I just finished reading Julie Powell's book, Julie & Julia, about a young woman in a tiny New York apartment who challenged herself to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking — in one year.
She did it. And she wrote about it most winningly.
Hell, I thought I had absolutely no interest in reading the book, but Cranky brought it home from the library, so I gave it a try. Turns out it is sweet, hilarious, thoughtful, troubling. Well written! OK, OK. I laughed; I cried.
I bring this up now because I'm about to embark on my own food challenge that will occupy a defined space of time: Eating only local foods for the month of May.
Local is defined as a 100-mile radius from my home. May is defined as... the month after our biblical local rainstorms. The kind that prevented farmers from planting crops.
I did the Eat Local Challenge last year (it was in August, if you weren't blogging then, and oh, so many of you weren't). I took it really seriously, partly on a lark, but partly because I believe in the principle of supporting local growers.
I know that if I didn't have a huge bevy of local growers (I'm so lucky to live in Marin County), I might have starved — or broken my vows to keep my diet strictly local. I also know that eating local (here in Marin County) is something I can absolutely do, even if it means a diet of oysters, carrots and milk. As long as I have purveyors. I'm not that good a shot with my Remington Sportsman 12-gauge — although I am pretty good. I can hit an oyster even if I give it a head start.
Eating locally is something we are all free to define for ourselves. Last year I chose to eat strictly from my own county for the first week. That was pretty tight. Then I relaxed my definition to allow food only from within 100 miles for the next three weeks.
That meant no imported spices. No French cheeses. Limited choices of wine. No beer (since there's no malt in the vicinity). No wheat, except for the rugged whole-wheat flour from a local (just barely) farm. No corn at all, which may not be such a bad thing... I'm still working through my thinking on corn, but mostly — evil!
Anyone at all can pledge to take the Eat Local Challenge. And any participant can freely define "local." Maybe for you it makes more sense to choose to eat foods produced within your state, not just a 100-mile radius. Maybe for you a little "cheating," like allowing coffee, chocolate or pepper (all not American-grown) is fine. I think it's fine too. I'm still mulling over how rigid I want to be this year.
Here's the deal. You can eat 100% locally, just by giving up some things, doing without. You won't die. Well... You still need salt, so that's totally allowed, no matter where you procure yours. Or you can tailor your approach according to your locale, your time availability, your dedication.
Anyway, I'm saying it can either be an experiment in complete obedience, or it can be a philosophical, educational experience with a couple of escape clauses.
I don't think it should be house arrest for the palate. I think it should be fun.
I'll tell you what, though. If you do it — however you choose to do it — it will be total rehab for your tastebuds.
It will change your life, I guarantee.
1) Zone: 100 miles
2) Exceptions: Tea, wine, the occasional complete failure
3) Goal: More self sufficiency