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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Local Summer: Local Meals Don’t Have To Be Gourmet

Yoghurt & Strawberries


That’s it: the whole shebang! This is my featured meal for One Local Summer this week. And WOW was it good. Local yoghurt with local strawberries. Plus locally roasted coffee that was organically grown in the shade, fair traded, and then roasted using green power. All you who aren’t in the northwest, I’m sorry you can’t partake in our mouth-watering strawberries… in the 15 or so years since I lived in Seattle, I often daydreamed about these little beautiful pieces of fruit. A sweetness unmatched by any other… sublime...


I usually post recipes for this challenge, because I like to share the love when I – or most likely Matt – finds a good recipe. But in truth, it’s not the gourmet recipes that seem to be continuously searched for on Google or passed around the blogosphere. It’s the simple ones: Roasted Vegetables. Bread. Custard. And Pancakes. Yes, pancakes! Since I don’t come up with a totally original recipe very often, I am very proud to say my yummy pancakes have made their rounds around the blogosphere: Green Bean, Eco ‘Burban Mom, Arduous, Heather, Beany, Carla… all have made them, enjoyed them, and passed them on! (Note Chile has also tried them and called them “very tasty”, but also said she can do better… mmm hmmm… Somehow, someday, we’ll duel it out. And when that happens you’re all invited!)

 

Style vs. Content

 

All bragging aside, I’m serious here. There is a lot of pressure to make local meals beautiful, but they don’t have to be. What matters is not the stylization of food. Flavor, nutrients, and caring about what goes into your body – these are what matters. What goes into our bodies should reflect who we are and how we want to be. Our ideals should be as pure in our minds as they are when running through our veins as proteins and nutrients. By eating anything, we are making choices about how we interact with the world and how we interact with our bodies.


So, when you’re shopping for groceries, I encourage you to go beyond shopping for your one weekly local meal. While you’re shopping, find a product you use every day, and seek out a new local source. Or if not local, organic. If not organic, seasonal. If not seasonal, small business… you decide – whatever it is that you believe in. In this way you will slowly start stepping into the world of eating conscientiously, and eating sustainably.


Last year Matt and I cooked close to every meal using mostly local ingredients. For several months I wrote about them every week. Most of those meals weren’t gourmet meals, but they were tasty! (Most of them were tasty, that is!) So if you need some inspiration, check out posts like this one, this too, and even this.


If you haven’t yet taken part in a local food challenge because you’re intimidated, stop being intimidated! This is not about the showiness, it’s about the content, it’s about taking another step toward living a deliberate, sustainable life.

 

Organic vs. Local?


I go back and forth about which is better: organic or local. I try my best for both, but if that is not an option, I try to calculate in my head:

a. whether I really need it;

b. which of my options would have the lowest impact on our planet; and

c. which one would have the most positive impact on my body.

It’s an individual choice. When Matt and I drink wine, for instance, we prioritize organic over local because of our experiences. As long as you are making a conscientious decision, whatever you decide will be the right decision for you.

 

That’s My 2 Cents. What About You?


What do you think about the whole debate between organic vs. local vs. who cares? Do you try to eat locally-sourced foods? Are you having a hard time finding them? Are you growing your own? Or do you not have enough time in the day to deal with it?

 

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17 comments to Local Summer: Local Meals Don’t Have To Be Gourmet

  • Definete Local, the best being local AND organic. And I love nothing better than a bowl of strawberries and cream! My favorate dessert. I would totally give up ice cream for berries and cream!

  • I guess it depends. If I’m at the farmers’ market, I’ll often buy things that are not organic, or at least not certified organic, though I often question them about their practices, and most places at the very least don’t use sprays.

    If I’m at the grocery store, then I’ll usually go for organic. Grocery stores often don’t really label things properly, so it’s hard to tell if it’s local. My reasoning is that almost everything comes from California anyway. So if I buy organic, it’s probably organic and Californian.

    Theoretically, I would support fair trade over both local and organic, but I admit that a) I have a hard time finding fair trade sometimes (like fair trade bulk sugar) and b) I don’t buy much that I’d have to purchase fair trade. I don’t really buy bananas, sugar once every few months. And my work provides tea and coffee, so I tend to drink that.

    Of course then there’s the whole plastic versus glass thing. It’s so hard. Local, organic, peanut butter in a glass jar? I haven’t found it. Though I have found Northern California organic peanut butter in a glass jar, so that’s what I use.

  • I struggle with the showiness of the challenge too. I’m afraid I’ll bore everyone if I don’t come up with something cool to eat for OLS every week when what I really enjoy are the simplest of foods – yep, like fruit and yogurt. Yum!

    As far as local vs. organic. Right now, I’m concentrated on local. I buy as much as I can (almost everything actually) locally. The only things I buy at the grocery are whole food items like flour, sugar, salt, oil, etc so that I can make my own bread. Once my year experiment is done, I’m sure I’ll go back to buying my organic cereal once in awhile, but I think I’m stick with the local over organic. First, the food just tastes better at the market than anything you can get at the grocery store (even organic produce); second, I like supporting the local community/infrastructure with my dollars; and finally, more often than not, local foods are organic so in reality, it’s rare I have to choose.

  • My priorities dictate

    Home Grown > Local Organic > Organic National > Local Conventional > Organic International > National Conventional > International Conventional

    I am very aware that having Organic National above Local Conventional does incur a reasonable amount of transport cost that could otherwise be avoided.

    The decision was based on two very different lines of reasoning.

    I feel the need to protect our health as much as possible and do believe that Organics do that more effectively. Organics in Australia are smaller family run businesses that I feel are overall healthier for the environment on all the levels that I consider important.

    Needless to say I had a real debate over this myself when I was first coming to grips with the “local food movement” and ended up coming to the conclusion that all those conventional additives are petroleum or natural gas based so even if the food miles weren’t added by transport they were still part of the produces footprint.

    I will support any local organics that I can find to the extent that we need the product and can afford it. I do believe strongly in encouraging more robust local food systems but I don’t feel that I can cause further damage to the earth and my loved ones health extensively supporting conventional agriculture models.

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  • Melinda, you make a great point about how it is okay to eat simple meals. Just tonight, I was thinking that I should make a “real meal” for the challenge instead of the salad we eat eat most nights (which BTW is all organic and all local and some homegrown). On the other hand, it is fun sometimes to go all out and cook a kick ass meal. I enjoyed doing that with Dark Days and never would have tried stuff like gnocchi if I hadn’t been doing the challenge.

    I’m in Northern California and lucky enough to be able to find most all produce at my farmers market that is both local and organic. If I can’t find both, I’ll either (1) do without or (2) go for the no spray option – still local. We do fair trade for stuff like sugar, tea, coffee, and chocolate.

  • Yum! I love our strawberries. I agree about local not having to be and shouldn’t be “gourmet.” I think part of it is a lot of people who are interested in eating local like to cook, so we experiment. Also, I tend to make things that seem more involved (crackers, yogurt) so that I can have them be local, affordable and not in plastic. But the heart of eating local, for me, really needs to be about making it an everyday, lifestyle choice. And simple is 90% of what I eat.

    In general, I usually go for local first (organic if possible), then organic from California or Oregon (I’m in WA), and then organic and bulk. I’ve pretty much given up buying organic and from Mexico (usually the other choice here). That pretty much covers any foods I eat. Except chocolate and coffee. I get that fair trade and organic; the coffee from my mom and dad who roast it and the chocolate from wherever….

  • I definitely put a priority on local (preferably backyard) then organic. Local (even if it is conventional) has lowered transportation impact and greater economic impact.

    I learned to cook as a necessity of becoming vegetarian, and when we have guests I feel the need to pull out all the stops at times because I feel like:

    A. I have something to prove (convert, convert, convert, lol)
    B. I don’t want them to be bored with dinner

    But I learned that most people I know don’t want to be wowed at the table, they want something familiar. So now I have kind of switched gears and serve the kinds of things people are familiar with, just the vegetarian version.

    So back to the topic at hand and sorry for the digression but I promise it ties in…

    whenever we bring a dish I try wherever possible to maximize the number of ingredients from the garden in the dish. Probably even more stringently than when I cook at home, our garden is small so I have to save some ingredients from time to time for “special occasions”

  • It seems like I might not be the only one who may have been reluctant to post a couple of my OLS choices because they seemed…well…ordinary, when others were whipping up lovely and complicated dishes. Thanks for the reminder that simple meals can be just as tasty (and local) as complex ones.

    Right now organic takes precedence over local for apples, celery, tomatoes, and other produce we don’t peel that has a high water content. Of course, when I say organic, I’m including specific farms that I know don’t use pesticides but haven’t spent the money to be certified organic producers. I’ve found this to be a great benefit of actually going out to the local farmer’s market(s), meeting the farmers and asking them how they raise their fruit and veggie products. I also can’t wait for the squash to fruit and the tomatoes to ripen in our backyard garden – those will be organic and local. Here’s hoping the squirrels don’t get to them first!

    I try to only buy locally raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, which is easier now that we receive 1 lb of sustainably raised, local meat with our CCSA goodies each week. For other things, I tend to prioritize local over organic. We’ve found several local coffee roasters that source fair trade and organic beans, and just discovered a shade grown variety that’s tasty. Through a friend, I just learned that we have two local chocolate makers that also source fair trade and organic beans, and I’m looking forward to trying them both. I’ve been making my own bread lately, but haven’t found a good local source for large quantities of flour yet. I also use a lot of yogurt, and haven’t found a good local source there yet either. I’m still looking into those.

    I’d say we’ve worked our way up to just about 60% local foods (I define that as originating from the state of Missouri or southwest Iliinois) and about 70-75% organic. Not bad for just a few months of work, but I know we can do better. My goal is to hit about 85% local (or locally milled / roasted) by the end of the year.

  • Grown in my own garden comes first, of course – that’s pretty darn local, huh?! LOL We try to grow enough that we can can and have a significant amount to get us through the year.

    Grown by local farmers in my area who employ organic methods is definitely second. We have lots of those here in our neck of the woods. Just yesterday I had to drive through a more rural area (dropping off my last rooster!) and looked on in horror as a large field of green beans were being sprayed. Sure, could have been something organic – but it sure smelled chemically. I hated that the wind was blowing the fine mist of that stuff my way. Blech!

    And then organic is super important to us as well. We’ve got a boatload of food allergies and sensitivities in our household. Our 11 year old son has big time life-threatening allergies and is on allergy shots that run somewhere in the neighborhood of $32,000 a year. Getting organic has made such a HUGE improvement in the kid’s life. Well, not only his.

    Our goal – by most accounts – is to try to eventually live somewhere that we can try to grow the majority of our food – as in ALL of it. My best friend from girlhood forward’s parents do it – they’ve been doing it for decades. They spend about $25 a week on groceries – the rest they raise themselves. That’s pretty darned admirable!

  • Oh, I love it! We are going to make Chile crack one of these days, I just know it! :o) That pancake recipe is probably locked up in a safe deposit box somewhere I’ll bet!!

    My opinion on OLS, honestly, I rarely read the weekly wrap ups. I really joined the challenge to challenge myself and to support our local economy. And, with 4 boys, the simple meals are always the most well received and that means less stress for me! Not having to bark at someone to try a bite or eat some more makes my life easier. And, honestly, pancakes, omlets, egg salad sandwiches have been most of my posts and each one was delicious!

    And, at the farmers markets I buy from a certain farmer that is not certified organic, but use very ethical practices, though they aren’t perfect. Their produce is wonderful, they work so darn hard getting up at 2:30 in the morning to make it to market and here in Michigan we have to do everything we can to support each other. We eat so much more produce when it’s fresh and I think that makes for healthier bodies. Which at the end of the day, is really the most important.

  • Killi

    On a completely different subject, how did you get email notification on comments to this blog? I’d like to make sure that my WordPress blog will do that too ~ blame Chile for directing me here.

    Your strawberries look gorgeous. I visited the house where I used to live & my friend Ali (who took it on) has a brilliant garden going & my old apple trees & raspberry canes are flourishing under her care. One day I’ll have food plants here…

  • My eating has grown simpler and simpler. Best is what I can cull from the meager garden offerings in my yard and community garden, next is Farmer’s Market, then the little market 2 miles away – regardless of where the groceries come from because I am not driving any further than I have to drive.

    Yes, that last one needs to be a bike or walk trip and it shall be.

    Melinda, did you see this cartoon at “Ethicurean: Chew the Right Thing? Pretty funny to have the hip element of the affluent crowd.

    I’ll say again how much I love the new site.

  • I love you all – have I said that before? I also love that I can read all of your comments as I eat breakfast, or have afternoon coffee. And for that reason, I love WordPress, because WordPress sends all of your comments to me. And let me say again that I love your comments! So thought-provoking!

    ROB, YUM. Ice cream and berries – even better!

    ARDUOUS, It’s sooooo much easier to eat locally in CA! Here, most of the produce also comes from California… About bulk: have you asked your local co-op or natural foods store? Sometimes they will order bulk products for you – you just have to ask the buyer.

    Also, our local co-op has a peanut butter machine – you take your own container, and fill it with freshly ground peanut butter. Maybe try Whole Foods? Though on second thought, I don’t know where the peanuts come from… alternatively, you can grow your own – I hear they are fun to grow!

    HEATHER, I think at farmer’s markets, the majority of farmers do grow organically. If I don’t know, though, I usually ask. They’re pretty good about being honest – and I also look them up online. That way I can choose to purchase from those farmers who do farm organically.

    Glad I’m not the only one struggling about the ordinary at OLS!

    BELINDA, I love that! I think we’re pretty close to that as well, because I agree that it’s not worth it to consume pesticides. I also think that by supporting organics, more organic farmers are likely to emerge. It did happen a few years ago, where there was a surge of organic producers in the US. And by supporting local organics first, I think you’re sending a strong message to other local growers.

    GB, Ha! “Real Meal” – love it. I agree, though – it is fun to cook an awesome meal. And we’ve experimented a lot more that way, too. I guess my point is that we can and should experiment and go all out, but also remember that it’s most important to eat sustainably from day-to-day. And I’m now realizing how easy we had it in CA! It’s a lot harder to find local things here!

    DEB G, So cool that your mom and dad roast the coffee! I’ve always wanted to do that. I also pretend the Chilean and Mexican produce doesn’t exist in the grocery store – my eyes gloss over them. ; )

    KORY, I didn’t know you were a vegetarian! So are we. And when we have guests, we (lol – usually Matt) do go all out so that our friends won’t miss meat, and also so that we have an amazing eating, talking experience. It’s interesting that you’ve found people would rather have something simple and familiar… I’ll have to observe how it works with our friends. I also try to bring dishes that are knock-out garden-fresh yummy foods. For the same reason.

    LORI, You’re welcome. ; ) I learned that during the Dark Days Challenge.

    Totally true: most of the vendors from whom we buy do not have certification, but they are organic and sometimes much more sustainable than just organic. I think there is a backlash among some farmers about certification – they say it doesn’t mean anything anymore. And 60% – that’s GREAT!! Go Lori, no go squirrels!

    DINA, We ate most of our food from the garden last year, and boy was it nice. This year we’re having to seek out sources of food, and it is much more difficult. But when we find them, it is equally rewarding, as I do like learning about the different farmers, and tasting foods I would never think to grow.

    I know those sprays intimately (see link above, at the end of the post). Not good. I have bad allergies and asthma, too, so I completely understand. My health has skyrocketed since I began really watching what I eat, and eating only whole, natural, organic foods.

    We lived the way your friend did last year. Do be sure you pick a location that is sustainable in other arenas: transportation, economy/jobs, and other resources. We didn’t pick the right location.

    EBM, We’ll try and try and huff and puff and sure enough! Ha!

    Honestly, I only skim them. I like learning what people are eating locally, because it sometimes opens my mind to other ideas for cooking local ingredients. And I check out other peoples blogs locally, to find out where they’re getting their ingredients. But I totally joined the challenge for the sake of a challenge, to push me to find local ingredients since we just moved to a new place.

    KILLI, She made you feel guilty, eh? It’s the from “Subscribe To Comments” Plug-in from Mark Jaquith ( http://txfx.net/ ). Email me if you don’t know how to find plug-ins, and I’ll tell you how. Have fun!

    KATE, It’s good to hear, so you can keep telling me how much you love the site! Awesome cartoon. I’ve been neglecting my Ethicurean reads of late!

  • [...] So, when you’re shopping for groceries, I encourage you to go beyond shopping for your one weekly local meal. While you’re shopping, find a product you use every day, and seek out a new local source. Or if not local, organic. If not organic, seasonal. If not seasonal, small business… you decide – whatever it is that you believe in. In this way you will slowly start stepping into the world of eating conscientiously, and eating sust…. [...]

  • [...] So, when you’re shopping for groceries, I encourage you to go beyond shopping for your one weekly local meal. While you’re shopping, find a product you use every day, and seek out a new local source. Or if not local, organic. If not organic, seasonal. If not seasonal, small business… you decide – whatever it is that you believe in. In this way you will slowly start stepping into the world of eating conscientiously, and eating sust…. [...]

  • This is a really great post! First of all, your strawberries and yogurt may not be “food styled,” but they still look gorgeous. I agree with you that many meals we enjoy the most are really quite simple. Especially in the summertime when our food tends to taste better uncooked.

    I agree that food blogging can get a little “stressful” as we all want to make things that are kind of interesting or different. I’ve struggled with this a bit because on the one hand I don’t want to tell everyone things they already know how to do, but on the other, I want my site to be useful and the recipes to be easy and tasty (and not just pretty looking).

    My food shopping priorities tend towards this inclination: local, small independent producer, organic (though so much organic is industrially produced that it sort of takes that meaning away), fair trade (which I’ve written about on my blog) or direct trade (something I am now learning about).

    Thanks for writing this thought-provoking post! I look forward to reading more in the future.

  • Thanks, TIFFANY! Great point about organic – there really are shades of organic aren’t there? I’m glad you found your way here, and look forward to reading more of your awesome comments. ; )

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