Thursday, January 05, 2006

Eat Like You Live Here: January

As promised, I'm issuing a formal -- but fun! -- challenge to all my Dear Readers.

In the interest of spreading the awareness about local foods, I'd like to start Eat Like You Live Here: A Year of Local Eating, with monthly "challenges" that I hope will help us all look a little more closely at the food we put on our tables as well as encourage our friends, neighbors, and local businesses to support local foods, too.

(And yes, if the phrase sounds familiar, the title of the challenge comes from the theme of my local farmers' market. It think it sums up the whole idea beautifully!)

I know, a year is a long time, but don't worry! The idea here is not to expect that absolutely everything you eat from day one will be local, though I hope many of you will consider it an eventual (if not fully attainable) goal. We'll start small and explore the many ways that you can find and support local food producers.

Since January is a traditional time for looking back at what we've learned and looking ahead to the future, this month's challenges will build on what we've all learned so far about local foods and get us ready for more active support later on:

1. Educate yourself on why local foods are better than those trucked or flown in from across the country or the globe. I've certainly written a great deal on the subject here on this site, but don't just take my word for it. Visit some of the sites listed on the right or mentioned earlier this week to understand what your food truly costs and why eating locally is better for the environment, for local business, for local communities, for the economy, and, yes, even for national security.

2. Share what you learn with others. Talk about how local food production fits into issues of sustainability or reviving local economies. You may find other people who are interested in learning more... or who have more information to share.

3. Start looking at what local foods are available. It's definitely the "off" season for us here in Northeast Ohio, so finding fresh local produce is tricky. Talk to your local grocer and explain your interest in eating locally-produced foods. See what they can find. After all, they're in the business of meeting customer demand.

4. If you're having a tough time finding local produce right now, don't forget to check the labels on the boxes, cans, jars, and bags of food you find on the shelves elsewhere in the store. You may be pleasantly surprised to find a number of products that come from your region. (Here's a hint: try this especially at smaller, locally-owned groceries instead of the big chains, and look at the "house" or lesser-known brands.)

5. Vote with your wallet! Purchase and sample something new that is local to you. And hey, if it's good, tell people about it!

Do you have to meet every one of these challenges? No, of course not. I'm not going to track you down and grade you on your progress. These are just ideas to get you started, and if you have other ideas, I invite you to leave comments.

I'll return to the challenge at the end of the month and let you know what I've discovered, and I hope many of you will chime in with what you've learned, too. The more we share this information and these ideas, the more positive impact we'll have in encouraging local food producers.

Of course, this challenge will also have a positive impact on our individual lives, and I hope you'll be interested in sharing some of your stories along the way. Just in starting my gradual shift toward more local foods last year, I found that my eating habits had changed: I no longer ate so much, I enjoyed more fresh vegetables, I used fewer refined ingredients, and my meals became more balanced. On top of that, I built some good connections with farmers at the market and with local merchants. Will the same happen for you? I offer no guarantees, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the improved quality of living you'll enjoy!

So let's start the New Year right: look around and start learning even more about your area and the surprising bounty it provides. And as you learn, share with others. Tell them what you're doing and why. You'll be able to make it sound so irresistible that they'll want to know more.

After all, it's a joy to Eat Like You Live Here.

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