Guest post from Nicole McConvery, from the International Office.
I, admittedly naively, have decided to commit myself to foraging for local food only, over the next 40 days. This was inspired by the realization that almost everything I eat comes from pretty far away; I’d never really pondered that fact until now. Much of this food has seen more of the world than I have, traversing the globe via planes, trains, and automobiles, leaving quite the carbon trail in its wake. I’m not so sure I can continue to consume blindly without committing some cognitive energy, and a little conscientious action, towards making decisions that are a little easier on the planet.
On the eve of my personal challenge, I realized with comical dread that I hadn’t yet purchased anything to feed myself over the next couple of days. (The weekend is a much easier time to visit local farms/farmstands). So, I decided to hit up the local Whole Foods. As I roamed the immaculately kept aisles, my eyes darted up to the tops of every food sign, which mark the origin of each product. I kind of balked at the dearth of local produce; all I could find in the veggie area were a bunch of run-down looking fiddlehead ferns, which don’t sound particularly edible. Ever the crusader of comestibles, I grabbed a modest bunch despite my reservations. We don’t grow carrots here (in MA)? Cucumbers? Lettuce? What’s with that?! — I know that’s not true, but wow, it’s really that much cheaper to ship food from the other side of the planet than to grow some of it here?
I was equally disheartened to find only locally-made apple cider available in the fruit aisle. Everything that I would normally gravitate towards seemed to come from California (note to self). That set the tone for my purposeful ambling; I didn’t come across much that would fulfill the constraints of my personal challenge and still provide for my dietary restrictions, but what I did find fit the bill for the next few days: locally made hummus, wraps, eggs, cheese, and those crazy ferns.
My inner monologue was pretty amusing as I examined packaging and started to question everything when I realized food distributors are not necessarily where the food/ingredients originate. I kept arguing with myself about how I was defining “local.” Whole Foods seemed to define it as MA, NH, VT, and ME. That’s fine with me. I was astonished, though, to see that the local products often cost significantly more than their from-far-away counterparts. I decided to keep pushing the issue with myself, and widened my “local” net to include CT and NY, only if I had to. At least the pricing forced me to keep asking myself do I really need this?
However, I needed to be honest about any exceptions I had to make with this challenge (so far): soy/tofu, spices (that I already have in my kitchen), and rice (though I will try to cut back). I am really reliant on soy as I don’t eat much meat; luckily local fish isn’t too hard to come by. I can’t stand milk but I am big on yogurt and cheese; thankfully Cabot and Stonyfield fall within my regional constraints. Fruit juice I can do without (I tend towards water anyways). I don’t drink coffee (don’t look at me that way!), but sometimes tea. And spices! For me, essential. But what about all that wonderful ethnic food I love to eat? By default, most of it breaches my personal contract. How long can I go without kimchi, soba, wakame, curry, boba? Time will tell.
I have to be completely forthcoming about one particular fact: I will need to break out the Asian sauces every so often. To that end, I’m grateful for the discovery of Chef Myron’s delicious, locally made ponzu and szechuan. The need for these flavors does call into question the origin of ingredients in some of these locally made products; though the sauces are assembled here in MA, I know full-well that sake and cane juice are not indigenous to this part of the country (correct me if I’m wrong?). I’ve decided to not torture myself too much about this and will evaluate items on a case-by-case basis.
Next up: getting set up with a Boston Organics account. Whole Foods will work in a pinch (sort of), but if I’m really going to succeed with this challenge, I’ll need to dig deeper.