Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Eating Omily: Going Local NOW?!

It's January, and Winter is settling in for good.  If you're lucky, you still have Farmer's Markets open, but if not, you face a whole lot of temptation in terms of imported broccoli!  It's easy to say no to industrial foods when there are such delicious things literally growing on trees, but how do you resist this time of year?  How do you make canned, dried, and frozen just as appealing?

Start by reminding yourself that this is a natural part of the cycle you've chosen to participate in.  Winter is a time for turning inward: forward folds, long meditation sessions, cleaning out the closets in your home and in your soul.  I'll bet there are treats at the back of your canned good pantry you've forgotten about that you'll be thrilled to unearth.  I haven't cracked a single jar of tart cherry preserves yet, or spiced-brandied peaches.  Dig deep.  Pull out all those jars that have been sitting around for close to the year mark, and get creative.  Peach salsa on cheesy quesadillas?  Pesto flatbreads with pickled mushrooms and peppers?  That's a big can-do, but only if you did your part for the other half of the year.

Even if you've only managed to freeze a couple bags of green beans, you're still ahead of the curve.  Buy apples from your region at your grocery store, make home-made apple sauce (if you've got a slow-cooker, this is super-easy), and fill out your meal with hearty meat, as close to humanely raised as you can manage, or beans.  Meat animals are generally harvested in the Fall, then frozen, so Winter is a great time to get in touch with farms in your area, and ask if they're selling.  You may need to buy your meat by the side, which means going in with a couple of friends, unless you're ready to throw the biggest barbecue in the world!  Mid-winter indoor-grilling steak party, anyone?

My hyper-local (one block away) grocery store always keeps a couple local veggies on the shelves, and labels them as such.  This time of year I can find herbs, kale, and sometimes onions and carrots.  That's enough for a nourishing soup, especially if I combine it with the Thanksgiving turkey meat in my freezer.

Whole-grain pasta baked with sharp cheeses is another rib-sticking meal that's perfect for the colder months.  Stir in Winter squash for a burst of veggie nutrition.

It may just be the laws of irony at work, but it seems like a lot of people come around to eating local in the Winter, when it's the toughest to do.  They find themselves standing with an empty cart in the middle of their grocery store, utterly dismayed.  There's not a damn thing they can eat!  First thing's first: some non-local choices are better than others.  Consider how difficult or expensive some foods are to ship.  Keep in mind that if you're in Ohio (for example), New York is closer than New Zealand, and Canada is closer than Mexico.  Bring a map for reference if necessary.  Select organic whenever possible.  Think about what foods your state is known for, and look for local representatives of those.  If you can't find local cheese in Wisconsin, I'll eat my laptop.  The same goes for maple syrup in Vermont, and apples in New York. 

Use this time of year to do some research on where and when the Farmers' markets closest to you are.  How frequently can you get to them?  Buy a good canning book, stock up on supplies, and practice on some apple preserves or lemon curd, both in season in the Winter.  Look over your kitchen, and make sure it's ready for the influx of food Spring, Summer, and Fall will bring.  Could you get your hands on an extra freezer?  Is your pantry full of processed foods?  Get them eaten and out of your way!  Buy a chicken, roast it, and turn the carcass into stock.  Switch to free-range eggs.

Small steps in the right direction do count, and they'll prime you for your revamped lifestyle when asparagus pops up in the Spring.  Eat seasonally to the best of your ability, but if you need to treat yourself, do it.  Slow changes are much easier to stick with and incorporate into your lifestyle than fast ones.  There will likely always be cheats you can't resist: coffee, avocados, exotic spices, breakfast cereals, tortillas, wine, chocolate.  Just do the best you can.

Are you ready?  Spring will come!  Until then, take some well-deserved rest, and prepare.

~em

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