The Book Hoarder
So much is posted these days about music — albums, artists/bands, songs — that have shaped people’s lives. My feed in Facebook and Instagram (most recently U2’s Bono posting letters to his favorite singers/bands) is inundated with such postings. I even started my own list on FB only to stop at one (U2’s Actung Baby). While music had roll in my upbringing and I have a list of artists/songs/albums that have influenced me, it’s books (you, know the printed word) that have had the biggest impact on my life.
In my home, we have a large collection of books occupying several spaces around the house. Some of the books are old (my grandfather’s books from grade school) and others are brand new, ready to be read at the moment I find the time. Our library is full of everything — fiction, non-fiction, cookbooks, how-to or DIY, zen, religion, social commentary, etc. We’ve even pared down our collection and donated or sold books and yet, we are still left with a great deal of the printed word decorating our house. (Btw, those articles about decorating bookshelves — grouping books together by color or whatever else interior designers think would look great — are for people who don’t read).
Where music can change the temperature of a room, books educate and expand our minds. This is probably why I cringe whenever I watch a WWII movie that has a scene of book burning. All that knowledge … lost to an ash pile. Breaks my heart every time.
Because I find books so important, I’ve decided to compile a list of books that have shaped who I am today. Some of these have educated me, while others provided a great deal of entertainment. As a chef and culinary instructor, my list may seem predictable. Of course it contains books on food and cooking but I have an undergraduate degree in English Literature, so I would be remiss if I didn’t list any works of literature. I’ve often joked that my undergraduate degree taught me how to read and write. And now that I look back at it, it isn’t much of a joke, but rather the truth. My literature classes taught me to think, read critically, and write well.
The Book List
Where The Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic - Shel Silverstein. I devoured these books of poems when I was a child. The sheer imagination behind the poems opened my mind.
Monster at the End of This Book. My lasting memory of this book is my mom reading this to me — trying to sound like Grover and telling it in an animated way.
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl. I can’t tell you how many times I read this book. In fact, I didn’t even know they made a movie about it in the 70s (with Gene Wilder) until I was in college. I hated the movie. But… when Johnny Depp and Tim Burton made the movie a few years ago, I felt it captured the spirit of the book.
Betty Crocker Cookbook. This may seem sacrilege for a chef to mention this book but it taught some basics on cooking that I didn’t get anywhere else. And I still use the pancake, biscuit, and brownie recipes. Tried and true.
The Way to Cook - Julia Child. My mom bought this book for me when I was a young teenager. Initially, I just flipped through it, intimated by the instructions and recipes. But then I decided to start making some of the recipes. Learned a lot through cooking failures and got over the intimidation factor.
Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads. This was one my first bread books and it cemented a love of baking from the first loaf I made.
Essentials of Italian Cooking - Marcella Hazan. Forget Giada or any other Italian chef, Marcella Hazan has the quintessential cookbook on Italian food.
Omnivore’s Dilemma - Michael Pollan. I was always curious about the food system and sustainability issues. This book provided encouragement for me to explore Sustainable Food Systems at Montana State University.
Devil the White City - Erik Larson. I’ve read all of Erik Larson’s books, but this was the first. He writes historical non-fiction in a very accessible way. When I read this book, we were living on the Southside of Chicago in the neighborhood of Hyde Park, just blocks away from where the events in the book happen. It made it so real.
Leaves of Grass - Walt Whitman. I received a copy of this book from my HS English teacher. Oh captain, my captain. Thank you, Mr. Wheeler.
Blindness - Jose Saramago. Saramago writes without much punctuation but with such description. I could not put this book down.
The Alchemist - Paul Coelho. I’ve read most of Coelho’s works. He writes with such care brining you into a world of mysticism.
And a bonus … the movie and song that bring me much joy: The Muppet Movie and "The Rainbow Connection." I don’t think I need to really explain how much Kermit and the gang (and all of Jim Hensen’s muppets) impacted the lives of Gen-Xers everywhere.
Discover Your Inner Chef
I have a love affair with food.
To me, food makes the world go round. It truly fascinates me. I’ve been cooking for a long time. My first paid cooking job was as a cook at a restaurant in my home town in Ohio. I was 19 years old and working as the only cook in the kitchen in the evenings. Sometimes I had help, but most of the time, I was on my own.
That job taught me a lot about cooking, working in a kitchen, and time management. I made a lot of mistakes. Being a meat and potato establishment, I ruined a few steaks by cooking them to the wrong internal temp (oh no!).
But I persevered and from that job I realized that I wanted to become a chef. I wanted to study food and cooking. I wanted to learn more about what makes food great. Most importantly, I wanted to become a better cook.
Since that time, I noticed we’ve had a war on food and cooking. Innovations in the food industry brought us highly processed food that simply tastes like, well, crap. Over the years, thanks to nutrition science, we’ve had a war on eggs, fat, and carbs. Food gets whittled down into categories where we pit one against the other. Right now, the bad guy is sugar. Of course it is. Consuming vast amounts of refined sugars and carbs have been shown to increase cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Sugar is public enemy #1. I get it. I’m a dietitian, too.
In our war on food, we've also waged a war on cooking. Food needed to be fast and convenient to match our busy lives. The art of cooking has fallen to the way side as we heat up a can of soup and sit down to watch various cooking competitions on the Food Network. Let the chefs do the cooking and we'll be the judge from our sofa.
So, how do we move on from these wars? I’ve written about the goodness and simplicity of real food. Now, I’m writing to encourage everyone to find their inner chef and become curious about the world of food and cooking.
I want everyone to quit putting food into categories of good vs. bad. Ok, I admit, if I were to put any food in the bad pile, it would be anything overly processed. But at the same time, I don’t consider highly processed food to be actual food. They’re more like “food items.” So, let’s stick with food that is real… stuff that grows in the ground, on a tree, or is raised/hunted/fished (animals).
One way to quit putting food into categories is to find your inner chef … become curious about the world of food. Become curious about cooking, in general. Why is it so amazing? Why do we need food? Why do our celebrations center around food? What makes food so special? Why are eggs the perfect food? (Ok, so this is my opinion, but eggs are amazing. Seriously.)
My wish is for everyone reading this to go home tonight and make a home cooked dinner. It can be as simple and straightforward as soup. When you sit down to eat (with your family or friends), think about the journey the food has made to your table. Give thanks for those who grew or raised the food or transformed it into another form (cheese, etc). But then realize that you also helped transform that food into something even better, something nourishing. You are showing your family and/or friends that you care by creating a meal with real food. You cooked something special.
By doing this, you are finding your inner chef. You are beginning to discover how cooking and food are amazing and should be honored and explored.
It all starts with getting off the sofa and entering the kitchen.
Amazing Simplicity of Real Food
I’m going out on a limb here and stating: Cooking is not rocket science. Rather, cooking is a skill that most people can learn.
I hear the groans out there as you read this. I hear the excuses everyone makes. Most people want convenience and want food served quickly. Your lives are busy. That’s why you opt for ready-made meals, fast-food, or take-out. I get it. To you, cooking (and shopping for food) takes time. It does. I fully admit that. But why does one person in the house have to do all the cooking and shopping (and kitchen clean up)? I think it’s time for the family to pitch in and help out. I also hear the excuse that cooking is hard and it’s easy for me because I’m a chef. Ok, granted I have the experience and expertise to make a good meal fast but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try to hone your cooking skills and learn some tricks of the trade.
I might be a chef, but I’m not a pioneer. I don’t use fancy cooking techniques or ingredients. You won’t see foams or mousselines in my kitchen. In fact, I steer away from ingredients that are hard to find. At this point, I don’t need to use trendy or exotic ingredients to make good food. It just isn’t necessary.
My main secret to cooking is simple. I use real food. What is real food? Food that is minimally processed. Specifically:
Take for instance, the decadent dessert, creme brûlée. This old-school dessert resonates with so many because it is deeply satisfying. It is slightly sweet, creamy, and is topped with a crunchy burnt sugar crust. The best part of it is the ingredient list: egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and cream. See? Simple ingredients.
Then there’s my favorite meal of Roast Chicken. Why? Because it is simple and fills my home with lovely aromas. I make a rub with lemon zest, garlic, rosemary, and olive oil that gets spread on the meat under the skin and all over the outside of the chicken. Rosemary stems and quartered lemons are stuffed into the cavity. Then it gets baked until done. That’s it. Simple meal.
What to serve with that roast chicken? Your vegetable of choice —either sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and a touch of red pepper flakes or roasted in the oven with the same ingredients. You can vary it up by adding different spices or herbs (rosemary with potatoes, allspice on carrots), but that’s up to you. I’m telling you — do not make it hard.
We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that processed food equals tasty. Or that processed food equals easy. Is it really easier? Is it really tastier than a meal made with real food? To me, highly processed food equals poor health. For instance, to make low-fat or fat-free foods taste good, manufacturers add salt and sugar or other additives to make it taste better. The more ingredients on the label, the more processed it is and the furtherest it is from nature. And quite honestly the worst it tastes.
Simple ingredients equals delicious meals. It’s time to stop watching the Food Network competition shows and actually step into the kitchen. You can make a simple pesto pasta in under 20 minutes. And that includes making the pesto at home (as opposed to store-bought).
Not convinced yet? Ok. Let’s look at cultures who have the most centenarians (people who live to be 100) — Okinawans, Costa Ricans, and Italians. What do they eat? Simple. Real. Food. Their cuisines vary but share a lot of similarities — a plethora of fruits and vegetables, seafood as often as possible, some meat and poultry, and healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, full-fat dairy). What they don’t eat? Processed food. They take time to cook simple meals. Hear that? They take the time to cook and enjoy food.
Because food should be honored and enjoyed.
So, I challenge everyone to learn how to cook and appreciate the joy of simple food. Forget complicated recipes with many steps and a list of ingredients only found in specialty shops.
It’s time to learn how to cook and eat again. And appreciate what good, simple food should taste like.
Realistic Weight Loss
As someone who has struggled with weight loss over the past 15 years (after having kids), I know what it's like to want to lose weight and keep it off. More often than not, weight loss is looked as a battle. Not only are you fighting against food cravings and urges, but you are fighting against genetics, your metabolism, your gut microbiome, and your body in general, which might be happy at the weight you are currently at.
Weight loss is not easy for most people. That being said, men have an easier time losing weight than women. Seems unfair, right? And then there are those who have high metabolisms where they can eat anything and not gain an ounce. Again, seems unfair.
But instead of focusing on the negative view of weight loss, I think it's time to shift the focus into a more positive light. My husband and I record a podcast that discusses nutrition and sustainability. One of the episodes discussed our issues with weight loss and gave tips on the best way to lose weight. My tips here are an extension of that discussion.
It should be noted that since we released that episode, many articles were released in the media about weight loss and why it is so difficult to maintain. Researchers have many theories surrounding issues with weight loss, with one being the "set point theory." This theory uses the idea that our bodies are comfortable at a certain weight and even if you lose weight, you will eventually gain it back to the point where your body is most happy. Resetting your set point is not an easy one and it deals with metabolism. Currently, they are doing studies with the contestants on The Biggest Loser, who often regain their weight back after the show has ended. On the show, the drastic weight loss done in a short amount of time is great for TV ratings, but in the long run, contestants struggle to keep it off. Working out 7 hours per day and eating a limited amount of calories is not sustainable and as a result, their metabolisms slow way down and they gained weight.
For me, however, weight loss has been a journey. I gained weight after having my son, then I lost the weight. And then, I gained the weight back (and then some) after having open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve. Since then, I have worked especially hard to lose the weight, but I decided to take it slow. I made a decision I was not going to starve myself. In the past, I have kept track of calories but I found this to be tedious. When it comes to exercise, I don't like to work out, per se. You will not find me at the gym, but you will find me biking around town, walking, or hiking. It came down to me figuring out how to lead a healthy lifestyle that best fits my schedule and life.
Here are my tips:
Focus on healthy eating. Eat your veggies and fruit each day. Drink plenty of water. Eat protein at each meal. Don't skimp on the fat. Make sure you you have complex carbs, protein, and fat at meals, which will help you feel full more quickly and in turn help you to eat less. If you eat a lot of simple carbs, you will eat more. It all has to do with how fast the body digests the food. Count calories? You can, but the focus should be on healthy eating.
Eat until you are almost full. Don't eat until you burst. Pay attention to your body's cues on when it feels full. If you eat more slowly, you will have an easier time listening to your body. Your body releases a hormone that tells your brain "ok, we've had enough to eat," but you need to listen for this cue.
Eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day. Or 3 moderate meals and a couple of small snacks. Doing this will help keep your metabolism in check.
Change your cooking habits and cook more from scratch. Eating a lot of processed foods -- anything in a box or can that needs to be heated up. I'm not talking canned tomatoes, pasta, or beans. I'm talking about those "Helper" meals and convenience foods that prevent you from actually cooking. Taking control of your cooking and meals will help you appreciate food and you will start to see food in a positive light and see the goodness it provides.
Stop looking at food as the enemy and allow yourself a treat. Food is food. Even though some foods are healthier than others (carrots vs. pretzels), stop putting labels on food. If you want that piece of cake, then have the cake and don't feel guilty about it. Now, with that being said, don't eat the whole cake. Remember - everything in moderation.
Don't "diet." Get rid of that word. If you want to try certain "diets" like paleo or clean eating, then go for it. However, most of us don't want to drastically change our eating habits to ban certain foods. The word "diet" has a negative connotation for me. Again, it goes back to the "everything in moderation."
Take small steps to change your eating habits. This is where it might be good to speak to a dietitian about food habits and such. We can give you attainable goals for changing eating habits and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Focus on being active. Go on a walk after dinner. Go on a hike. Ride your bike to the store. Get up an move. Don't feel the pressure to join a gym if that sounds like torture to you (like it does to me). Be active throughout the day.
Focus on how you feel, not the scale. Now, I know there are many dietitians that will disagree with me on this one. I weigh myself, but not on a regular basis (maybe once every 2-3 months). Weighing myself every week was discouraging. Either I was losing weight or gaining it back. Instead, I focused on how I was feeling. Tired? Fatigued? More energy? Focusing on how your body feels is a better indicator that you are on the right track than the weight on the scale.
Get plenty of sleep. Your body needs sleep each night. Aim for 7-8 hours per night and take a 20-30 minute nap in the afternoon if you need a re-charge.
Don't get discouraged. Remember, weight loss is journey, not a sprint. By focusing on health rather than that number on the scale, you will feel better about yourself and the weight will come off eventually. Starving yourself and exercising like crazy will bring the weight off but for only a short period of time.
And... learn to love yourself. I know I will never be the weight I was on college and I'm ok with that. I know that I live a healthy lifestyle. I walk nearly everyday. I don't eat much processed food except for the occasional potato chip (my weakness) and I cook nearly everything from scratch. No matter where my weight is on the scale, I like who I am and I feel good.
I'm lucky to live in a climate where you can start gardening in March (February if we're lucky). This is after we lived in Montana where the growing season starts late and ends early. I was able to have a successful backyard garden for a couple of years while we lived in Montana. Heck, one year I grew corn. Yep. Corn. The plants didn't grow as tall as they would have if we lived in Ohio or Iowa but they still developed ears and tasted sweet.
Now that we live on Whidbey Island outside of Seattle, the growing season is more forgiving. Aside from big juicy tomatoes (just not warm enough here), I can grow a whole host of awesome vegetables and get things started early. I planted my small garden on April 1 and already carrots are starting to emerge, along with brussels sprouts, onions, and potatoes.
To build our little garden (10'x6'), we repurposed several items from the backyard, which is going through a facelift. Our garden is in the front yard while we work on backyard. In the small space, I have been able to plant a kitchen garden:
In a nearby tub are more leeks and lettuce. I also planted lavender, rosemary, and oregano in a flower bed along with strawberries. Phew! Lots of plants!
So if you are looking to start a garden and the whole thing seems daunting, here are a few tips:
There are many other tips I will provide as the growing season progresses. My garden is in the baby stages now and I'm looking forward to a fruitful harvest. Now if the crows would stop digging up my onions...
When the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee made recommendations for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, they outlined several diets that are more sustainable or environmentally-friendly than ones that most Americans consume. These diets, vegetarian, vegan, and the Mediterranean diet, consume little or no meat or animal products. In the report, they cited the affect of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of raising cattle compared to raising other forms of animal protein like seafood or poultry. Basically, raising cattle causes more environmental degradation than raising other livestock or even growing plant-based protein foods like lentils and other legumes.
This marks the first time the Advisory Committee addressed issues of sustainability in their report. However, the committee merely makes recommendations and it’s up to the USDHHS* and USDA* to compile the actual guidelines that Americans are supposed to follow.
So, when the 2015 Dietary Guidelines came out a couple of weeks ago, sustainability is not mentioned. The guidelines sidestep the issue of sustainability and do not explicitly state to eat less red meat. Rather, they promote healthy eating patterns of eating more nutrient dense foods and less sugar, among other things. Don’t get me wrong, I support this approach since it simplifies things for Americans. It makes sense. Americans need simple, easy-to-follow nutrition guidelines.
However, since the Advisory Committee made it a point to discuss sustainability in the food system, I feel it was the duty of the USDA and USDHHS to at least mention it. The fact that the committee discusses it begins to highlight the importance of sustainable eating patterns as well as linking food and the environment. I realize that there is a portion of the population (me included) who are hyper-aware of the effect raising food has on the environment. I mean, this is where the localvore movement stems from along with those who support GMO food labeling.
Are other countries addressing this? Sort of.
Sweden, for instance, released their 2015 Dietary Guidelines. And they simplified the whole thing down even to give one-minute advice:
They go a little further than this, as well, give practical Eco-smart food choices:
Why this matters
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Climate Change is real and will affect our food supply at some point. The United States, as a world leader, should take the initiative and make recommendations regarding food and sustainability. This is a serious issue and one that is being ignored due to the influence of powerful lobbies and politics. Growing food in a sustainable manner or following more sustainable eating habits (eating less red meat, consuming sustainably raised seafood, eating more fruits and vegetables, eating less processed foods, and reducing food waste) is not a political issue. Rather, growing food sustainably (or even eating sustainably) looks to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce the stress food production puts on the environment, all while providing healthy food for everyone to enjoy. However, along the way this issue has become political, which is disappointing and not helpful to future generations.
Perhaps in 2020, when the next Dietary Guidelines are due, the USDHHS and the USDA will formally address sustainability. Based on the current political climate in Washington, DC, I won’t get my hopes up. I will continue to do my part, however small, and eat less meat, more fruits and vegetables, curb my food waste, and source as much food locally as I can.
*United States Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
Roos, E. Environmental concerns now in Sweden's newly launched dietary guidelines. FCRN. June 11, 2015. Available at http://www.fcrn.org.uk/fcrn-blogs/elin-roos/environmental-concerns-now-sweden%E2%80%99s-newly-launched-dietary-guidelines
Eco-Smart Food Choices, Sweden. Available at http://www.livsmedelsverket.se/en/food-habits-health-and-environment/food-and-environment/eco-smart-food-choice/
Cookbooks for the Budding Chef
Looking for a gift this holiday season for a budding chef in your family? Well, there happen to be a plethora of cookbooks out on the market and it's hard to know what to choose for someone. I, myself, have many cookbooks most of which are simply used as a reference or guide. However, over the years, there are certain books that stand the test of time and offer the best recipes, tips, and techniques.
Part of sustainable cooking is making meals and food from scratch. Not only is it more sustainable in terms of paying attention to ingredients and where they come from, but it is also healthier for you. However, in order to cook from scratch, you need the skills and knowledge to make good meals and food. These books help you do just that and should be part of any cookbook reference library.
How much do you think about food waste? Probably not much, based on current statistics:
Worldwide (per year):
222 million tons of food wasted in industrialized countries
Compared to food production in sub Saharan Africa = 230 million tons
30-40% of the food supply is wasted
Or about 20 lb/person/month
1,160 lb food/year per American family
Food waste comes from:
40-50% from consumers
50-60% from businesses
Obviously we need to do better.
As you can see families and households only hold part of the blame. Businesses - restaurants, grocery stores, farms, etc, share in wasting food. That's billions of dollars thrown out each year. As I sit here and write this, I am realizing I need to clean out my refrigerator and throw out old food. As much as I try to prevent food waste by reinventing leftovers into other meals and freezing food, it seems inevitable.
But that's me, in my home. I'm aware of the situation in my fridge. Let's pick on business for a quick second. Where is food waste happening at a local grocery store? While there are many areas of food waste in the store (expired items), there is one place that is also a big culprit.
Next time you are in the grocery store, visit the deli. If your local grocery store has a deli, most likely it has a soup and salad bar along with a bakery. Ok. So, let's focus on the soup bar. Depending on the policy of the store, soup leftover at the end of the day is thown out. While that doesn't seem like a big deal to you (why should I care about soup?), let me put in terms of amounts.
Let's say, there are 3 soups out on the bar. At the end of the day, 2 gallons of each soup remain. That's 6 gallons of soup being thrown away each night. Or 42 gallons per week or 2,184 gallons per year.
Now before you run out to the store to buy up all the soup from deli to prevent it from being thrown out, contact the store and ask them their policy. Some stores are proactive and donate leftovers to soup kitchens and other charities. But some don't. Don't let them tell you that they fear litigation because the Good Samaritan Law protects them from lawsuits. These stores lack the will to do what's right. Hunger is a real issue. And so is food waste. That leftover food could go to someone who needs it.
As with most things, to make any meaningful changes in the food system, sometimes you need government (oh no!) to step in and legislate change. In fact, France has taken steps to stop food waste. In the US, it's up to municipalities around the country to write ordinances that enact change. Here's what is being done:
French supermarkets are now banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food. They must donate it to charities or for animal feed.
The city has a goal of having zero waste by 2020 by diverting all of it's recyclable and compostable trash from landfills. They are currently diverting 80% of their waste from landfills.
To achieve this, they have enacted recycling and composting programs for consumers and businesses. For instance, restaurants are prohibited from using styrofoam take out containers because they are not recyclable. Residents and businesses are given food composting bins. Food and any waste must be either composted or recycled. If not, there are fines.
The city instituted a composting program for residences and businesses. Starting January 1, 2016, they will start issuing fines for garbage containers containing >10% of recyclables or food waste. All commercial businesses that generate food waste must subscribe to a composting service.
Portland provides recycling and compost bins to residences and businesses. They have a goal of raising the recycling rate to 75% by 2015.
These are just a few examples. There are other countries and cities addressing waste and recycling. I live in Cincinnati where they have not enacted any ordinances to combat food waste. They do, however, have a site dedicated to encouraging the public to donate food before throwing it out.
What could I do better in my house regarding food waste? I already do a great deal but food waste happens no matter how hard I try to prevent it. Since we are renting and planning to move out of state within a year, we do not have a compost bin. However, I do throw some food scraps into the garden (ones that I know will breakdown quickly). It's not perfect, but it's a start.
Here are some things you can do to prevent food waste:
Compost food waste. There are several websites and resources online about starting and maintaining a compost bin.
Only buy food you need. I write out a menu for the week and grocery shop according to the menu. I notice that on weeks I fail to write a dinner menu, we have a lot more food waste. Having a menu and grocery list forces me to take an inventory of the food in the refrigerator and pantry. I'm not wasting as much time and money in the store, either.
Cook from the pantry, freezer, or fridge. This means using up foods that ready to expire. I like to use up vegetables that are getting past their prime in either frittata or soup (2 perfect ways to utilize leftovers, too). I also freeze leftover soups and meat to use at a later time. Doing this saves me time and money in the end because some days I don't want to make a big dinner. It's comforting to know there is leftover soup in the freezer that will be good for a weeknight dinner.
These are just some ideas to get started thinking about food waste. I encourage you to enact steps in your household to reduce food waste and becoming a more knowledgeable consumer.
What Does Local Mean to You?
The first time I realized my interest in sustainability was when my family and I lived in Chicago. I took my young children to a local farmer’s market and without even thinking, I asked the farmer selling the vegetables how far way they were located from the city. This was 10 years ago, before the term “food miles” became mainstream and the magic 1500 mile number (# of miles food typically travels from farm to store) was assigned to foods sold in the grocery store. The farmer’s answer, “100 miles.” I hoped they were a little bit closer, but 100 miles is not too bad considering how big Chicagoland is.
It got me thinking of what local food means and it’s been something I wrote about and studied over the past several years. It seems as though “local” means something different to each person. There is no straight definition.
So, if you had pick a number of miles that you consider local, what would it be? 10? 25? 50? 100? 300? And then ask yourself this, could you eat 90% of your diet exclusively from local foods, say within a 100 mile radius of your home? That means gathering 90% of your diet -- everything from seasonings (salt, herbs, etc) to flour to sugar to meat. Is this even feasible and do you want to do this? Could be a good challenge if you’re up for it.
I would venture to guess that there are some areas of the United States will have way more variety in their local food system (ahem, California) than other parts of the country (let’s say, northern Minnesota) simply due to seasonality of food and growing conditions. Perhaps it’s even more of a challenge to define local food in some areas where winter seems endless (like Montana or Alaska).
Now, if you wanted to eat locally where you live could you go without bananas, assuming they are not grown in your backyard? How about lemons? Perhaps those items could be part of the 10% of foods that are not locally sourced in your diet. It all starts to get tricky and you have to make compromises on what you want in your diet. I can go without bananas but lemons are a whole different story. Maybe I need to grow a lemon tree. I tried to once, but it never produced lemons.
But that’s thinking of local foods on a personal scale. We can go to farmer’s markets, get a CSA share, and find local meat and eggs. However, not everyone has the means or the time to go to farmer’s markets or pay for a CSA share. They rely on big grocery store chains to get their food.
So, what does local mean to these corporations? Local is the new organic and as people become more familiar with the food system, the more they want sustainable food choices. Which means, big corporations are defining local for their own business models and each one is different. Since we don’t have a “local food” definition, this isn’t a big surprise.
I took the time to search several grocery stores and see what they consider “local food.” This is by no means an exhaustive list of grocery stores in America. It’s just a sampling, but as you can see, each one defines “local food” differently.
Local food is produce grown and sold in same state.
Leaves it up to the stores but basically they use state lines. A big state like California is divided into areas “Bay Area,” etc.
Products are local if they are sourced within their 6-state region (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kentucky).
Local food is anything sourced within 400 miles of the store. They have a nice new website dedicated to local farmers and sustainability.
They have regional growing partners. They also had a policy that local food is less than 8 hour drive to the store.
Local produce is sourced within the states the store is located.
They leave the definition of “local food” up to the consumer.
Now you know what local means these grocery stores. If I did not list your grocery store, you can always look on their website to see what they say.
To me, local food depends on where I live. If I can find what I need within 25 miles from my home, I am good with that. However, when we lived in Bozeman, Montana, local food meant looking beyond the 25 mile radius, especially if you wanted to enjoy all that Montana has to offer – Flathead cherries, flour, and lentils.
Eating 90% of your diet sourced locally will be a big challenge for most people. Perhaps setting a smaller goal (like getting only local produce or honey) is more attainable.
The best way to start is to determine your definition of local food and do your best to follow it. At the very least, a farmer’s market is likely nearby. Ask the farmer where he/she is located. And if you are able, plant a garden, even if it’s small and only grows lettuce or cherry tomatoes. That’s as local as you can get.
I have two children, ages 14 and 10. A common misconception among my friends and family is that my children are the best eaters ever. This is only half true. My 14-year-old, Caitlynn, is a good eater, while my 10-year-old boy, Miles has declared war on carrots. Caitlynn is the adventurous eater, the one who has grown up to eat most vegetables as long as they are doused in Sriracha sauce.
“Brussels Spouts!? Sure! Pass the Sriracha, please!”
Hey, whatever works, you know.
Miles, on the other hand, is stubborn, thinks carrots are his mortal enemy, and is skeptical about healthy foods. He waged war on carrots when I put them in chili and he has never let me forget how much he hated the carrot laden chili. So, moral of the story, do not put carrots in your chili. Miles will hate it.
Now, I am not the type of parent to force my child to eat anything, including vegetables. If Miles doesn’t want my chili (I usually make it sans carrot), he doesn’t have to eat it. Of course, he might be hungrier than the rest of us, but he’s exercising his right to live a carrot-free life. Plus, he knows how to make some of his own meals – sandwiches, toast, etc. He can even heat up an Amy’s burrito if he wants.
I am sure there are moms out there who can relate. A picky eater lurks around the dinner table picking out every last pea out of the pasta dish. Should you worry? Will your child get enough nutrition? What do I do if my child does not want to eat his vegetables? Force them? Bribe them?
Well, I tend to side with Ellyn Satter, the feeding expert. Her research shows that creating a positive feeding environment is better for the child and better for you as the parent. The parent is “responsible for for what, when, and where” to eat. The child (toddler or adolescent) is “responsible for how much and whether” to eat.
So, what do you do?
Offer healthy food (vegetables, fruit) at each meal. If kids see the vegetables at each meal, they will start to realize that this is the norm. Eventually they’ll come around and start trying new foods. And remember to lead by example. Kids mimic their parents. So, if they see you eating the healthy foods, they’ll likely follow suit.
Encourage children to listen to their body. I grew up in a family that prized the “clean plate club.” Kids should be able to step back from the plate when they feel full. They need to learn from their internal cues when to stop eating, even if they have not finished their green beans yet.
Figure out how kids like the vegetables cooked. In my case with Caitlynn, I had to pay attention to which vegetables she was willing to try. At first, she turned her nose up at everything. Then I made leek and potato soup and she ate a big bowl. It was at this point I realized she liked vegetables pureed in soups. From there I was able to introduce her to more vegetables and to encourage her to explore different foods. She moved from only eating vegetables in soup to eating them as a side dish.
Do not bribe your child into eating healthy. I think parents fall into the bribe trap too many times. “If you eat the broccoli, you can have ice cream for dessert.” Sound familiar? This puts broccoli in a negative light and ice cream in the positive. Ice cream already has a lot going for it. Do not pit vegetables against ice cream. Ice cream will always win.
Be positive and pick your battles. Keep the dinner table a battle-free zone. You’ve worked hard getting a good meal on the table, so you feel the need to make sure everyone enjoys it. If your child does not want to eat everything you’ve served, that’s ok. Keep things positive. Meal time should be fun and chance for the family to catch up on the day’s events, not fighting about whether or not your child is eating all her carrots.
Encourage your child to explore the world of food, not just vegetables. Bring in different flavors and textures from around the world. Utilize the spice cabinet to introduce different cuisines. Have a special night dedicated to certain cuisines – Greek, Indian, Italian, Thai, etc.
Grow vegetables in your backyard (or porch) or take the kids to the farmer’s market. Let them see how fruits and vegetables are grown. They will be more likely to try something if they’ve grown it or picked it themselves.
Let them help with meal time. Cooking is a skill that should be taught early in life, so that kids will grow up with an appreciation for food. Ok, so that’s the food-nerd in me talking, but the more the kids are around food either growing it or preparing it, the more likely they will be to try new things.
So, don’t fret. Your picky eater will come around eventually. Miles is starting come around. He’s been eating carrots without even knowing (they hide in my cream of tomato soup). Shhh… don’t tell him.