cafe mama

finding magic every day

eating local: my new subject . december 19 . 2007

chesnok garlic at eastbank farmers market
Saturday night, at our schwanky urbanMamas holiday party, Larissa pointed at her husband, leaned over to me and said, "he's talking about all of his subjects." I immediately thought, that's so like me and told her, "my new subject is eating local."

It's true. I fall in love with ideas the way I fell in love with boys when I was 14, so wildly that my stomach aches and I play out the affair over and over in my dreams. It is an obsession. At the farmer's market that morning, I felt desperate, mentally buzzing from booth to booth while my more corporeal self hobbled along, managing baby, boy, bags. We stuffed and stuffed until nothing else would fit into my tote and Everett carried a wreath on his shoulder and still I felt empty. I did not stockpile swiss chard! Potatoes! Mushrooms! Cheeses! And what are those... tomatoes at the market in December?

It's partly Barbara Kingsolver's fault, although this would have happened in a slower, calmer way, without her book. Now I am thrust into facts that coagulate inescapably, making me choked up with the terror and urgency. Now I am giving up packaged cookies and crackers (commercially produced corn and wheat and soybeans are shuttled back and forth, China to Argentina to Russia to the U.S., in idiotic abundance, spilling fossil fuels all the way and destroying the very farmland on which is is grown); now I am making my own cheeses (do you know that local farmers are literally regulated out of the business and in most states are prohibited from selling milk to individuals, so the commercial dairies can push off their hormone-packed, tasteless liquid to the masses?); now I am eating with the seasons (if every family just ate one meal each week made of local, organic ingredients, we'd save ONE BILLION BARRELS of oil, every week); now I look at the ingredients in the Morningstar Buffalo wings and think, "soy protein isolate," and wonder if those soybeans have a suicide gene; wonder how far each ingredient travelled; wonder if anyone connects to his food anymore. I put one in my mouth and feel nauseous.

I've made all these decisions, happened upon the need to change my life, but of course it's not easy, it's not yet the reality of my shopping trips. Even Barbara and her Virginia-farm family waited and planned for months before they began their local smackdown, made all kinds of exceptions and minor compromises. Grains and spices and oils were permitted; coffee was allowed in. I discover that the coming Saturday is the last day of the Park Blocks market (though People's continues throughout the winter). I guiltily snack on members of the two boxes of Candy Cane JoJos, vowing to make my own cookies, forever, with Bob's Red Mill flour and... how can I find someone to give me raw milk in glass jars so I can make my own butter? (No, it's easy!) I decide that sugar will be an exception. I buy local jam for $5.99 a bottle and shudder; I devour the Spanish anchovy-stuffed olives and manchego with towering guilt. In every bite I can taste the 10,000 miles between here and there.

italian kale and swiss chard at portland farmers market
I will start slowly but I will try, I will move closer to what's right, eating food that is farmed in small crops by people who care about whether their fields will still produce in 20 years. I will learn to care for heirloom vegetables and I will make my husband eat beets. I will find a mentor to guide me in my garden and I will freeze and sun dry and can this year. I will eat chard all winter. I will spend all the grocery money I can possibly afford this weekend at the farmer's market.

I will shift this alimentary imbalance in the tiniest of ways. It is a little thing but we will stop eating chicken nuggets.

Update: I have discovered, and committed to the buy local challenge. I am flummoxed that Oregon only has 36 participants, and they have only committed to buy $21,280 of local food. Surely we can do better than that (and yes, I understand that it's partially just a marketing program and lots more local food dollars are being spent but STILL).

paying the bills

read my previous post . losing grace . december 13 . 2007