I like the concept of “eating local”. How many of you read the book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver? Show of hands, please!
How many of you then wanted to live an entire year eating only food produced in your local bio-region? (OK, you could choose one item from a far-away port. Like coffee. Or wine from Italy. Or chocolate from an African cacao tree. Or turmeric from India. But only one item, mind you! Let’s not get greedy!)
Here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula it would be easy to eat local in, say, July, August and maybe September. If you like dandelion greens and wild mushrooms, perhaps we could extend the nutrition for a month or more on each end.
But, what, I pray ask, would a local eater munch from November to April? How would we sustain ourselves? How would we mostly vegetarians sustain ourselves?
Yes, yes, yes. You are pointing to the freezer. You are nodding your head toward the canned goods in the basement. “Eat those,” you say.
“But,” I counter, “I don’t really like frozen or canned foods that much. I like the nutrition brimming in fresh lettuce, slender orange carrots, bright green kale, exquisitely fresh red cabbage, hearty brown mushrooms, leafy green stalks of celery…”
“Eat your canned tomatoes and Dilly Beans,” you say. “Don’t you get it? Your tomatoes and beans are local. They grew in your nice organic garden. Your exquisite red cabbage comes from the Napa Valley in California. Think of the trucks and trains and shipping costs! Have you no conscience?”
Truly, dear reader, we have stretched our garden vegetables as far as they can go without digging a sand pit and utilizing ultra-storage techniques for those carrots. We ate the last of the garden carrots and onions last week. You should have seen those last carrots! They were frightening to eat. They looked wrinkled and dry and dangerous. Nonetheless, I sharpened the peeler and dismembered any wrinkles and appendages and added them to stews and soups and other vegetarian dishes.
And now they are…gone. Gone, gone, gone until late next summer. I felt so gleeful buying my bag of organic carrots at the co-op last week. The Keweenaw Co-op ( a great supporter of local growers) purchased this bag of carrots from Bakersfield, California.
Now that I’ve admitted our mid-winter lust for non-local vegetables (never mind, I’ll admit it–my lust sometimes includes tropical fruit, coffee, tea, spices and you name it) , let’s quietly and thoughtfully consider what our Anishinabe (Ojibway) people ate during the long, cold winters here as they watched the slivered moon rise over Lake Superior in early February.
Any guesses? You got it. They ate fish. Sturgeon, trout, whitefish, walleye, herring, smelt. They hunted for rabbit and birds and deer. (No strict vegetarians in these parts, I’ll wager!)
In good squirrel-fashion–kind of like our canned tomatoes and Dilly Beans–they had the foresight to dry and smoke fish and meat in the autumn. They harvested wild rice and honey and nuts and berries and cherries.
Still, according to many historical accounts, the people often suffered. Winter was not easy. I am sure the children dreamed of wintergreen berries, dandelion greens, wild carrots, leeks and mushrooms as they tossed in their deer and bear hides.
Sometimes the fish don’t bite. Sometimes the deer remain lean and scarce. Some winters are hard. Some autumns you can’t store enough to make it through deep March or April snows.
Today I am grateful for the local food we can eat. For food the earth produces here. That doesn’t have to travel thousands of miles from coast to coast. From sea to shining sea.
But–darn–these carrots are sure good. Thank you, Bakersfield, California. I’ll have one now. Even though it’s only 9:43 a.m.
Guess what we’re having for dinner? Pass the non-local tartar sauce, please.
(But, seriously, folks…here’s what I try to do. When local food is available–that’s the best option for us. It’s great to support our local farmers and to avoid the high shipping costs. It supports the environment. But in the winter time in the U.P.? I’ll support Bakersfield, California, too.)
Did you happen to catch “Sunday Morning” on CBS? They did a spot on growing local and locovores. The city of (where else) San Fransisco recently replaced their municipal mall area with vegetable gardens. They mentioned that the typical American meal travels fifteen hundred miles! Enjoy the fish, they look great.
We are starting by trying to eat seasonal veggies and fruits as much as possible. So carrots and apples are here aplenty as are leeks and pears etc.
It’s hard to not want variety, especially when Himself and I are doing a complete “sugar free” stint right now to loose some Christmas kilos and to change some “could be better” eating habits. I have to confess that fresh pineapples (imported of course) do help stave off severe chocolate cravings.
We are starting small and slowly changing our eating habits bit by bit. It’s particularly hard as we live in an apartment, have no garden and nowhere to store canned goods etc and have relatively small freezer.
Self sufficiency is dream for when we own a garden full of veggies and have space for rows of jars of home made preserves.
We love fish, but 3-4 months worth of only fish would be a stretch for most people I would hazard a guess.
Your fish photos are beautiful, Kathy. I especially love the close-up shots.
We eat a LOT of local, both from our garden and from the summer farm market, but you’re right–in February, the produce pickings are slim. And can you believe, I’ve had a yen for okra this week? Very hard to find, even frozen or canned. Store in Suttons Bay may have it on Thursday (frozen), but when the organic vegetable seeds go on sale at the co-op in Traverse City, I’m buying okra seeds this year. Grow okra in Michigan? It will be an experiment!
First, what is “local”? If it’s greater than, say, a 50 mile area, maybe that would work. Otherwise, like yours, our growing season is very short and what’s grown locally is very limited. Potatoes. Lots of potatoes. Alfalfa. Other types of hay. I try, really I do.
Interesting article, Kathy. I too, try to buy local. I could put more effort into it though.
Lately, I’ve received a lot of information pertaining to an upcoming severe food shortage. It is being predicted that food and fuel prices will go through the sky very soon. Apparently, it is starting with the crop devastation in Mexico. Advocates are recommending learning to grow your own,canning and stocking up for what is to come.
Personally, I have no idea whether this is all true, but I love the idea of being self-sufficient compared to relying on big chain food producers. I think, as a society, we’ve become way to reliant on big business and governments. It would be great to go back in time to when small local groups helped each other. At least, that’s my take on it.
Thank you for the thoughtful article.
I read the book. She’s one of my favorite authors. We were already eating locally for the most part when I read it. I don’t think we’ve changed much. I can and freeze. Grow stuff in the garden. We have fish in the pond. Etc.
Still. There are things that I use that have to come from far away. Turmeric. Cinnamon. All the other lovely spices that go into my curries. Miso. The seaweeds I use for miso soups. Tea (although I do grow mint so I can make my own mint teas).
There can be problems with freezing. One year I loaded up our freezer with bushels of beans of all kinds, 17 lbs. of broccoli, a few bushels of peppers and onions and I can’t remember what all else. Then we went on vacation. While we were away, our house sitter called to say that Hurricane Ike blew through, literally. All wind and not much rain. He knocked out the power for over a week. I lost all the veggies (and all the work that went into getting them into the freezer). All plans for local foods that winter were canceled. However, the lovely people at the farm up the road helped me replenish some of it which was the amazing blessing that came out of it all. In the end, I was grateful for Ike because he brought me closer to my neighbors.
We ate our last quart of frozen broccoli the other night. Usually 17 lbs. (ever seen that much at once? lol!) lasts through the winter, but it was so tasty that we ate more than usual. It’ll be beans (Italian, Kentucky Wonders, Wax, and Blue Lake) for the rest of the winter. I will supplement with kale and rapini and cabbage. And the occasional lettuce and carrots from California. Because sometimes a girl just wants a nice, crunchy, crispy, salad.
Your fish look wonderful!
You make some very good points here, Kathy. In an ideal world, perhaps we could eat only local or home grown food, if we had the time to grow enough to sustain our families, if the weather was kind and we had just the right balance of sun and rain, if we were content to eat, every day, every meal, the food from only our local area.
Our local produce here is tropical fruit, macadamia nuts (Australian Bush Nuts), bananas, sugar cane and yes, fish. We even have our own local, award winning coffee bean grower! But this summer the weather has been harsh, so crops are scarce, especially in my garden!
Your closing paragraph really sums it all up, we can only do what we can do, whilst being realistic at the same time. And no, I haven’t read the book. Only one food item from afar sounds tricky! How could we choose?
Kathy – When you said coffee (from other parts of the world), wine (from other parts of the world), and chocolate (from other parts of the world) — I resonated. We like to eat “local” too – but when it comes to coffee, wine, and chocolate — I like to expand my horizons and think of the globe as my neighborhood.
By the way, “Hello fish” is my favorite photograph!
Ahhhh, how I love the pictures of those gorgeous, healthy lake trout. So fun to catch; so delicious to eat. Love the picture of the fisherman, too – he has reason to smile! I am now extremely hungry for fish and fresh veggies.
Eating local was easy in Florida, Texas and California … so much luscious produce, and plenty of local cows, pigs and chickens, not to mention seafood! I miss several things about living in those states, but fresh, off-the-field produce ranks at #1. I cave in to strawberries from Mexico and avocados from CA … and oranges, grapes and tomatoes from anywhere.
Supporting farmers anywhere is okay with me … they work hard to bring us the fruits of their labors. And I know there are all those “middlemen” but they need jobs, too. Thank you for an interesting post and wonderful pictures!
My friend in Canada and I had this same conversation a few weeks ago. She and her husband who live near Toronto thought no problem in July, August and September. But the rest of the months? What would they do without citrus?! Here in No. California it’s easy. Meyer lemons in my backyard in December! Mandarians right up the road! Easy. Except for one thing she countered: no coffee! You couldn’t do it! Kathy, thank you so much for allowing me one item! I can do this!
Our growing season here at high altitude is 2 months – and I’m not a very patient fisherwoman. I like your photos, Kathy. Those Lake Trout are BIG!
Love those Fish!!!!!!! Dad
I think these are some of the most thoughtful comments I’ve read on a blog in some time! Great topic!
Thank you all for your comments! Like Dawn just said, these are some the most thoughtful comments I’ve read on a blog in some time. I would reply to all of you individually…but it’s been a very busy week. Lots of meetings & other stuff happening. Thank you for dropping by and sharing your thoughts about this important subject.
Now THAT is a mess of fish, as my Grandma would say. Beautiful! She would always fix them in the frying pan with a little flour and salt. Oh YUM. Nice job on the fishing end of things. And great shots too.
Christine, it was a HUGE mess of fish for us! The fish haven’t been biting–or we haven’t been catching lately–so this was a real treat. Your grandma’s flour & salt on fillets sounds good.
I’m a few days late but I have to let you know I loved the fishy photos, Kathy! I could eat fish seven days a week, and we do have a fish market in town with a daily local catch. Yay! I bought “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” a while ago (so many books, so little time!) but haven’t read it yet, maybe that will be next. Our approach to buying food is similar yours, local and organic, if possible. The local food-coop we belong to had a hard time getting off the ground, but things are starting to come together there now in an abandoned old grocery store they’re fixing up. It’s cold and drafty but that only adds to its charm…
I am always days late reading blogs, Barbara. Sounds like we have a similar approach to eating. Co-ops can be so charming just because they are so different from the big fancy grocery stores. Our co-op is actually quite an amazing little store. They have taken years to reach the wonderful quality they have achieved.
Hi Kathy, just catching up. I have REALLY enjoyed this….. and love Barbara Kingsolver. We try to be conscious of this and try to make the best choices we can in any given moment or place. It’s much easier here in California, more of a challenge when we’re traveling in other parts of the country or world. Sometimes, like Laurie says, we might need to see (in the moment) the globe as our neighborhood 🙂
Colleen, I think it would be much easier to eat local in California. No matter what the time of year, there would be local food available. Perhaps in all points south of Tennessee that might be true. I also like that it’s not always “all or nothing”. It’s a balance as to what is needed in the moment. Thank you.