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.)