Edgy Mama: Eat local, go hungry?

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.

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14 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Eat local, go hungry?

  1. Summer

    I was slightly amused when I read this. I eat, nearly 90% local every week. My local market, where I work, eat and sometimes play, is my primary food source. I’ve been to the grocery store to pick up cat food, toilet paper, and ice cream (something which will change, as I’m acquiring illegal milk next week from a SC dairy).

    But then, I am one person. I gave up the avacados. You know girl how much I love the guac myself – especially yours. Banana’s I amazingly don’t miss (I so thought I would). Our farmer’s market isn’t more expensive then the california grown organics at the store, and I save money not having to go to it very often. I come by local, pasture raised pork, chicken, beef and ostrich too… so I’m maybe luckier then most.

    I can see how it’d be super hard to just switch over to local from a normal “non-local” eating pattern, but as I’ve moved slowly to almost all local, I’ve found I don’t miss much.

    That said – last week I went to this new locally owned Salad place called Crisp on 7th. (If I can’t eat local food, I frequent locally owned restaurants – this is my compromise with reality.) I got a Cobb Salad just for the avacado and I made sure to get every.single.bite. MMMMMM

    Enjoy the guacamole for me girl. I’m with you in spirit.

  2. Nate Dawg

    Hilarious article, Edgy Mama. I live in California, so it would probably be pretty easy for me to eat local. Next time I come your way, I can stash some avocados in my luggage so you can pretend it wasn’t specially imported! Thanks for your weekly articles. I miss Asheville and love keeping up with what you, e-spouse and your Edgy kids are doing in that neck of the woods.

  3. Summer, you go, girl!

    I thought, before the Challenge, that I ate more local foods than I actually do. I’m good in the organic department, but probably only about 25% local, consistently. But that percentage is increasing!

    Maybe I can plant an avocado tree? Has anyone had any success with one in the area?

  4. Summer-90 percent? Can you elaborate on that for those of us who are skeptical? That seems like quite a feat.

    You dont eat any rice, wheat, beans etc?

    90% of your diet is local, in season fruits and veggies?

    I did a 100 mile diet for 1 year, and it was incredibly challenging. I would say I succeeded in maybe 50%, which felt pretty good. Lots of fruits and veggies, of course, even some nuts and milk, meat, etc. But I also eat a good deal of grains and beans, which I was never able to source that close. Plus cooking oils, salt, green tea, etc.

    There are varieties of avocados grown in northern Florida that are good, and that have the potentail to be bred to come even further north. N. Florida is much closer than mexico and So.Cal.

  5. Posnideus,
    Locally grown or processed foods I discovered that may answer some of your needs: Carolina Plantation Rice (I’ve asked if Green Life will stock this), Celtic Sea Salt, Theros Olive Oil, and Sunny Creek Farm black-eye peas. I think, there also are a couple mills, at least in S.C., that mill grains. Check out the CFSA website: http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/. I find it really helpful.

    I’ll have to try those Floridian avocadoes!

  6. Summer

    Yup. I know, it’s crazy. Perhaps 90% is a little high, but I’d say it’s at least 80%.

    I eat very little bread (which I get locally, from a baker who gets their wheat from somewhere near the NC/SC border). Rice I get at the grocer, and I try to come by it local or skip it. I don’t eat a lot of carbs from grains.

    Potatoes, squash, tomatoes, onion, salad (grown locally, in a small green house, one of the farmers at the market gives me just enough to get a couple days of greens in my diet each week), eggs, pork, chicken, ostrich (local farm in davidson), and garlic are all local.

    Salt, pepper, and herbed olive oil (made with local herbs and produced by a local artisan blender) are my major “distant” things.

    I am getting milk from within a 100 mile radius. I pay for it in SC via paypal and then have it delivered by a friend who is in the co-op with me.

    All my herbs are locally grown, or I just don’t use them. Ice cream will soon become local, as I’ll be getting cream from the dairy. All my fruits – peaches, blueberries, strawberries, etc. are locally grown as well.

    My tea is my big non-local splurge – though I take pains to make sure it’s sustainably grown. This is my business, so it’s something I’m very worried about. I blend with local herbs and spices as much as possible as well.

    My diet might seem repetitive to people who aren’t eating it – but between the local market (where all veggies and fruit must be locally grown, by the seller or family) and careful selection I don’t have to go to the grocery often. I eat maybe 1 meal max, out a week, and I select a local establishment that honors local and/or sustainable food. When I can not buy a locally produced product, I buy from a local owner. My clothes aren’t local, but they’re procured from small shops/botiques or thrift stores, artisans, or I sew them myself.

    To prove it’s possible to eat local three meals a day:

    Breakfast: a hash made with potatoes, squash, garlic, eggs and tomato fried in butter. I sometimes add local grown, pasture finished bacon or chirizo to toss in. With a cup of tea (I DO use local Charlotte Tap water).

    Lunch: That local bread with tomatoes. BLT, tomato sandwich, or if I’m going crazy – a grilled cheese. (I am starting to make my own cheeses next week, but I get mine locally from a small producer). Maybe roasted veggies and goat cheese (local goat farmer who makes her own – I get wild mushrooms from her too).

    Snack – fruit, juice, smoothie, etc.

    Dinner – chops, ostrich burger, chicken, mashed/roasted potatoes and squash, slices tomato (from my garden when possible). I use my herbs as much as possible.

    All sorts of things. I haven’t bought veggies or produce from a grocery since early May. I haven’t eaten anything out of a box in so long I can’t remember.

    It’s a choice I made, and just didn’t tell anyone. I don’t think it’s a big deal, I’m just quietly living my ideal. Eat locally from farmers who’s names I know, who can point to the plant/animal my food came from, who know how it was grown, or know intimately the person who grew it/worked it/produced it.

    Charlotte is a metropolis, but we have access to SC and NC growing seasons, food from up in the cooler mountains and warmer climes (like here right now). I eat with the season. I am canning and freezing as much as I can (my freezer is literally bursting as we speak) so that I can eat local as far into the winter as humanly possible.

    Maybe I should blog or write about it. But mostly I just want to eat good food, that good for my body. I have health issues and switching to local as much as humanly possible, I’ve alleviated almost all my allergies.

    Oh! And for sweetener – I use locally grown Stevia and honey from local bees that actually fly here in Charlotte’s SW side (Dilworth, Myers Park, Elizabeth).

    If you have any specific questions, let me know. I’ll be happy to answer them. :) I have a happy, rich, seasonal diet. I literally eat from Tuesday Market to Saturday Market, then start over again. It’s wonderful. I’ve never been so intimate with my food chain or happier with my food choices.

  7. posnideus

    edgy-

    I think some folks might be mistaking “locally produced” or “Packaged” as Local.

    Your link couldn’t find me any sea salt. maybe i did something wrong.

    The olive oil is bottled in Carolina (!), but is still shipped from Italy.

    i looked up that rice. 5 bucks a pound is a little steep for my budget at the moment.

    I dont mean to come across as that (po)snide(us). I just think some folks might think they are eating local just because they purchased it from a local producer.

    My own experience has been that there are a LOT of food items available that are local, but for the majority of us, it is still very difficult to find the right avenues to purchase them through.

    Even if I eat all in-season, local produce and gather all my own fruit, nuts, acorns (YUM!), etc, I am still buying another 50% of my food from sources well outside my bio-region.

    Of course, things have improved greatly in the past decade. And articles like yours are sure to make an impact.

    -David

  8. You eat acorns, David? Raw, roasted, in a stew? Tell me how!

    Yes, it’s a struggle to eat as local as possible, but a worthwhile one. As I mentioned, I’m lucky to hit 25%, so 50% seems impressive, indeed.

    And the Carolina Plantation rice is expensive, but delicious.

  9. david

    oh yeah. Acorns are great. And FULL of protein and high quality fats. One of the best non-animal sources for the Fall fat build-up. White Oak Acorns, I believe, are the ones i like the most. They are the sweetest, with the least amount of bitter tannins. Experiment on your own. None are poisonous. Some are just really, really bitter.

    They are good raw, or whole in soup, just a handful for a big fall soup, with butternut squash and beans and rice and whatnot. I’ve made flour and whatnot a few times, but it’s a pain. Honestly, I prefer them raw. Kind of like an almond, with a subtle hint of vanilla, although most folks who arent really hungry and are used to McFood might disagree.

    I got 10 gallons of acorns from my neighborhood park the year i did the 100-mile (2003). I finished them up by spring.

    -David

  10. edgy-

    White Oak Acorns are the sweetest, without many tannins. They are good raw, or in a fall-themed soup. Maybe a handful for a large pot of soup.

  11. Summer

    I left a big ol’ long comment that must have gotten eaten.

    Yup. I know, it’s crazy. Perhaps 90% is a little high, but I’d say it’s at least 80%.

    I eat very little bread (which I get locally, from a baker who gets their wheat from somewhere near the NC/SC border). Rice I get at the grocer, and I try to come by it local or skip it. I don’t eat a lot of carbs from grains.

    Potatoes, squash, tomatoes, onion, salad (grown locally, in a small green house, one of the farmers at the market gives me just enough to get a couple days of greens in my diet each week), eggs, pork, chicken, ostrich (local farm in davidson), and garlic are all local.

    Salt, pepper, and herbed olive oil (made with local herbs and produced by a local artisan blender) are my major “distant” things.

    I am getting milk from within a 100 mile radius. I pay for it in SC via paypal and then have it delivered by a friend who is in the co-op with me.

    All my herbs are locally grown, or I just don’t use them. Ice cream will soon become local, as I’ll be getting cream from the dairy. All my fruits – peaches, blueberries, strawberries, etc. are locally grown as well.

    My tea is my big non-local splurge – though I take pains to make sure it’s sustainably grown. This is my business, so it’s something I’m very worried about. I blend with local herbs and spices as much as possible as well.

    My diet might seem repetitive to people who aren’t eating it – but between the local market (where all veggies and fruit must be locally grown, by the seller or family) and careful selection I don’t have to go to the grocery often. I eat maybe 1 meal max, out a week, and I select a local establishment that honors local and/or sustainable food. When I can not buy a locally produced product, I buy from a local owner.

  12. Summer

    Oops – and of course, there it is! Bah. anyway – any questions, you let me know!

  13. Eleanor

    I have been trying to eat local this summer and have gotten to the 60% mark (which is pretty good for a college budget). We are lucky that we have a CSA share (an easy way to get lots of veggies for a week) and a grain co-op that also sells chickens. I think the hardest part about eating local is finding all the places to buy food locally. However, after you know where to go, it becomes a lot easier.

    Good luck!

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