Is it possible to eat a healthy diet in a locavore world, especially for those of us in colder climates? Many people insist that fresh fruits and vegetables are a necessary part of a daily diet, and that is not possible in many areas without food that has been shipped from far away or grown in a heated greenhouse.
Locavores are those who commit to eating only food that grows in their region, although there are different definitions of what “local” and “regional” means.
The first year we tried to live locally, we were in a dark basement apartment in a large city. We really knew nothing about how to eat seasonally, but we were willing to try. Or rather, jump in with both feet and with our eyes firmly shut.
Here’s what I wrote on January 11, in the depths of winter:
Today we picked up a few treats at Sobeys today. Orange juice and fish sticks. Fish sticks – not even decent quality fillets. I was feeling a strong craving for cheap breaded fish sticks, and Compliments orange juice was on sale.
I swear, we inhaled that orange juice and fish. My mouth is telling me that the flavor was on par with steamed lobster and melted butter. Fish sticks and orange juice. My mouth says “Hurray, it’s not sourdough and stewed something-or-other.” Traitorous mouth.
The problem is that, by early January, we were desperately craving vitamin C and fat. Fishy fat, to be specific, of which I had stored nothing.
So much for local, seasonal eating.
What’s The Problem?
When we rely completely on grocery stores that are stocked with plenty from around the world, it is easy to get the varied nutrients that our bodies need.
If we realize that we haven’t had any fruit in a while, and it’s January, we go to the store and buy some. No matter what time of year, it is harvest season somewhere, and if it’s not, there are always heated greenhouses.
If we’re tired of preserved meat, we can pick up a couple of fresh pork chops or a steak or a roast.
It’s easy, and we have come to take it for granted.
In order to eat a local, seasonal diet without starving, a person must think in the long-term and plan carefully. It does not matter if you are purchasing all of your food from local farmers, or if you are growing it yourself.
Four years into it, and we’re still learning.
Steps To Eating A Local Seasonal and Healthy Diet
Know What Is In Season
When I was first coming around my friend Leona’s farm, I am sure she thought I was one of the biggest idiots to have ever entered her garden … City Girl slipper shoes and all. Yet she patiently explained to me, over and over again, that “No, that’s not available anymore”. It was a concept I admit I had difficulty understanding.
Who knew strawberries were only available for such a brief, blink-and-you-miss-it time frame?
Or that “I harvested the last of the beans last week” was a valid thing to say? What did that even mean – “the last of the beans”?
After all, when has the grocery store ever told you that you’ll need to wait another month for the carrots?
This is definitely a matter of gather ye rosebuds while ye may – they might not be there next week.
Pay Attention To The Weather
Harvest calendars aren’t perfect, because the weather plays a huge role. It is not unusual for strawberries to ripen a few weeks earlier than expected, for example, or for the corn to be ripening late. The temperature plays a role, as do sunshine and rain amounts.
Have A Plan For Preserving
It is hard to get through winter, at least here in Canada, without preserving some of your seasonal food.
And yes, food that you preserved in season is considered within the bounds of seasonal eating. After all, what else is strawberry jam for but to keep the goodness of strawberries into the winter months?
This means that you know the foods that you will be buying or growing – strawberries in June, green beans in July, carrots in September, blueberries in August, etc – and having at least one method of food storage, ready and waiting, for each.
If you’re new to this, stick to one, or maybe two.
I preserve almost everything by canning since I live off-grid with limited electricity in a province that is cool, damp and frequently overcast.
Strawberries become strawberry preserves.
Cucumbers become Sweet Mixed Pickles.
Carrots are sliced and canned in water.
Green beans become Spicy Dilly Beans or cold packed in water.
Blueberries are hot packed with nothing else added.
Because I have one easy fallback for each food, it is easy to know what to do when hit by a glut.
Experiment with the remnants, AFTER your vital food storage is put up. By ignoring this wise advice, I have far too many jars of pickled green tomatoes (gross) and rhubarb (I’m so very allergic to it).
Know How Much You Need
When growing tomatoes (to use one common example) or buying them from a farmer, it is helpful to know how many bushels you need. Most of us do not even think about tomatoes in terms of bushels!
My family of six needs about 31 bushels of tomatoes per year to take care of our need for tomato/pasta sauce, ketchup, tomato soup and barbecue sauce.
It is impossible to put up that much tomato products without a solid plan. The same goes for almost everything.
Knowing how much you needs means that you’re less likely to overlook the necessity of some fatty fish or vitamin C foods.
Here is where I falter. Every summer I tell myself that I’m going to inventory my food storage and keep careful track of what we use. And then the busy canning season hits and all of my plans get tossed aside. Instead, jars are tucked away wherever they will fit.
Somewhere I have jars of elderberry/raspberry/blueberry juice, a delicious blend that will kick any chest cold out the door. (No recipe – mix equal parts of those vitamin-packed juices and drink 1 cup a day, spaced out during the day. Bye-bye, colds.) Do you think I can find those jars? No. We suffered through two weeks of chest colds while I wished I had inventoried and kept track of everything.
This winter we ran out of corn – until I found a dozen jars hiding far back in the pantry – and carrots, which … ditto. However, we still have about three million jars of green beans that I canned in 2014. (I might be exaggerating slightly) Apparently we don’t like green beans as much as I thought we did.
Keep track of what you put up and what you use.
In order to replace the nutrients in foods that we are used to shipping in, look to the wild foods that grow in your area.
For example, Canadians generally have no real need for Florida oranges, at least not for vitamin C. Instead, we can gather and preserve rose hips, blueberries and raspberries, chokecherries and pine needles.
Have Recipes Ready
Not just food storage recipes, but have recipes ready to help you to use the stored food.
The fact is, you can easily find charts from the USDA on exactly HOW to pressure can or boiling water bath many different foods. Most of us falter, though, when trying to use that food in an actual meal.
Not all of it needs recipes – preserved green beans or kernel corn warm up the same way, whether they’ve been pressure canned at home or pressure canned in a food processing factory. (What are the differences: home-canned versions use reusable glass jars, potentially reusable Tattler canning lids and little or no salt or any other undesired additive!)
But what do you do with pressure canned beef or pork? How about that jar of canned stewed rhubarb?
A Cabin Full of Food began when I wondered just those things.
Now that I had the food in my cupboard, what would I do with them?
When I had a fully stocked, basic cupboard, how could I make delicious meals without heading to the grocery store? I soon realized that I couldn’t include everything – wild foods and fresh foods will have to wait for a future book – but I tried to give a good idea about how to use a pantry full of canned and long-term storage foods.
Recognize Your Exceptions
There are some locavores who make no exceptions, and I applaud them. Most of us have food items that we are not willing to live without, no matter how committed we are to eating local.
What are mine? Dry Goods – traditionally these are dried foods that can be easily stored and shipped without a fear of spoilage. Coffee, chocolate, sugar, spices and baking soda are all dry goods that I use a lot but cannot source locally. (It is possible to make sugar from sugar beets, so perhaps that is in my future). There are some things that I’m just not willing to do without, not as long as they are available.
My version of locavore is this:
Can I grow or forage it?
I no longer buy eggs, chicken or milk since we produce what we need right here.
Can I grow or forage something that has the same function or nutrients?
I buy very little fruit since we have blueberries, wild strawberries, grapes, wild apples and crab apples right here on the property.
If not, can I get it from a local grower?
Because my wild and crab apples make good applesauce but not so good fresh eating, we buy local apples from the farmer’s market.
Can I get something from a local grower that has the same function or nutrients?
An example of this would be buying local honey instead of imported sugar. Or choosing to eat more pork than beef since the local farmer raises pigs.
If not, can I get it from a local company that trades with other Canadian growers?
We buy barley, which grows here in Canada, instead of rice, which does not. Until I find an affordable local source of flour, I buy from a local store that ships it in from another province.
All of this, however, is balanced by affordability, which I wish were not an issue.
So it works like a bullseye. The ideal is to hit the center, of course. Most of us are never going to hit it perfectly, but we can keep trying.
What do you think? Is a seasonal, locavore diet possible? It will look different for all of us, since local and regional availability for food varies.