Geeking for a Cause, Part 2

After I put up the other post, I thought to myself that I should have probably explained a bit. But, by the time I got out of the shower and back to the computer, people had already commented, so I figured I’d just leave it the way it was. But then, Julie (well, I’m assuming it’s you, Julie) asked for more information in the comments, and that gave me the push I needed to write the explanation I should have written in the first place.

So. How we came about our decision to (try to) buy local:

1. Back in 2001, Michael Pollan wrote an article for the New York Times magazine about how corn was taking over the world. Or, more specifically, corn syrup. I was impressed with the article, and as a result started looking at labels on the food I was buying. I was shocked (I shouldn’t have been): corn syrup really WAS in EVERYTHING (still is). I changed some of our buying habits then; most notably, I started making my own bread. Still do. Every week, three loaves from scratch. I worried that my girls would reject it (after all, we’d been eating store bought and homemade isn’t nearly as “nice” as store bought) but they took to it. A and K haven’t ever eaten store bought bread. And honestly, I think it tastes like sawdust. (And people are always impressed that I make my own bread, but honestly, it takes like a half hour and then 2 1/2 hours of waiting and baking. Not hard at all.)

I put Omnivore’s Dilemma here, even though I didn’t actually read it until earlier this year because that original article ended up being a couple chapters in the book.

2. Fast forward to 2005. We’d lived in Arkansas for three years, and while I tried to keep corn syrup out of my diet (hard!), we didn’t do much else. Arkansas is, of course, Wal-Mart land, and that’s where we shopped. We didn’t have much choice: there was only one other grocery store in town, and we were on such a tight budget that Wal-Mart is pretty much what we could afford.

That year, Hubby got a job at Western Illinois University, and the book for the first-year experience was Fast Food Nation. I remember him reading it the summer before we moved (I’ve never gotten around to it, though Hubby says I really should someday); he read portions out loud, and we talked about it a lot. And I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve walked into a McDonald’s in three years. (I’ve eaten very rarely at Wendy’s and Subway, but that’s it. Truly. And since we’ve moved here our fast food of choice is Jason’s Deli. Organic, and fairly local.) Again, I thought our kids would rebel (one of the main sticking points people tell me when I give them this lecture), but they haven’t. And (again) A and K have never eaten there, so they don’t miss it.

Also, when we moved to Illinois, we discovered that there was a farmer’s market and started utilizing it. Oh, we’d gone to farmer’s markets before, but it was mostly a Saturday morning lark sort of thing, not some place to buy your food. But, in Illinois, we were blessed to find a local farmer who had chickens, pigs and cows. We started buying fresh meat and eggs, and were blown away with the difference. Honestly, I’ll never buy store-bought bacon again. There is no comparison.

3. Rod Dreher, in this book, sets out to convince die-hard Republicans that their big business, big home, two-income lifestyle is not conservative. It grated on me in some parts, and felt like he was a bit self-righteous, but it did two things for me: it gave me the confidence to actually try to opt out of the big agriculture system and it let me know I wasn’t alone in doing so. (I probably knew that already, but sometimes that little reinforcement is what you need to keep going.)

We moved to Wichita the summer I read this, found another farmer (several actually) to get our eggs and meat from. (all my meat is “local”, meaning within 100 miles of my house. They come to the farmer’s market each Saturday and Hubby usually goes and picks up what we need there. We’re also blessed in that one of the farmers comes out bi-weekly all winter, so we can continue to have farm eggs and meat then, too. Though we’re considering going in with some families to buy half a cow this winter.) We also planted a garden (last summer and this summer) with the goal of growing and canning much of what we use during the winter.

A side note: growing up we canned fruit and jam. Again, I’ve been blessed/spoiled: I can’t eat store-bought canned peaches; they taste horrible. So, every summer, I pick local strawberries (off on Monday to do that) to can jam (won’t buy them: my kids need to work for their jam, and it just tastes better); peaches to jar; apples for applesauce; blackberries and raspberries for jam; and tomatoes for salsa and jarred tomatoes. (We’re hoping that we can get tomatoes, corn, zucchini, peppers, pumpkins and cantaloupe out of our garden this year. Wish us luck.) I also have an herb garden, where I grow all the herbs we use (except for a few exotic ones) and then dry/freeze them for the winter. All this is a big part in our buying local effort.


4. Honestly, Wendell Berry didn’t do much for our journey toward buying local food, but I do think he’s an important person to read. He’s a very influential persona in the local movement, and for good reason. He’s a big local booster, someone for whom working on and with the land is an important part of life. He’s a difficult person to read — very labor intensive — but, worth it in the long run, if only to give you an ideal to work toward. (Not that we can all live on a self-supporting farm in Kentucky.) Of the two, I’d suggest Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community: it’s slightly more accessible to read, though The Art of the Commonplace has some beautiful moments.

That’s pretty much our journey. We’re not perfect at it. I still feel like we buy too much food that’s supplied by big agriculture. I haven’t made the leap off of breakfast cereals, or even chicken nuggets (though I tried after reading Omnivore’s Dilemma) as lunch food for my girls. It’s about making small changes, though. Which is why I chose these two books… I do need to get around to reading the Barbara Kingsolver one, if only to get more ideas about how to go about buying and eating local food. I do know some things, though: growing a garden, knowing where your meat comes from, buying at a farmer’s market are all important.

I don’t know what we’d have done if we were still living in Arkansas, or somewhere else where there just aren’t the resources — especially with the meat — to do this. But I do know that it would still be worth the effort to try.

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13 thoughts on “Geeking for a Cause, Part 2

  1. Michelle says:

    I just read Barbara Kingsolver’s and loved it and am in the middle of Omnivore’s Dilemma right now. I would like to make some changes in our family’s food choices, but wonder about the price. How does buying local grass fed meat compare? Are you spending more money on food? How much more, would you say? And did you connect with local farms through the farmer’s market? Convenience is a big issue for me. The farmer’s market is a lot further away than the grocery store (and so I am burning fossil fuels that way), and I also want my meat cuts in convenient to use portions.I’m just wondering how to translate the ideas into practice.

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  2. Michelle — first off: it is more expensive. We spend way more than what our friends spend on groceries. But as Joseph Salatin (a farmer in Omnivore’s Dilemma) says: you get what you’re paying for. I’m buying grass-fed hamburger for $5 a pound. Sure, it’s not the $1.75 (or whatever it is) I can get at the grocery store, but then I’m not paying for the corn that’s grown (and killing the land), the pesticides, the feed, the terrible conditions for the cattle, the manure, the pollution, the fossil fuels it takes to get to the store (well, some of that)… anyway. It’s a matter of choice (I choose to buy my beef from a farmer that lets their cows have a happy life) and of cost-outcomes (I choose to buy my beef from a farmer that is more responsible with my environment.)I did connect with local farms through a farmers market. I agree that convenience is an issue: that’s part of why I’m having a harder time than I supposed breaking ourselves entirely of convenience foods. At some point, though, you have to ask yourself which is more important: convenience or good food? How much further is the farmer’s market? An hour? A couple of miles? (Ours is 3 miles, as opposed to the 1/2 mile to the grocery store…) I do know that most farmers (at least the ones I’ve dealt with) do process their meat for you and sell them in convenient portions. The one thing I’ve had to give up on is frozen chicken breast halves, but even then we’ve been able to manage.If you don’t have a farmer’s market nearby, you could see if your community has a < HREF="http://www.localharvest.org/csa/" REL="nofollow">Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA)<>. That might be a good first step for you.Sorry this is really long-winded. Hope it helped.

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  3. Yes, that was me; I guess I screwed up typing the link. And thanks for your quick and comprehensive follow-up. šŸ™‚I buy grass-fed beef at $5 a pound too (we failed miserably at being vegan) and we belong to a CSA — but it’s still hard to buy local. Mainly because it takes more planning (e.g. if you can only get vegetables on Wed or Sat when the farmer’s market is open). I am very impressed with your efforts.

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  4. Michelle says:

    Thanks Melissa. We tried a CSA last year, and while I really like the idea, in practice, we ended up with a lot of produce that we didn’t really eat and not enough of the stuff we really wanted. Thus, this year we’re going with the farmer’s market. We live in a suburb, and it’s probably 15 miles to the farmer’s market in downtown Minneapolis. So I would have to be a lot better about planning and organization.As for the meat question. I totally am with you on the ethics of meat consumption. I just wonder how to make it practical and fit into our budget. Have you cut back on meat eating at all? And I am a big user of frozen chicken breasts. I would have to find a way to do away with or replace.Have you been to the farm where you get your meat from? I loved the description of Salatin’s grass fed cows in Pollen’s book.

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  5. Michelle — Hubby commented after reading your comment (ooh, good grammar), that you hit upon the real crux of local eating: changing your eating habits to fit local produce. We are in no way perfect in this: I crave strawberries in January and bananas, neither of which are locally available. It’s a challenging thing to work your daily eating routine around what you can get, and in some ways I’m not sure it’s entirely feasible.I don’t think we eat less meat now, mostly because we didn’t eat all that much meat before. Maybe two or three meat dishes in the course of a week. We eat a lot of pork, because it’s cheaper than beef; I guess if we were Jewish, this would be much more difficult. The pinch has come, though, in not trying to shrink what we eat; rather, we just do less. We’ve cut back on movies, cable, buying things, and so on, so we can find the money to pay for the local food. It’s a sacrifice, of sorts, but it’s worth it. (I think.)Julie — I was wondering about the vegan experiment today…I agree it is hard to buy local. We still have problems, especially with our planning. We tend to plan the food menus first, and then try to find the food to fit, rather than seeing what’s available and then making menus to fit the food. Sometimes old habits are hard to break. šŸ™‚

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  6. Melissa – why did you give up chicken breast halves? Are they not available from your farmer’s market?I just wanted to comment about the price thing. I have found that we are coming out fairly even price-wise, because we are spending way less money on snack food, and ‘exotic’ things that we use once and then sit in our cupboard until they expire (you know, things like fish sauce, tamarind paste, palm sugar). I still make ‘ethnic’ recipes, with ingredients that are mostly local. We eat fuller meals, and snack less. We don’t have packaged frozen vegetables sitting in our freezer forever. We rarely buy boxed cereals, buying granola, oats, etc in bulk instead. Depending on where you live and what your eating habits currently are, I believe it is possible to spend about the same amount you would in the grocery store.Would you mind sharing your bread recipes? I am working on making my own bread, and really hope to have a system figured out by the time my daughter is old enough to eat bread (which is coming up fast enough than I would like to admit!). All the recipes I’ve found out seem so complex, I would love to know how you do it!!! (btw, we don’t have a bread machine, I’m not sure if you are using one or not?)

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  7. nyssanela– we gave them up primarily because of cost. I’m feeding a family of 6, and it’s just not possible when breast halves are $7 a pound. I can get a whole fryer for less than $4, and it works just as well in most cases.I’ll email you my bread recipes… while I have a bread maker, I prefer to do things by hand. And you’re right about cost; our basic weaknesses are breakfast cereals (though we only buy about four kinds because of corn syrup) and crackers. If we could get off of those, it wouldn’t be so bad.

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  8. Michelle –We have the opposite problem here, local, free-range chickens run about $12! We also eat a lot of pork (we are Jewish! but not kosher) because it is cheap. I don’t like beef, so that was never an issue.I would love it if you could send me the bread recipes! My email address is alisiab at mail2world dot com. I wasn’t sure if you still had it.

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  9. Michelle says:

    Do you also do local dairy products? How did you decide, out of all the food choices that you could make, which ones you were really going to follow through on? Free range meat and eggs, only local produce, organic, etc etc? Practically speaking, we will only be able to implement a few things to start with. Any suggestions on how to decide which should be first?

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  10. Mmm, homemade bread!We don’t actually eat much bread, but we sometimes bake our own. Also, our own tortillas. The difference between store tortillas and homemade ones is even more noticeable than the difference between the sawdust bread and the lovely, warm, homemade stuff. Also, what you say about your food being more expensive? Take into account what other people spend on fast food and so forth, and it might not be more expensive after all.

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  11. Michelle — we don’t do local dairy products, mostly because there aren’t really any local dairies. Braums, a somewhat local store, has a dairy herd in Oklahoma, so when we buy milk there we could “count” it, I suppose. No, we decided to do meat and eggs first, partially because that’s what’s available, and partially because we feel that it’s probably the area we can feel the greatest impact. Yeah, I suppose you could say it’s for “animal rights”. I just feel better buying my meat from a person who actually raised the cow, then from a store where I have no idea where it came from. (No, we haven’t visited the farm… yet. I do like knowing, though, that the farmer wouldn’t have any objections to us doing so.) After meat, we do vegetables, but we’re not as diligent with that. Dewey — can I have your tortilla recipe? I’ve been wanting to try to make those for some time, but haven’t wanted to experiment with finding a recipe. If you’ve got one that works… please??

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  12. you’re doing some consciousness-raising for me here. this is not an issue i know much about, let alone care much about. since i love Barbara Kingsolver’s novels, i’ve been thinking about reading <>Animal, Vegetable, Miracle<>. maybe that’ll be a first step …

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