(HOST) Many Vermonters accepted the challenge to spend the month of August eating meals made with food from within 100 miles of home. Commentator Helen Labun Jordan was among them, and now she’s digesting the lessons she learned – as a localvore.
LABUN JORDAN: When I saw the invitations for Vermonters to take a localvore challenge this past August, I thought I was a good candidate. My mother believed so strongly in feeding her family homegrown vegetables that when I started high school and discovered canned peas, I had no idea what they were. I currently have a working knowledge of all the reasons why I ought to eat local. And I’m not afraid to substitute wheatberries for rice. Plus, I have a guilty history of making meals from Diet Coke and peanut butter on a spoon; localvoring seemed like a way to make up for those mistakes.
Of course, eating nothing but local foods goes far beyond substituting mint tea for Diet Coke and applesauce for peanut butter. Among the localvores are people serious about what they eat, happy to get involved in research on the best solar methods for drying fruit, techniques for grinding your own acorn flour, and forays into French-Canadian markets to acquire duck fat. None of which had occurred to me before.
I soon realized that a strict local diet wasn’t something I could leap into gracefully. I should have taken preliminary measures, like learning to can, starting my garden on time or practicing how to bake without any white flour. I should have known the old joke about finding a thousand uses for zucchini wasn’t really a joke. And I should have lined up a few potlucks to help me out.
The way things were, I could handle the safe options of throwing a farmer’s market sampler on the grill or turning it into stew, but beyond that I was over my head with the all-local meals. My specialty was fresh tomato sauce on an inedible pasta replacement followed by a half liquid maple pudding.
There must be localvore self help groups for the gourmet-chal- lenged. Still, after the time required to plan for, then prepare, then clean up after a breakfast, lunch and dinner all made locally from scratch, I’d used up the number of minutes I had available to dedicate to food.
By August 14th, I’d begun to cheat: a little white flour in the pizza dough, some of my favorite dressing on salads, a hint of teriyaki sauce in the stir fry. But even while my eating habits were back-sliding, I kept my eyes open for new local strategies. The end of August came and went and I was still trying to figure out ways to substitute maple syrup for sugar or find one more use for zucchini.
I’ve improved my local food habits. Now, I read the ingredients on prepared foods to see how I might recreate them with local items. I look for simple recipes that are easy to experiment with. I’m participating in local food events to see what other people have done. And I’m thinking year round when I shop, instead of day to day, so I’ll have home-canned green beans, frozen fruit, and other local supplies in less plentiful seasons. I’m putting this year to good use to be sure that next August, I’ll really be ready.
Helen Labun Jordan works at the Vermont Council on Rural Development.