The challenge: Eat only foods grown or processed in North and South Carolina for one week. The results (at least for Edgy Mama): hunger, a broken budget, but unassailable “locavore” cred.
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association threw down the gauntlet, and more than 100 folks from throughout the Carolinas participated in the inaugural “Eat Carolina Food Challenge,” which ran from Monday, July 7, to Sunday, July 13. I picked up the CFSA’s glove and ate 21 local meals. It wasn’t easy.
I initially tried to include the fam in the challenge. Enviro-spouse gave up at meal number two. When he realized that we had perfectly speckled bananas, he decided not composting produce from Ecuador was more important than eating only local. He also was on the road for much of the week, which makes locavoring nearly impossible. Airports just don’t offer local-food options.
I knew the kids would be difficult to bring into the locavore fold, particularly given their limited food choices. I couldn’t find locally made ketchup, though I hear there may be some available at farmers’ markets later in the summer. Also, my kids’ primary veggie/fruits are baby carrots, bananas and grapes, all of which I buy organic and none of which are grown in the Carolinas. I did buy some small Farmers’-Market carrots and peeled them to resemble baby carrots, which worked OK. But the fresh carrots just don’t have the slimy consistency that my kids think is the provenance of long-term refrigerated carrots.
For me, the most daunting challenge was cooking for the kids and not eating what I was cooking. I also missed two of my favorite foods: popcorn and avocados. My biggest regret about living in WNC is the lack of avocado trees.
I learned that to be a good locavore, you must plan ahead. I’m not much of a planner when it comes to meals. Enviro-spouse literally starts thinking about his next meal the second he finishes the previous one, which I find downright weird. It drives him nuts that I rarely know what’s for dinner until I look in the fridge around 5:30. But the challenge forced me to plan ahead. I hit the Farmers’ Market three times in one week. And I overspent, because I was terrified of running out of food.
Which brings me to the hunger part. Finding local victuals on the run is difficult. There are a number of Asheville restaurants that highlight local foods, some at least in part—Bar 100, The Marketplace, Sugo, Tupelo Honey, Early Girl and Green Sage to name a few—but I didn’t have time for a sit-down meal. I’ve since learned that the French Broad Food Co-op has sandwich wraps featuring Carolina Bison, among other delicacies. One day, after not eating for seven hours, I was shaking from lack of blood sugar as I ripped open a package of Carolina Trout Salmon and started wolfing down half a smoked fish.
I also learned that it can be expensive to go local. The price per ounce of locally grown or processed food can be many times more than that of foods shipped thousands of miles away. Which makes no sense to me, except to hope that our local farmers make a living wage, as opposed to the child farmers in Argentina who must be surviving on pennies a day.
Luckily, we have a garden that supplied cherry tomatoes, cukes, basil and lots of zucchini. I also have some lovely friends who brought me produce from their gardens. I love you guys, but please, please, no more squash. If I have to chop, shred or sautée another squash, I may go rip up our garden and give the beds over to crabgrass.
While the garden veggies were great (except for the squash overdose), and I’m sure CFSA planned the challenge for this time of year for that very reason, I have high-protein needs. Thank goodness for Hickory Nut Gap Meats and the above-mentioned local fish. Ironically, I ate more red meat during the challenge than I’ve probably consumed in the past year. And the swine was divine. I took to putting sausage patties smothered in goat cheese on top of my salads. Which goes to prove that even on a mostly veggie diet, I can find a way to gain weight.
Overall, the challenge was a great experience. It increased my awareness of where my food comes from and showed me how important it is to support folks raising food in my area of the world.
Now, however, I’m going out to roll around in a vat of guacamole.