As a foodie, I am well-versed in the notion of being a localvore, and of buying food with an eye on sustainability. I have read Michael Pollan, Russ Parsons and Barbara Kingsolver, and been moved and excited by the notion that it is more natural, healthier and better for the earth if I buy what is local and in season. Not to mention the fact that things taste best when they are fresh.
In reality, I live in a climate where produce is grown and sold during only parts of the year. Starting in late spring I can buy local asparagus and some local onions; by July I can find zucchini, sweet peppers, hot peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, onions, eggplant, green beans, cucumbers, carrots, berries, melons and eventually apples, squash and corn at my local farmer’s market. One of the farmers sells eggs and butter from his farm, another sells honey, and still another brings free-range chickens and locally produced sausage. From July until October, my house is full of all that is fresh, local and good, my kid eats cherry tomatoes like candy, and I experiment madly with vegetables I have never seen before like garlic scapes and tiny Hmong peppers.
This year, I have promised myself that I will learn to preserve and can, so that we will have some of this freshness throughout the dark months from November to June. I plan to put up pickles (bread and butter and dill), salsa, homemade tomato sauce, green beans, peaches and pickled watermelon rind, and to freeze berries. I will make vats of applesauce, jars of pumpkin butter and jars of strawberry freezer jam, and feel that I have built us a hedge against months of eating nothing but flavorless produce bred for travel and shipped from points south.
In reality, though, I lack the the funds and the time to be a true localvore. I can’t afford to buy gently raised beef, pork or chicken from local farmers all year round, and I cannot find a source for locally produced butter and eggs after the end of farmer’s market season. I try not to buy things at the grocery store that are clearly out of season (rubber tomatoes and strawberries in January), but I do buy things that would never grow here, anyway – bananas, pineapple, mangoes, kiwi and citrus fruits, to name a few. I shoot for organic, but we need to eat fruits and vegetables, and sometimes (she said, skulking away to hide) I end up with a mid-winter refrigerator stocked with Florida oranges, Washington apples and greens from God only knows where. I try to be imaginative about using more root vegetables, pastas and grains as the bases for fall and winter meals, but sometimes I am slammed by life and I just have to buy a bag of frozen vegetables and throw something together. I would love to grow my own lettuce, garlic, onions, peas and other vegetables in the spring and summer, but I live in a big house on a small lot, there is no community garden space near here, and I am limited to what I can grow in pots that I have to move around during the day so that they get enough sun.
I am trying to reduce my carbon footprint. I am switching to the good swirly bulbs, walking more and driving less, and taking my own bags to the grocery store. I will do all that I can to make changes relative to our consumption of food that will contribute to preserving Mother Earth, but sometimes I wish that it was easier for everyone to have affordable access to what is fresh and in season in the place where they live, and to know how to prepare it so that its as delicious as things that come in cans, poly-wrap and freezer bags from across the country. Time and big grocery budgets are luxuries for many, and it seems like if this change is something we all really want to accomplish, we should be thinking about making it possible for more people to eat locally and sustainably. Just my two cents.