Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Going to Food Jail

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.
OK, quickly:
1) Zone: 100 miles
2) Exceptions: Tea, wine, the occasional complete failure
3) Goal: More self sufficiency


Anonymous said...

Hmm. I have to admit how I feel about this venture. I also have to admit that I didn't do it on the first go round and probably won't, this time. I try to be veddy,veddy conscious of what I buy and eat but I think it is an undertaking available only to those of us who can afford it and therefore (sorry) smacks of the elitism we - I - like to avoid.

I feel selfconscious enough picking out precious, organic foods before standing in line with women who are using food stamps or WIC coupons. I will try to balance all this out, cheer you (and others) on and do the best I can.

Ilva said...

cc, I'm looking forward reading about this and I'll try this too when I have checked out properly what is local and not around here. And I have the time to go around and get it!

Kevin said...


Just in case you can't get local asparagus there in Marin, how's about doing something now for Asparagus Aspirations? (

Sara Zoe Patterson said...

I'm surprised about the wine thing - am I hopelessly geographically moronic, or is Napa/Sonoma very close to Marin? Not saying that those are the be-all and end-all of wine (although last night I just polished off the last bottle of Toad Hollow's Risque, which might actually come from France, and will rush right out to order another case), or that I don't think you should allow yourself that exception (hell, your saltmaking from last year put my exempting everything already in my house to total shame) but with your level of dedication from last year its just catching me off guard.

cookiecrumb said...

Kudzu: And what are those women buying with their food stamps? Processed food. Uncle Ben's frozen rice bowl for $5. Because supermarkets are more conveniently located than farmers markets, probably, and there's still so much education about eating needed. (You know that our local markets accept food stamps.)
I worked through the "elitism" argument for myself last year, and I concluded that the ELC is a learning project.
Admittedly if you're poor you're glad to be eating, no matter where your food comes from. But that doesn't mean it's expensive to buy raw ingredients.
A local-eating month of bean soup would be pretty satisfying, I think.
(Hope this isn't coming out too shrill. xx)

cookiecrumb said...

Ilva: You are going to participate? That's fun.

Kevin: I'll swing by. Last night we ate super-unimaginative steamed spears, but there's still some left to cook. And we can get it locally!!

P o' M: I wasn't thinking. Of course I can stick with local wines. I'm not even a French wine snob or nothin'. :D

Anonymous said...

No ma'am, you weren't shrill. I am all for educating everybody (rich, poor, whatever). It's just that I become a tad testy over who has the time, money and situation (ie, usually childless, often single) to undertake the learning process on a seriously passionate basis.

Read Pim's take on the project. She encourages participation on whatever level is practical/possible for each human bean. I guess that is what I would like to see, since it's the way I ordinarily shop and cook and eat.

I am not trying to sabotage the experiment, believe me. As for a month of bean soup -- don't think I could hack that!

Pyewacket said...

I think it's usually the single, childless and fairly well-off, not to mention the healthy, who do a lot of things that take time and effort, because people will children or health problems or poverty to contend with can't. But people aren't bothered if you say you're going to climb Everest. There seems to be an underlying assumption that this type of thing, especially around food, holds within it an implied criticism - I'm doing this AND SO SHOULD YOU. But I'm interested in doing this for lots of reasons, none of which is to make myself out to be better than anyone else.

Unfortunately, eating locally in New England in May would be madness - at least, without having spent the last year canning, freezing, pickling and drying. So I'm going to try it starting in late June.

So far, the exceptions I've decided on are spices and olive oil. The spices are a value benefit to shipping weight thing - for just a few ounces of of product, I can eat infinitely better. And the olive oil is because I will presumably be eating a lot of salads, and I haven't found a producer of any sort of vegetable or nut oil locally. I can't imagine eating nothing but bacon dressings for a month.

Anonymous said...

No beer?!

I'm not sure I could make that sacrifice.

cookiecrumb said...

Kudzu: Actually, I'm really glad you brought up the topic. It's something I want to address, and as Pyewacket says, it doesn't mean we should all do the ELC, nor does it confer sainthood on us if we do. You've been eating intelligently a little longer than some of the blogging participants, so this is just a neat little boot camp for them.
Thanks for pointing out Pim's take; I hadn't read her for a while. (And I loves me some soup!!)

Pyewacket: Well put.

KathyR: I believe you'll discover that some of us are LYING about what sacrifices we intend to make!! :D

Jocelyn:McAuliflower said...

what?! Who has no local beer?
Am I in a spoiled segment of the country?

ps- glad someone else cried reading Julie/Julia... its not just me... (on the train- out in public- geez)