Easy Ways to Eat Local Later
Is the Time of the Locavore Past?
Since myself, my wife and my two daughters began our venture to be a Local Family about ten years ago, we’ve faced the same question. How can you manage in the winter. In a Middle-Western climate, one cannot eat local year-round. Or does it take heroic efforts of preservation. Weeks of hard canning to face the harsh times a-comin’. My answer on how we do it remains simple, we put away and we find sources selling. The proportion of putting away to buying year-round has altered over the years. We know now that we can find plenty of local food all year, and our Tomato Mountain CSA* puts us on strong footing all the time. Our local food will include storage crops and hoophouse greens; relishes and pickles, which to be honest, come from my Mother’s hard work, not ours. See, I do the easy things to eat local later.
Let’s step back a second. How many of you care how much you eat local. Has the urge to locavore passed? In harvesting my weekly crop of eat local links, I see various locavore challenges across the USA. In looking at some of these, it made me notice that Green City Market in Chicago is not doing a challenge this year. Did they do one last year? Are people giving up on the idea of “locavore”, that is getting as much if not all of their food from a short distance on their home. The lack of local local challenge makes me think that’s the case.
I think the culinary justifications for local food remain for the community. I believe people are shopping markets, growing their own, and demanding that chefs do the same because they know it tastes better. If you care about eat well, you’re going to want your melon from a farmer you can meet, not a farmer who puts it on a truck for you. Still, what about all those other reasons for eating local. Good for the environment. Less waste. Supporting local economies. A sense of place on your plate. Are we forsaking them. The eat local movement gained its first flush of notoriety from the blog and then book of two Canadians, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. They subscribed to a 100 Mile diet. Was eating local a game, a contest, a way of dealing with post-modern ennui. Some people entered Touch Mudder races. Other people made sandwiches with thin slices of turnip in place of bread.
As a Local Family, we always said, don’t make yourself nuts. For instance, we eat nuts like cashews, peanuts (I know not a nut), almonds, etc., that do not grow in the area. Over and over we said, eating local did not mean forsaking coffee, chocolate or spices. Yet, there are little things that matter to us, that, to me, define us a locavores, that add a certain meaning to our eating, that show we are doing it for a more than it tastes good.
I like my food spicy. I use various peppers a lot in my cooking. This time of year, I use fresh peppers often. For me, jalapenos are a salad ingredient. For the rest of the year, I want the stuff to add heat, dried peppers. It’s not a lot of work to dry peppers. Pretty much no work at all as peppers dry on their own with no urging, and once dried, they will last a long, long time. It’s such an easy task, and one with such staying power, that we’re still working off of previous efforts. We do not need to dry that many of this year’s crops. Another way I like to make my food spicy is to use much garlic. I want it to be local garlic. So, I make sure that I stock up on garlic now, when it is plentiful in markets. Finally, I like to season my food with dry herbs, at least dried oregano and dried mint. It transforms a plain salad into a “Greek” salad or turns tomato sauce into “gravy.” That ineffable taste on the salad at your favorite Middle-Eastern place, probably dried mint. There are many dishes I make that call for dried oregano or dried mint. I am constantly buying and drying these herbs whenever I find them. These are easy ways to preserve, and they are easy ways to eat local.
I know that I can stop by Caputo’s and pick up garlic bulbs year-round. I can get very fragrant, dried oregano, imported from Greece, at Fresh Farms. I can get huge bags of dried peppers at any Mexican grocery. Flavor-wise, some of that will stack up, although if nothing else, my local garlic will lack that harshness or rancidity of anything else available in February, but I’m not just doing it for the flavor. To us, these little additions make our food taste different. Different is better. When you use your own dried herbs, your own dried peppers, there is something about the final dish that is your own. You own it. Yours. There remains, ten years on, challenges to eating local. There also stands easy things to do. You may find the whole thing worth it.
*My wife works for Tomato Mountain