Week one of the Locavore Challenge came to a close yesterday – and it has in fact been a very challenging week. It’s even more difficult than I thought to source everything from within 200 miles of New Orleans. Many people tell me that they prepared for the Challenge by canning and jarring locally grown foods throughout the year to use during June. I was not this well-organized – but so far creativity and sheer determination has kept me “eating local” in the spirit of the Challenge.
First, I went shopping at Rouses. They have a number of locally-grown foods available – and the store helpfully labeled those items with signs indicating they qualify for the Challenge. Later in the week, several of us participating in the Challenge took a bike ride over to the Crescent City Farmers Market. There, we stocked up on various fruits and excitingly, butter and cheese (we had intended to make these ourselves using Smith Creamery and Kleinpeter products, but time isn’t always the most available ingredient in our house).
Much of what’s been cooking in the kitchen this past week harkens back to culinary classes at the Natural Gourmet – using fresh whole foods and all-natural products to create healthy, fun and tasty meals. The wheatberry flour purchased at the Challenge sign-up was transformed into homemade pasta – even some egg noodles (with local eggs from Hollygrove Market). One night, we topped the noodles with a creamy fresh tomato herb sauce (made from Rouses tomatoes, a dash of Smith Creamery milk, basil, oregano and parsley that we grow hydroponically at home and some of the amazing local cheese that we shredded). For dessert over the weekend, I baked a mixed berry (all from the farmers market!) cobbler using local honey as the sweetener and whipped cream we made from Kleinpeter heavy cream. The most fun experiment thus far was homemade French fries (local purple potatoes) with spicy garlic “ketchup” (thanks to Hollygrove Market again for the local garlic and to Crescent City Farmers Market for an array of hot peppers).
The hardest part has been spices. We grow many of our own herbs (and I even dry some) – but basics like black pepper and fun things like cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla – have been most notably absent. Bread too has been a difficult issue since we don’t have local yeast or baking powder. We made some flat bread and crackers, but nothing that rises – yet. I’m experimenting.
The experience has inspired serious contemplation and discussion about our food system. One thing we noticed immediately was that we had to significantly up our food budget this week. We thought that buying local products would be more affordable because sourcing from nearby cuts down on costs of shipping, preservation and refrigeration. But, it seems imported, packaged and prepared foods are often less expensive. This is counterintuitive and indicates several things: the industrialization of our food system is masking the true costs of producing sustainable, nutritious, fresh food and that all along the food chain, from over-used land to unfairly exploited farm workers, the actual price to produce food is artificially lowered. If more food were grown and sourced locally, greater availability (and less costs for processing, shipping etc.) could lead to affordable products, and more accessibility so everyone can eat healthy, fresh, and local food. It’s a win-win for us and the environment. Consumers get affordable, fresher, preservative-free products, farmers and other related workers get fair prices and wages, and we cut down on use of energy and oil/gas for transportation and refrigeration.
We’ll check back after week 2 of the Challenge!