that exclusivity is not an eat local issue.  I mean I never gave up my coffee.

I love the fact that a bunch of others are trying to eat all their food locally, even if it is for a few weeks.  As I have found, the more you eat local, the more you realize what eating local means for you.  What you do and do not want to do.  The Local Family still holds to a strong, if it grows local, we only eat it locally, rule, and we still strongly seek to get as much of our consumption from local sources: maple syrup, beer, vodka, cheeses; we have long ago psyched ourselves into liking the local more regardless of all the other great options out there.  So, take the Challenge now.  Then, take the challenge every day.