A carnivore eats meat. An omnivore eats just about anything. A “locavore” tries to eat only food produced nearby. The term was coined by four women who challenged fellow San Francisco residents to try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100 mile radius. Since then, some locavores have extended that radius to 250 miles in order to increase diversity in their diet. Any way you slice it, it is less than the 1500 miles that the average food item travels from the farm to your table (Source: NY Times.) Of course, it is a bit more challenging to be a locavore when you live in an area with a short growing season, but the benefits are the same.
Recent scares about tainted food (melamine, salmonella, etc.) have increased interest in where products come from. There are many local sources for fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat, along with organic food, crops grown without pesticides or hormones, and free-ranging/grass fed meats. Check out www.buyctgrown.com.
Fresh food from your own garden or a farmers market is tastier. For example, varieties of tomatoes bred to have thick, rubbery skins to survive mechanical harvesting and long distance transportation often sacrifice flavor for durability. Getting produce quickly after harvest means better quality. In a single day at 85 degrees F, sixty percent of the sugar in some super sweet corn varieties may be converted to starch if it is not iced down (Source: USDA Ag Handbook #66.) Try corn from the stand near the Woodstock Fairgrounds or Morse Farms and you will taste what that means.
When you buy locally, you are buying from your neighbor. At a farmers market you can connect a face with your food. Supporting local businesses is good for the local economy. It helps farms stay in business. That means we all get to continue to share the beauty of open space and barns on those farms.
Two local restaurants make a real effort to serve locally produced food – the Still River Café in Eastford, and The Mansion at Bald Hill in Woodstock, CT. These restaurants have created markets for small, home-based or family businesses versus farm factories. This provides some extra income to families, which is especially needed in hard times. It also harks back to the WWII era when Victory Gardens were planted at private homes to reduce pressure on the public food supply. Depending on the time of year, over 50% o the produce on the menu at The Mansion comes from local farmers and folks with large home gardens. Scott Plantier, their executive chef, was born and raised in Putnam. One of the biggest reasons he likes to use local food is community connections – he sees it as people helping each other.
The owners of the Still River Café focus on growing and serving food grown locally in an environmentally friendly manner. They grow as much as they can in their own pesticide-free garden and a solar-heated greenhouse, and procure the rest locally. Shipping food long distances requires a lot of fuel for transportation. “We don’t want to buy plane tickets for our tomatoes,” says Kara Brooks, owner and executive chef. They see this approach as “a small step in the right direction for our planet.”
The biggest challenges of living as a locavore are probably time and cost. Farmers markets are held at set times, so you cannot just run to the grocery store on a whim. You may have to go to multiple places to get what you need. You may also pay a little more, and may need to pay cash. There are some items that cannot be obtained locally, like rice, citrus or salmon.
“You have to work pretty hard to find reliable sources of meat, eggs and chicken in volume,” says Brooks. “You also have to be flexible about menus as seasons change. On the other hand, you are eating food at its peak, when it is at its very best,” notes Brooks. Plantier enjoys the challenge of varying their menu (which changes with each season) to accommodate what is available. However, he notes that it does take a bit more time, since the chef has to do things backwards. Most chefs plan a menu and then call a one-stop shopping food distributor. Instead, Plantier first has to find out what is available, and then create the menu, and may have to make three or four different phone calls along the way.
You do not have to be a purist about this. Reva Seybolt of Woodstock was inspired to try living as a locavore after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver. Reva says “I’ve made a commitment to eat local as best I can – with emphasis on ‘as best I can.’ I go to the Farmer’s Market weekly (she also sells duck eggs there.) It means I need to think about cold days when it’s really hot, and freeze or can some foods. But it feels wonderful. And it’s not just about the food- it’s about putting my money where my mouth is.”
Scott Plantier of The Mansion at Bald Hill notes that increased interest is creating supply, as more people start to see the benefits of using local products. More small farms are catering to their neighbors through Farmer’s Markets, farm stands and participation in food coops. Plantier expects supplies to improve and become steadier in time as a result. Check out:
www.buyctgrown.com lists sources of cheese, herbs, Christmas Trees, lobster, fruit, etc. Enter the product you seek and you'll get a map of locations within a certain radius of your home. Also lists food-related events, descriptions of family farms, and recipes.
MOVIES: Foodies who are also movie buffs might enjoy these three films: Eat Drink Man Woman (Chinese film by Ang Lee); Bella Marta (German version – skip the American remake); and Big Night.
BOOKS: (see links below)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (Harper Collins) recounts her family’s adventures during the year they spent eating food raised in their corner of southwest Virginia.
“Coming Home to Eat” by Gary Paul Nabhan
“Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection” by Jessica Prentice, who coined the word locavore and founded the Web site locavores.com.
“Deep Economy,” (Times Books) Bill McKibben writes that the number of farmers’ markets has increased from 340 in 1970 to 3,700 in 2004.
The Winter-Harvest Manual: Farming the Back Side of the Calendar, by Eliot Coleman
Locavore was the Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year in 2007.
Notes and Updates:
When you buy prepared food you pay for both labor, materials and packaging. When you prepare and cook food yourself, you're only paying for the ingredients, so you can save on costs.
Consumer Reports recommends "Buy local whenever possible. That's no guarantee of safety, but if produce is shipped over a long distance, there's more time for a bacterium such as salmonella to grow." Each year, 76 million people in the U.S. are sickened by food-borne illness; 5,000 die according to estimates from the CDC.