I've been changing my mind about how far to go with this Eat Local Challenge. My first inclination was to go 100% local for a whole month. Luckily, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so it wouldn't be impossible, just a challenge, as the name promises.
I started thinking about what this commitment would mean for my life. I took stock of everything I eat that would be out for the month of May. Coffee, tea, sugar, salt, spices, chocolate, tropical nuts, tortilla chips, soy products, and so on.
In preparation, I started stuffing my face with all the things I knew I wouldn't get to have later. I didn't feel a bit guilty about polishing off the rest of that ice cream (with vanilla from Madagascar? and sugar from Hawaii? just a guess), or the peanut butter (Mexico?). My fridge was full of forbidden items: Parmesan, salad dressing, beer, even the jam made from local organic strawberries would be out.
Then I thought to myself...wait...why would I want to deprive myself of the pleasure of good food? Am I pathological? I realized I was missing a subtle but very important point:
The Eat Local Challenge is not about what I can't eat. It's about what I CAN eat. It's about celebrating all of the amazing things that can be grown right here in my foodshed. By not eating the sugar, the white flour, the caffeine, etc., I hope to get a closer look at my local abundance and become truly native to this place. Have you ever been to the desert? When I went to the Anza-Borrego desert in Southern California, my first thought was "there's nothing here!" It took me a day of settling in and listening before I realized that the place was actually abuzz with life. It was just a quieter, more sparse life than what my urban senses were accustomed to. I'm hoping that, once my blood sugar quiets down and all this Peruvian and Chinese caffeine is out of my system, I might gain a new appreciation for the food that's produced right here.
My work hours are dedicated to inspiring others to eat fresh, local, sustainably grown food. I figured it was only fair for me to do the same. To investigate where my food is coming from--all of it. To seek more local sources of food. To support my agricultural heroes. To reduce the amount of petroleum consumed on my behalf. To be grateful for what's growing right here in my metaphorical backyard. And to walk the walk, or eat my talk, so to speak. My diet is probably about half local already (it's not so hard when you work at one of the world's most amazing farmers' markets), but the non-local half of my diet is by far the most difficult to change.
So, here's how I'm taking on the challenge. I'm going to try to eat 100% local for the first week, except for food that's offered to me socially. Then I'm going to see. I have no idea how easy or difficult this will be. I might adjust my rules for the rest of the month to include a few non-local things. Who knows, I may change the rules sooner, or keep the rules beyond May. I'm doing this for myself, after all. As long as I'm learning, living well, and loving my local food, I'm winning the challenge.
Julie Cummins lives in Oakland, California and is the Director of Education for CUESA, the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture.