By Chelsey Simpson
You know how it feels the first time you visit a new grocery store—the way nothing you need is where you want it to be and shopping take twice as long because you wrote your list according to the order of your usual store, and that just doesn’t work here? And if you love the new store—if every item calls to you from the shelf like a beautiful, exotic stranger—you will inevitably spend way too much time and money. If you take one of those hot little strangers home (perhaps it called to you from beneath the shower of the produce mister, “buy me, steam me, eat me with butter!”), you will inevitably find that you have no idea how to actually prepare it, and the odds are very good it will sit on your counter and rot.
I think the switch to eating local can be a lot like this for many people. If anything, it is far more daunting than an unfamiliar supermarket. First of all, the system itself is different. Instead of aisles there are farmers’ market stalls (which usually only take cash), or in the case of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative there is a website to navigate (and it is helpful to have a PayPal account). Unlike at the grocery store, where every can of beans opens with the same tool, new skills are sometimes required to make the most of local food. Or maybe I shouldn’t say “new” skills, but rather forgotten skills like cooking with whole chickens, baking bread and canning.
I have suffered the confusion myself—and I am still learning—but by and large I have converted, so I thought I would take this opportunity to do a little show and tell in hopes that someone out there will find it helpful. First, the “show.”
A few weeks ago my friend Tricia posted two links on her blog that were very revealing. One is a photography project showing the interior of people’s refrigerators and the other shows families with all the food they typically eat in one week. I was still thinking about the post when I got home from the farmers’ market that week, and I was inspired to take a photo of my own daily bread, which you can see on the right. But first I had to determine what I was going to eat that week beside just the stuff I bought during my shopping trip.
I think that one of the keys to eating local is meal planning, so ever weekend I follow the same steps:
1) I take stock of what I have on hand that needs to be used before it spoils;
2) I think about what I have going on during the week that might take away from my cooking time;
3) I think about what is in season and what I might be able to get from the farmer’s market;
4) I make a list of all my meals on one side of a scrap of paper and a shopping list on the back.
There are only two people in my household, so I have to consider the fact that I will have leftovers, and I also plan to have extra food we can take to work for lunch.
Because local food (especially meat) costs more sometimes and comes in a more whole form (bones, skin, etc.), I always plan meals so that I can get the most mileage out of everything. For example I cook with whole chickens, but a lot of recipes call for boneless, skinless breasts, so sometimes I cut just the breast meat off of the bird and use it in a stir fry or pasta dish one night then save the rest of the bird to cook whole in the oven, slow cooker or on the grill. Then, if I am really feeling frisky, I use the bones and scraps to make stock. I am afraid I am making this sound like a lot of work, but it isn’t really. And sometimes I just throw a whole bird in a slow cooker for a few hours and call it a day; there’s nothing wrong with that!
So here was my meal plan for the week, roughly in order by day:
If you look closely at the photo, you can probably make out most of the ingredients. The local things are generally on the right-hand side of the photo, including some Swiss chard from my church’s community garden (isn’t chard beautiful?), andthe grocery items are on the left. Yes, I buy bananas; I like them. And usually we eat a little more meat than this, but somehow this week my husband let me get away with serving him several vegetarian meals.
If I had to guess, I would say this is about $100 worth of food, but we won’t eat it all in a week; a lot of it, like the PB and jelly, will live to see another meal plan. According to this estimation, about two thirds of the money I spent stayed local.
So there you have it—a fast and dirty look at one week of local eating! It would be fun to see other people’s weekly menus in the comments section. How do YOU make local work?