Eat Local Challenge

How to Eat Close to Home

by Janice Cook Knight

Edible Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Farmers Market are sponsoring an Eat Local Challenge for the month of October. Do you want to take the challenge?

With food readily available from all over the world, why would you want to eat only foods grown close to home? There are more than a few good reasons: fuel, freshness, flavor; protection of the environment; support of our local farmers and our local economy.

Food travels an average distance of 1,500 miles in our country, and it takes a lot of fuel to move those fruits, veggies, meats and cheeses around. Produce is often picked unripe so it can be shipped to far-away places, significantly reducing its flavor. Weeks often go by between harvesting and consumption, which results in a lack of freshness to us, the consumers.

Why target food, when we ship so many other consumer goods? Because we eat so very much of it. Food is not something we can go without, like a new TV or a couch. Food is traveling to market, then being consumed, every minute of every day. Much of that food is being hauled by truck or by jet over long distances.

While we have a long growing season in Santa Barbara County, we still eat many foods out of season, even though there is plenty to eat that is grown here and elsewhere in California. We import foods grown on the other side of the equator just so we can have all foods, all the time: apples from Chile, for example. What’s the fun in that? It’s more interesting, and more delicious, to eat foods as they come into season locally—strawberries at the height of summer; crisp, sweet apples in October; flavorful apricots in June; artichokes in April, when they are young and tender.

Anyone who frequents our farmers markets and local produce stands is already eating locally and seasonally. For the month of October, how would it be to take it up a notch? What about local meat, fish, dairy products?

We can buy a much greater variety of products at our farmers markets than we used to. Did you know we now have butter, cheese, goat cheese, eggs, chicken, duck, game hens, pork, lamb, beef, olive oil, wine, bread (grown from Santa Ynez wheat), fish and shellfish, several kinds of nuts, a large variety of dried fruits, herbs and honey? The Saturday and Tuesday markets, especially, have become veritable supermarkets!

What constitutes “local” food? Many proponents recommend eating foods grown within 100 miles of home. For fruits and veggies, in Santa Barbara that is a piece of cake. Our local produce is fabulous and abundant. For other food items, you may need to go farther afield for variety. Some of the farmers at our markets drive 200 miles or more to sell to us: Dates are grown in the Coachella Valley, about 200 miles to the east; sweet, tasty almonds come from Hanford, 200 miles to the north; the dairy products at our markets are coming from Petaluma, about 400 miles away.

For October, see how many local foods you can find. Even at our local grocery stores, some of the eggs and fresh dairy products come from sources within about a 100-mile range. The Alta-Dena Dairy products are available at most stores in Santa Barbara County, and the company is based in Southern California, its milk still being produced on family farms. Lundberg Family Farms rice and rice products, available at our natural food stores, are grown in Northern California. For more information about sources of local seafood read “The Santa Barbara Channel: A Seafood Mecca” in the fall 2009 issue. Practice asking your butcher, your fishmonger, your produce person, “Where did this come from?” Some stores have started identifying local products with a sticker.

I’ll report back to you in the next issue the results of my local October eating experiment. What would it be like to have most of our meals come from foods grown close to home?

Meanwhile, for more information about the Eat Local Challenge, check out the Google Group.

Find out the results of the 2009 Eat Local Challenge here.

 Janice Cook Knight is the author of Follow Your Heart’s Vegetarian Soup Cookbook and The Follow Your Heart Cookbook: Recipes from the Vegetarian Restaurant. She has taught cooking for over 25 years, and currently teaches a cookbook writing workshop. She lives in Santa Barbara with her family.

Categories Fall 2009