How to Eat Local without going crazy

We are just a normal family.  Well – I say normal loosely.  We are a busy two parent, two kid family trying to make our way in life.  But we are also trying to do our bit for the planet.  We could throw our spare money at it and feel a little better, but like I said, we are a normal-ish family – there is no ‘spare’ money.  So our actions need to count, but count in a way that is actually achievable in our lives and actually has value to the planet, not just going through the motions so we can feel better about what we are doing.

200km Eat Local Challenge  making butter
I even made butter, but only because I was desperate for a piece of hot toast with drippy melted butter and we didn’t have any… but we had cream!

So we are not the kind of family that will head off on an extreme diet, unless the doctor tell us to, in order to save a life.  We have already cut out a lot of processed food from our daily intake because we didn’t like how most of it was so far removed from naturally recognisable edible items.  But we aren’t strict on it so on a lazy day we’ll have something ‘easy’ for tea or if we go to other people’s houses for tea we don’t say “oh I’m sorry we can’t possibly eat that – it’s ‘convenience’ food from a packet…” That would just be embarrassing for all concerned.

Just to see what it was like we entered a competition to only eat local food for the month of April.  Not just local bought – ‘Sweet, the supermarket is just around the corner!” Not even locally made from the small artisan craftsman in the next town, but locally grown. Within 200km of home.

200km Eat Local Challenge
In hindsight our boundary may have been a bit blurred, but our intentions were honourable.

Initially I thought we would starve to death.  Well I exaggerate.  I like the idea of farmers markets and buying food directly from the producers, but like I said, we are a busy family.  I hardly have enough time to get the groceries in the first place without driving all over the place sourcing one item of food.  I’m a kind of a one stop shop shopper.  But the supermarket, while containing some of our needs, couldn’t meet them all.

Luckily we had a wild card product we could pick.  I picked sugar.  Without it life wouldn’t seem so sweet!  We also had a 5% grace ingredients like salt and pepper.  Rightly or wrongly we included tea and coffee in the 5% or there would have been madness in our household.

200km Eat Local Challenge baked biscuits
I baked bikkies. I forgot how quick and easy it can be.

So after a month what do we have to say about eating local food:

While it is a noble idea, in real life it is not practical.

It goes against the tide of a nation where our primary income is derived from exporting food.  So to decide to only eat local for moral reasons, means you should also look at other aspects of the society that supports you, through food practices that rely on adding millions of food miles in order for us to function as a nation.

Having said that, it is important to not only provide food for the world but also for ourselves.

We can’t as a nation rely on another country to provide … for example…  all our carbohydrate requirements.  Ok we can’t grow rice here – well not enough to meet demand, but we can grow wheat, barley and spuds and we should make it readily available to the local market.  Feed us too – don’t greedily export it all.

This is especially important in times of crisis, like during a natural disaster, which we have with more frequency than we’d like, but to be able to feed ourselves from our own local supplies is invaluable.

200km Eat Local Challenge coffee
I even went without the cinnamon on my coffee

Manufacturers need to be more transparent.

“Made from local and imported ingredients”  What is that all about?  It appears to be a pointless statement wasting space on a packet that could be replaced with a pretty picture, or the actual location of manufacture.  If a company would tell me they have a manufacturing plant in the small rural community of say “Otorohanga” then I would gladly purchase their goods in the knowledge I am supporting a small rural community.  I don’t actually care that they have swanky offices in the CBD.  If they can’t list it on the packet, then put it on the website.  As far as I can see the only harm done with this would be to highlight how much isn’t made here.

The best way to have a local diet is to eat good honest whole food.

Peel your own carrots, instead of letting someone in a factory far, far away do it for you.   Generally the more processed your food is, the more likely it is from a far flung place.  But having said that, fresh perishable food groups can also have more air miles than when I was young and travelled to Europe to see the world.  So there are two points here:

  1. Often food has things added to it to survive the supply chain and still be edible, and while the food may need it to stay ‘fresh’ we don’t need it to survive, so going back to basics can reduce these helpful additions to our diet.
  2. And – I have noticed when I pick things from my garden after a few days it wilts, goes soft or isn’t at its best. If I were to pop them in the post and send them to …  maybe… Peru, then I can’t vouch for their quality at the other end.  Just saying.
200km Eat Local Challenge  gelato
I was able to enjoy a local gelato… so very good

Organic and health food isn’t everything.

Most organic products and healthy alternative foods we found in this journey, while supposedly better for you than your average food, is often from a million miles away.  So it would seem it would be very difficult have your cake and eat it too if you wanted to live this way.

It can be VERY time consuming.

For the average family, this would become an all-consuming passion to ensure all food was sourced locally, a new hobby.  While it is important to know what you are putting into your body I don’t think it is necessary to obsess about it.   And this can also get very expensive.

200km Eat Local Challenge bountiful harvest
Our bountiful harvest was a blessing

Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Eat chocolate with impunity.  It is ok to have all the treats and pleasures in the world.  The spice trade liberated us from boring food centuries ago.  And often the act of eating something exotic is the result of a person in foreign community being paid a day’s wage so they can feed their families.

200km Eat Local Challenge sustainable ideas
Other things that can be done

So essentially what I am trying to say is, for the average family, we can’t be all things to everyone. Eating Local is just one thing that can be done.  So while we can be aware of locally grown and processed food, and make informed decisions when shopping, we should look at our sustainable efforts across the entire spectrum of what the planet needs to be healthy.   Do the things that you can do within your abilities.  Step outside your comfort zone from time to time, but long term it is better to have a small yet steady effort towards a healthier planet than one big push once that didn’t really work because it was too hard to sustain.

Come again soon – my next project is all about gardening for a good cause.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

12 thoughts on “How to Eat Local without going crazy

  1. I enjoyed your post. I do think we all should grow some or most of our food.
    Do you grow in your greenhouse in the winter. I can grow year around most years.

  2. Great post, thanks a lot! “Feed us too – don’t greedily export it all.” That was the statement I could hardly stay on my chair when I read it. Yes, yes, yes! As you said, we need our economic relationships with other countries, but sometimes it seems to me that we export all “the good stuff’. Your experiences encourage me to be more aware than ever about where the food comes from, so thank you again! 🙂

    1. Hi Marion, Thank you so much for your supportive comments. I think our supply chain is connected to the wrong end users. It should end with us not with money.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  3. Being from a country which can feed itself and doesn’t need to export food for an income, it was interesting reading your views and insights. Overall, I think the world can cope with cinnamon being transported from one country to another but maybe we don’t need to do the same with beef?

    1. Hi Helen. It was definitely an interesting journey and while it will alter the way we shop, I don’t think we will become locavores any time soon. Cheers Sarah : o )

Leave a Reply