Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Experiment

I've done a lot of reading over the years - primarily on health, fitness, the environment, and simplifying life. In the last 18 months, it seemed I kept running across blogs, news articles, and books all talking about local diets. In Canada, a couple started the 100-mile diet going so far as to not even eat bread until they could find a local source of wheat - literally nothing came from outside 100 miles. Next, there is No Impact Man in NYC who through a series of phases took his family on a one-year experiment that included only local sources of food (it also included turning off the electricity during the final stage - how brave is that?!) Then there is Barbara Kingslover who moved with her family from Arizona to a Virginia farm and for one full year ate locally, most of which was produced off their own land (they produced almost all their own veggies, made their own bread, raised and processed their own chickens and turkeys, etc).

Day after day after day, I read articles detailing the amazing and wonderful changes brought about in these individuals lives as a result of their experiments. Then take into account the lives these individuals both touched and changed through their writings, many of whom started experiments of their own, making changes here and there to better their health, to simplify their lives, to help the environment, and so on.

Amazing though it sounded, it just wasn't for me. For goodness sake, 1) it would most likely involve cooking (no way!) and 2) it would most likely involve driving (who needs to drive when I can walk to the grocery and get everything I need with a simple 5 minute stroll, thank you!)

Well, the more I read, the more I felt a challenge coming. "Hmm. I can do that too, if I wanted to, right?" So one Saturday morning in early summer of last year, I got up out of bed, hopped on my bicycle (it turns out riding your bike in town is WAY more of an adventure than eating locally - he he) and peddled to the farmers market to check things out. Wow! There were fruits and veggies and eggs; honey, and jelly, and crafts. So I picked up a few things and thoroughly enjoyed them. I returned, perhaps once a month, but it wasn't for another 4 months that I took the big leap. In October, I made the decision to eat local - for ONE WEEK and ONLY veggies (imagine ominous music in the back ground). Ok, that sounds kinda wimpy, but I'm used to buying carrots "in season" all year round at the grocery. What can I say?

So no carrots in October, but it turns out the veggies I did pick up were wonderful after a few minutes in my little steamer with very little "cooking" and clean up time. Not so bad. One week turned into a month; one month turned into two. The small basket on the back of my bike ended up being too small to carry all my purchases and had to be replaced by a large rubbermaid container which has been bungee-corded to the back of my bike (I'm now affectionately known at the farmers market as "the bike lady"). By December, I had completely stopped eating out at lunchtime and was packing a small bag each day. I had also expanded the experiment to include only local eggs, honey, bread, jams and jellies, and nuts. Who could shop at the grocery (whose food now tasted like cardboard) when you could get food picked the day before I buy it and that just melts in your mouth! YUM!

Now, remember the bit about me not driving? The difference in quality and taste of food at the farmers market vs. the grocery is SO great, that in December, I would get up early on Saturday morning, add layers of warm clothes (thermal socks, gloves, coat, scarf, ear plugs, etc) pedal on my bicycle down to the farmers market in 30 degree weather and wind to buy food. By the time I got there, I couldn't feel my legs, but it was worth EVERY minute! There was no way I could go back to the grocery. The experiment continued.

The new veggie choices each week were inspiring. With cabbage, potatoes and onions, I taught myself how to make cabbage soup that is 100 times tastier than any soup you could ever find in a can. I ate my first brussle sprouts - and LOVED them. I tried my first chard, and kale, and collard greens. The experiment had turned into an expression of myself as I creatively put meals together each week (Hmm....what do you suppose I can do with that????) It was fun and adventurous and re-connected me with food in a way I never knew.

By February, I was so thrilled with the results of the experiment, I decided to expand it yet again. I did a little research to find out about storing and freezing fruits, making my own bread and jams, starting a garden and sought out sources of dairy products in the area. As of today, I am indeed making all my own bread and eating only local fruits (I plan to buy everything I can get my hands on this summer to freeze for the long winter months). And at lunch with a friend, I found out about a local farm that supplies milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, as well as beef, lamb, and chicken (Sand Creek Farm and Dairy).

The last six months has been a wonderful learning experience for me as well as a culinary adventure. I may not have done it like the others who jumped in all at once - I took slow steps and as each step got easier, I took another - but I have made some wonderful life-long changes.

I'm not here to tell you what to do. These experiments aren't meant to say "you have to do this" or "you have to do that." This is about discovery; this is about having a relationship with our bodies and our food; this is about sharing ideas. Just because something works for me doesn't mean it will work for you.

The point is to THINK about it. Think about where your food comes from. Think about how the choices you make affect the local economy, affect your health, and affect your relationship with food.

Take one small step. Get a good feel for it. Then maybe take another small step. It's an adventure; its' fun; and it's rewarding in ways you could have never imagined.

1 comment:

Beany said...

This was very inspirational...especially considering that I got really wimpy toward the end of Jan this year to get on my bike.