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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Eat Local Challenge

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EatlocallogoA little late to the party, again, silly little me, this one is the Eat Local Challenge organized by Jen. I told her I would participate early on, but got a little side tracked at the beginning of the month when my fridge in the city broke, which made it a little difficult to cook, let alone thinking about the sources of the food I ate. Although deciding to get involved really wasn't that big a deal. David and I go out of our ways to buy and cook with local ingredients anyway. I have been going to the Saturday morning farmers market in San Francisco since it was on the street in front of the old Ferry building many moons ago, and followed when it moved to the parking lot further down the road, to when it returned again to the original location, this time inside the renovated Ferry Plaza where it continues today.

I know buying exclusively local is hardly possible. Self sustaining communities have never really worked: Masada eventually fell, hippie communes in the 60's ended up breeding rebellious yuppies, and Biosphere is now barely more than a glorified Disneyland. Even living here in fertile California, we cannot possibly grow and raise all the things we need. And then there are specialty things that are simply not negotiable, they just cannot be local. This Thai girl will always eat Thai Jasmine rice, always, for example.

But I am still a firm believer in buying local, perhaps not exclusively local, but more local would be good enough for me. I buy local because some things just taste better when they are not shipped across the country, soft, sweet, juicy, tree ripened peaches for example. I buy local because there are superb produce and products local to me that are better than what I can find anywhere else. I buy local because I believe in supporting my community, local farmers, and artisans. I know that being able to make this choice is a privilege, some people are far more concerned with merely keeping their families clothed and fed. But this is a choice I could afford to make, so I did.

I knew I was already doing quite a lot, buying most produce, fruits, and even meats from the farmers market, only going to local Whole Foods or Chinese markets for filler items. But I still wanted to really see how much of them was, in fact, local. So I drew up two lists: one of the things I buy regularly that are certainly local, and the other for the things that either I know not to be local, or perhaps I never paid attention to the provenance at all.

Things I buy regularly that are local:
Greens and fresh herbs from Joe at Dirty Girl, Annabelle at Star Route, Julia at Meriquita or Joseph at White Crane
Fruits from my two farmers market, at the ferry plaza and in downtown Santa Cruz
Milk/Cream: from either Strauss in Marin or Claravale just south of Santa Cruz
Bread: from Ed and Kathleen at Della Fattoria
Local seafood: squids, sardines, abalone, and other seasonal fish from the California coast
Meat: chicken from Mrs. Hoffman, grass fed beef from Marin Sun
Mushroom from Far West Fungi
Olive oil
Vinegar: Sparrow Lane

Things I buy regularly that are not local:
Tea
Coffee: Italian Illy Pods
Jasmine Rice
Chocolate
Orange Juice: Odwalla
Christine Ferber jams
French honey
Charcuterie
Cheese
Wine
Butter: Vermont Cheese Company
Fish: I generally buy whole fish from May Wah on Clement st. I have no idea whether they are local, nor do the fish mongers behind the counter who barely speak English!
Chicken and Beef at Shopper's corner or Whole Foods (local?)
Condiments: Mustard, Cornichons, Harissa, soy sauce, miso, etc.
Olive oil and other oil
Flour
Nuts
Aged Balsamic vinegar
Thai herbs and vegetables
Thai dry ingredients: dried shrimp, shrimp paste, fish and other sauces, noodles, jasmine rice
Other specialty Thai foods
Dried herbs
Nutty Rice cereal

I realized a few things after taking a look at this list. When it comes to fresh foods, I always try to buy directly from farmers at farmers market. On the other hand, for other things, I've been paying more attention to whether it was either organic or sustainably produced than the locality. So, my goal for this Eat Local month is to reconsider the items on my second list, and see how many I could move up to the first one.

In the 10 days so far in this month, I've changed a couple of habits. I no longer use Illy pods that had to be shipped all the way here from Italy. I've switched to locally roasted beans from Blue Bottle at the farmers market or from Los Gatos Roasting Company in Los Gatos. Mind you I had to also buy a proper burr grinder to go with the new choice, but my espresso are better than ever. I'm also buying more Asian ingredients from the Hmong farmers at the Ferry Plaza market as well as at the Soquel market just south of Santa Cruz. I found Kaffir lime leafs from California at Staff of Life in Santa Cruz, so no more going to May Wah to pick up their Mexican ones. I'm also back to using Strauss butter, although I'm secretly hoping that the folks at Claravale will start making butter from their ultra delicious raw milk.

Throughout the month, I will be reporting on the items from my second list that I find equal or even better substitutes locally. Hopefully, by the end of August I would be able to move a bunch of things from the second list up to the top one permanently.

Eat more local!

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