by Jennifer BB
By now I shouldn’t be surprised by how often conversations about food come up with perfect strangers—but when the focus is on eating fresh and local, I’m still taken aback. This happened most recently at a book signing for Lidia Bastianich’s new book (Lidia’s Italy). Even though this was a cookbook event I never presume that folks are interested in the issues around eating locally. I found myself on line for an hour sandwiched between someone who was just learning how to cook and another who was trying to figure out how to eat well with diabetes. Without engineering it (I promise!) the conversation turned to eating locally on a budget.
Here’s what got the conversation started: the woman with diabetes lamented that it was cheaper to buy a few bags of potato chips than it was to purchase fresh green peppers (local or otherwise). She noted that given the pressures on her budget it was a better bet to buy the potato chips with the little nutritional value they offered than to buy the peppers. It took me a while to find the words to respond.
Here in upstate Central New York the Penny-wise Eat Local Local Challenge is not so much a challenge as a daily reality. While cities like Syracuse, where I live, are showing renewed signs of life and vitality, most of this area is made up of small towns, industrial cities whose heydays are long behind them, and rural farming lands. To many folks even the national guidelines upon which our Penny-wise Eat Local Challenge is based seems extravagant.
We find ourselves in an interesting place—a bit betwixt and between. In our area of the state we are surrounded by farmers producing wonderful fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meats—sustainably raised and conventional. We can all eat locally (much more easily done spring through fall than winter I’ll admit) and could probably even do it on a budget but the information gap that needs to be closed and the consciousness that needs to be raised are both big stumbling blocks. As many of you who read this blog regularly realize, if we were to reclaim some of the old traditions around putting food up, and making menus that can be transformed into several meals then it might be easier to make the case to someone that buying two green peppers is in the long run a better economic and more healthful choice that a few bags of Lay’s potato chips.
It will be interesting to see how those of us in this area will experience next week’s Penny-wise Eat Local Challenge. There are still several inches of snow on the ground. But local hydroponic lettuces are available, storage onions, squashes, red meats, milk, yogurts and cheese are all in plentiful supply—chicken lovers will have to wait a while yet if you want that pasture-raised bird.
Beyond next week’s Challenge I think the task at hand is more conversations like the one I had at the bookstore. Honest conversations without judgment that seek to simply share why we eat the way we eat is one of the essential pieces of transforming the human community and our planet toward health, sustainability, and great tasting food.