Tuesday, April 18, 2006

By way of explanation

I've mentioned before that it is a goal of mine to get as many people as possible to join me this May for the Eat Local Challenge. But what exactly does this entail? Is it something you can only do if (like me) you devote a disproportionate and possibly silly number of your waking hours to food-related thoughts and ideas? Or is it something everyone can tackle?

I would argue that it's the latter, and here's why.

The Eat Local Challenge is, very simply, a month set aside to raise awareness of the issues surrounding food distribution. It's based on the premise that eating locally supports small farmers, reduces pollution and petrochemical use, preserves tradition and terroir, and even makes for a better-tasting dinner.

There's a great list here that sums up the reasons far better than I ever could.

There are no "rules" to the ELC. You can take Locavores' suggestion to try to eat foods grown within a 100-mile radius of your home, or (like me) you can take a look at what's available and decide that you might have to cast your net a little bit farther. You can eat locally at every meal, or you can decide to do it only for one meal a day. You can name exemptions (for me, the list begins with lemons, olive oil, and coffee).

None of these decisions are cop-outs, because at whatever level you decide to participate, the end result will be that you'll heighten your awareness of the issues. That's all anyone's asking.

And this isn't a bland academic exercise by any means. Eating locally brings the seasons into sharp focus. It enlivens your senses and forges a connection between you and the farmers who grow your food.

Looking back, I think I did a pretty half-assed job last year; I exempted the food that was already in my cupboards, sourced from the entire American South, and sneaked in several products produced by multinational corporations. But guess what happened along the way? Eating locally became important to me. Since last year, I've learned so much about my area's foods. Remember the half hog? The Thanksgiving turkey? The apples from Ellijay? None of those things would ever have happened if it weren't for the way the 2005 Eat Local Challenge inspired me to look more closely.

Just last month I discovered a Georgia farm that distributes excellent antibiotic-free pasture-raised beef to my local Publix supermarket. I would never have noticed it if I hadn't done ELC.

So all I'm asking is for you to make a commitment at whatever level feels comfortable for you. Focus on whatever geographic radius seems doable for you. Make exemptions as you see fit; heaven knows most of us need a chocolate bar every now and then. Do a little poking around to find out who your local producers are and what they have to offer--you will definitely be surprised at what you find.

In the coming days, I'll be pointing you to a new Eat Local Challenge blog that Jen Maiser is debuting. (I'll be one of the contributing bloggers.) And I'll lay out my personal Eat Local Challenge for you: what my goals are and what I hope to accomplish. (Don't worry, the everyday grasshopper-minded writings that make up 10 Signs will continue unabated.)

As we go into the month of May, I'll take you on a few virtual field trips to local food producers in my area. I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve already.

So get planning! More solicitations will follow.