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Chris Amirault

How Local Are You Really?

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After much hemming and hawing, I decided this year to forego the one-way hour-long trip into eastern CT to get my turkey for Thanksgiving and instead ordered a heritage breed bird from a farm in PA through Whole Foods. That got me calculating the difference in miles between the two farms, and then the effects of one refrigerator truck carrying a few hundred birds versus my car going to CT, and then the provenance of my sweet potatoes, and then....

You get the idea. I was quickly losing altitude in a Michael Pollan-induced locavore anxiety spin.

When I recovered, I started wondering about this strange consumer guilt. By most standards, I'm a pretty conscientious local shopper, try to buy things in season, note provenance on the produce signs, hit the farmers markets regularly. But I also buy ingredients for everyday eating and drinking in my house that aren't local by any stretch, and my family budget requires that I occasionally substitute cheaper non-local items for more expensive local stuff. Finally, there are certain ingredients from faraway shores -- coffee beans, anchovies, rum, cheese -- that you'll have to tear out of my cold, dead, remotavore hands.

Perhaps there are a few true locavores out there; perhaps, if I were Dan Barber at Stone Barns, living a life that's complete with produce, livestock, abbatoir, and staff, I might be an exception too. But I'm starting to wonder whether we all are, on balance, remotavores these days, even when we try hard to be Pollan-esque consumers.

Thus this topic. What percentage of your food and drink dollar goes to things you could legitimately designate as local? Feel free to define that term any way you'd like; just share your definition here. Living in RI, I'll be using "New England" as my locality. Then grab a few shopping lists and let's see where we stand.

After all, if the vast majority of Society members aren't locavores, I'm not holding out much hope for the general public.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I'd love to be a locavore. And given that I live in a ruralish area, with plenty of local farmers and green-thumbed neighbors, you'd think it'd be easy to accomplish.

Ha.

About 10% of our meat and poultry, maybe two-thirds of our dairy products, most of our fresh herbs, and most of our produce from May to October is local -- defining "local" as "New England", where that ranges from "huge dairy co-op in VT" to "farm around the corner". We're making some changes and I expect we'll be up to 50% or more of the meat and poultry within a year. Much of the rest is probably hopeless without a huge expenditure of effort and significant lifestyle changes, which just aren't likely to happen anytime soon.

Pollan... it's easy for a guy who lives in northern California to insist on local food. In most of the rest of the developed world, it's a little more complicated.


John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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Let's see....

Produce: I'd guess that, at best, I buy 50% of the produce locally. That means in season and hitting the farmers markets. Consistent outliers include bananas, citrus, fresh herbs, and specific produce that's in season but not local (yesterday, e.g., artichokes). Late spring and that percentage drops below 20%.

Meat, Poultry, & Fish: At best, 50%, and that's counting local eggs. Most of the beef and pork is from New England, as is the odd slab of fish. But the family loves salmon, shrimp, lamb, and chicken, and they ain't local.

Starches: We go through a lot of rice, pasta, flour, cornmeal, and so on, and no more than 5% of it comes from New England, if that.

Baked Goods: 90% made locally (but who knows where they get their flours...!).

Drinks: fuggedaboutit. Since Medford stopped distilling rum in the late 19th century, the prospects are grim. 5% here, max, thanks to Polar seltzer.

Dairy: 100% local, thanks to Rhody Fresh, VT butter, etc.

Miscellaneous: cooking oil, soy sauce, sugar, dried mushrooms, salt, spices... 0% local.

I'd guess that, for each dollar I spend on groceries, liquor, and other comestibles, $.40 goes to local products in September when I get to the farmers market and feel flush. Dead of March, however, and that drops to $.25 or lower.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Chris, I've been thinking about this since you first posted, and I'm probably pretty darned close to your percentages. I'm probably quite a bit higher on the local in terms of meat since I'm gifted with two deer per year (fingers crossed for this year) that come from within 250 miles from my house. I know that breaks the 100-mile rule (or whatever), but I consider it local and organic and sustainable.

If we ate out much, who knows how much lower the percentages would be?


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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For the food that I eat at home I'd say we are pretty good locavores. By that I mean if there's a local alternative we usually by it. Using Ontario as my local area and the same breakdown as Chris:

Produce: Highly dependent on season. I'd say we fluctuate between 50-80%. As with Chris, bananas are a big outlier as are clementines in the winter. In general though, we buy very few citrus. Fresh herbs are possibly grown in province, although I confess I don't check. In the winter, we eat a lot of root vegetables.

Meat, Poultry, & Fish: 90% local. We buy very little fish (mostly wild sockeye salmon, less than once per meat).

Starches: Not local, although mostly canadian (prairie provinces)

Drinks: Most beer I buy is brewed in province (but who knows where they're getting their ingredients). We don't buy a whole ton of wine but when we do it's about 50% local.

Dairy: 90% local,apart the odd french cheese. We're fortunate to gave a great artisanal cheese industry in Ontario.

Miscellaneous: cooking oil, soy sauce, sugar, dried mushrooms, salt, spices... 1% local. I made my own pepper flakes this year :biggrin:

I'd like to tally up the real figures and see how they stack up to my perception of my household habits. If we factor in meals eaten out though, it all goes out the window.


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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Beef, veal, pork, lamb, poultry and eggs - about 90% local all combined. Seafood essentially none local, since I don't live near a shore. Milk 100% local, cheese 80% local. Vegetables 100% from April - November, about 50% over winter. Grains a small percentage are locally grown. Fruit 50% (100% June - November, 10% December-May). Potatoes 90% local Onions 60% Garlic 50%, herbs 90%, spices 0%, salt 0% oils 0%, chocolate 0%, Wine <1%, beer 100% Regional (20% local), sweeteners 25% (maple syrup & honey), coffee & tea o%.

I am fortunate to live in a part of NY State that has excellent local produce. We take advantage of that whenever possible, mostly because it is very good and I believe in buying locally all else being equal. I am not , however, a strict locavore by any means. I will buy something from afar if I can't get it locally or if the quality is far superior to what I can get locally. I believe that it is important to support top quality and biodiversity wherever it comes from.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I live in Phoenix, AZ and it's pretty similar to living on Mars. We are surrounded by desert. Cotton and a few other crops are grown with irrigation with water we buy from Colorado.

I'm a vegetarian, so I don't know about meat.

A few veggies are grown hydroponically here, mostly greens and tomatoes, and I buy those. There are local citrus farms, local dates, and local pomegranates. A few nuts are grown here, most notably pistachios. I know a person with a pecan tree and enough people with citrus trees in their yards that I rarely actually pay for citrus fruit.

Grains come from out of state. I can get cornmeal from New Mexico, but wheat and rice products come from afar. Potatoes come from California or Colorado.

Generally, we get a lot of stuff from California. A lot of Mexican things are also available, but I am suspicious about their purity. We have seen some scandals with lead-laden and pesticide-laden imports.

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There's no getting around grains, for me. Local meats, easy. Local produce (fruit, veggies). Heck, I can even get local sugar, rice, and citrus fruits. But no oats, barley, wheat....cereals just don't like the subtropics. So I'm a happy supporter of national & international trade on certain foodstuffs.

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Living in the grain belt, I buy locally milled flours. But since this IS Minnesota, most of the year fruits & veggies are not local. Plus I must have my coffee, orange juice, lemons and limes and that is not going to happen here.

Dairy - I really don't know if all the dairy is local, but I suspect much of it is, even if not labeled so. I'd guess 80% local dairy (some imported cheeses). Schroeder dairy in the St. Paul area produces THE most excellent, non ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream. That stuff is so decadent I want to bathe in it.

Meats - again, 80%+ since I buy from the local butcher shop that uses MN meat. Or so they say, anyway.

Fruits & Veggies - maybe 40% in summer. 0% in winter.

Breads & Grains: depends how far I can extend local. 150 miles: 10% 300 miles: maybe 90%? Much of the pasta sold in the U.S. is grown in ND/Canada.

Seafood: what's that? DH doesn't like it, plus it's hard to find in my neck of the woods.

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I live in Yokohama Japan and 95% of the produce I buy is local through the (organic) farmers market. Nothing beats the freshness. I'm very happy to know that I'm helping local farmers. That other five percent is usually for specialty items or -- the uber rare -- canned good, like tomatoes.

I do a lot of "foreign" cooking so a lot of my other foods are imported. I use import shops for my nuts, grains (except rice), pulses, etc. The meat and seafood I use tend to be from Japan. I don't know where it's raised or caught. I say tend to because there are times I want things that are hard to come by and I have to import. Cheek meat, liver, sweetbreads, turkey, buffalow....

For me it's less to do with the environment and more about getting the freshest food I can. That it does help the local economy is an added bonus I sometimes pay more for. It also keeps my cooking in tune with the season which I suspect is better for my body. Gazpacho in winter. Hmmm.


Edited by cteavin (log)

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I live in Southern California, so if you count local as being your same state, then most fruits and veggies are local (and I usually go to the farmer's market once a week, or Whole Foods, which usually locally sources a bunch of their produce). The meat tends to be local too (again, Whole Foods) except when I'm hankering for some lamb (I've asked about getting American lamb, and they say they only have it once a year, in limited quantities since apparently it is not very popular, go figure).

Most other ingredients though, local goes out the window. I buy a bunch of stuff at the asian markets, so half my pantry was made in the Phillipines, Thailand, etc.

One thing that surprised me was that when I went to Hawaii for vacation, about 80% of the fruits and veggies had a "Grown in California" sticker on them. I would have thought that more was grown on the islands themselves, but apparently a lot of it is grown for export, and they ship in cheap CA produce to sell to the locals. Go figure.


"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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Produce- from May to September 100%, all from farmers markets except herbs, I grow those. I try to freeze enough corn, green beans and salsa to last, hopefully, till the next summer.

Eggs, milk- 100%

Honey, maple syrup, jam, jelly, 100% - I buy a jar or two every week at the farmers market and by the end of the summer I have enuf for the rest of the year.

Meat- a deer, maybe some pork

Alcohol- 95%, all local wine, the other 5% is for other types of liquor

Nuts-last year I got a bunch of pecans and hickory nuts that were local, this year I bought a couple bags of black walnuts just because they were from Missouri

Trying to come up with the actual percentages is really eyeopening. I can see where I need more work and where I'm actually doing ok.


Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

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I live in Southern California, so if you count local as being your same state....

Heh. Easy to ask if you're in CA.

If you had to break it down into CA, w/in 100 miles, w/in 50 miles, what would it look like?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I have three herb plants on my deck (basil, parsley and rosemary). Other than that, probably close to 0%, unless it's just by chance.

I used to belong to a CSA which dropped off where I worked. Now that I don't work there anymore, it's not worth the time -- a half hour each way on the bus, lugging back a bunch of produce. Some of the produce was great; some was not measurably better than grocery store produce; some was spoiled by the time it arrived or shortly thereafter. I could get meat too, which was usually very good, but often oddly butchered so the cuts were not at all what I was expecting.

Besides, I like citrus fruit, and coffee and spices. I like olive oil and sherry vinegar. I like liquor. I like all kinds of things that won't ever be produced within 50 or 100 or 500 miles of where I live.

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I try to support local farmers as much as I can, knowing full well that some things, as JAZ says, such as citrus, coffee, chocolate, and so on are never likely to be local produce in New England. On the other hand, there are local coffee roasters and other processors whose products at least mean jobs in the region. Heck, there's a peanut-butter factory less than half a mile from here. I'd rather skip berries in the winter than buy the crappy stuff from California. I don't eat meat and only occasionally fish, so those are not big issues for me. Eggs from a small producer in western MA.


"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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I'd rather skip berries in the winter than buy the crappy stuff from California.

Is our stuff really that bad when it gets to you? I would think things like blackberries and rasberries would do well in some of the warmer parts of New England (in winter), or at least do well in an area closer to you than California.


"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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There are many things I buy/eat that are not local. However, over the past few years I've changed the way I eat to try and eat more locally. Maple syrup was never for anything other than pancakes, now it sweetens almost everything I used to use sugar for. I enjoy trying to find more local items and see if it can sub for non local ones.


Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

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Within 300 feet: sour cherries, raspberries, gooseberries, currants, rhubarb, blueberries, blackberries, shallots, popcorn, corn meal, leeks, green beans, canning tomatoes, asparagus, pumpkins/squash, all 100%; hot peppers, 95%; lettuce, spinach, fresh herbs, peas, sweet corn, fresh tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplant, garlic 75%; carrots, onions, radishes, brussel sprouts, jam, 50%; dried beans, apples, 10%.

Within 1 mile: eggs 100%.

Within 10 miles: milk, 100%; beef, maple syrup 25%.

Within 20 miles: turkey, chicken, apricots, sweet cherries, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, honey 100%; apples, 90%; butter, 50%: beef, pork 25%; bread, ice cream 10%; cheese 5%.

Within 50 miles: beer 75%. Seafood, wheat flour, pasta, rice, citrus and tropical fruit, grapes(fresh or dried), wine, lentils, salt, sugar, tomato sauce/paste/ketchup, mustard, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, broth/stock, all 0%.

This was a very interesting exercise and made me realize once again that I live in a pretty good part of the country from the standpoint of finding sources of fresh food direct from the farmers/producers.

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For those who try to shop "local" -- whatever that means to you -- I'm interested to know what your motivation is. Supporting local farmers/local economy? Better quality? Or something else?

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Is our stuff really that bad when it gets to you? I would think things like blackberries and rasberries would do well in some of the warmer parts of New England (in winter), or at least do well in an area closer to you than California.

Yes, it generally is not good. In winter, I might be better off buying one of the better brands of frozen berries than what passes for fresh. Part of the problem is that the shops around here only stock berries from one or two producers, who send unripe fruit that tastes like packing material; you see the same packages everywhere. What's really bad is that even in the summer the regular supermarkets often have only the stuff from California, you have to go to a good produce market to get the local fresh stuff. There are no "warmer parts" of New England in winter.


"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Within 300 feet: sour cherries, raspberries, gooseberries, currants, rhubarb, blueberries, blackberries, shallots, popcorn, corn meal, leeks, green beans, canning tomatoes, asparagus, pumpkins/squash, all 100%; hot peppers, 95%; lettuce, spinach, fresh herbs, peas, sweet corn, fresh tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplant, garlic 75%; carrots, onions, radishes, brussel sprouts, jam, 50%; dried beans, apples, 10%.

Within 1 mile: eggs 100%.

Within 10 miles: milk, 100%; beef, maple syrup 25%.

Within 20 miles: turkey, chicken, apricots, sweet cherries, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, honey 100%; apples, 90%; butter, 50%: beef, pork 25%; bread, ice cream 10%; cheese 5%.

Within 50 miles: beer 75%. Seafood, wheat flour, pasta, rice, citrus and tropical fruit, grapes(fresh or dried), wine, lentils, salt, sugar, tomato sauce/paste/ketchup, mustard, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, broth/stock, all 0%.

This was a very interesting exercise and made me realize once again that I live in a pretty good part of the country from the standpoint of finding sources of fresh food direct from the farmers/producers.

Dang. You do live in a good part of the country.


"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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Other than the rosemary from my garden, the bread I bake, mushrooms. I have to say a big fat zero. I just like the variety I can get in the regular grocery store.

edit to add due to stupid computer: There is alot of farmers and stuff around where I live, but due to budget concerns and frankly the quality is better, I like the stores better.


Edited by CKatCook (log)

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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Each year, a group of us embarks upon the 10-mile, 10-day challenge, in Richmond, BC, Canada. I would post a link to the most recent newspaper article, but am unable to find in a Google search.

Anyways, we each choose up to 5 items "from far away", then source everything else uber-locally.

This year, I was able to eat all sorts of veggies produced within a stone's throw of my front door. I live in the heart of the city of Vancouver, and we have only one working farm remaining within the city limits. But I grew carrots, spinach, onions, oodles of herbs, and some edible flowers, at a community garden nearby. Eggs, berreis and potatoes were pretty easy to find. But, due to government regulations, it's hard to purchase any meat or poultry which is grown locally. Most [of the few] producers have a 30-40 lb minimum, which would over-fill my freezer.

If I extend to 100 miles, I can certainly source nearly everything for a day-to-day meal. Except coffee or beer (because the hops and yeast have to come from "somewhere"). We have many food manufacturers and converters in this region. But many are processing foods which come from far away.

I am not willing to give up such things as spices, salt, oils, coffee, spirits, chocolate.

But I do give mindful consideration to how and where I purchase, or otherwise procure, that which I consume, not limited to food.


Karen Dar Woon

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