Excerpts
Tell me what you eat,
and I will tell you what you are.

                             —Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

“Do you eat?”
This was how my husband’s Uncle Nick welcomed me into his house the first time I met him—his standard words of salutation, I learned later, usually followed by, “Do you like meat? ‘Cause that’s all we got here.”

His greeting was at once disarming and charming. It made for instant kinship with anyone who walked in his door because, well, who doesn’t love to eat? Uncle Nick followed up the introductions by sitting me down to a heaping plate of homemade tostones and Puerto Rican style braised pork shoulder. Two minutes after I walked in the door, I was part of the family.

For humans, eating is not just a means to sustenance. It’s also an expression of kinship. It connects us to each other: as Uncle Nick knew, we all eat, and we like to do it together. Anthropology, the scientific study of human beings, tells us that food is a key to understanding the structure of any society. How a group of people obtains its food influences everything from its art, music, gender roles, and family life to its political structure, economic system, and religion. Our food-ways define who we are. For humans, and no other creature that we know of, it also carries meaning. What we eat, how we eat, and even when we eat, makes a statement about the worldview we share.

So here we are, more than 317 million 21st-century Americans. What do our foodways say about us? According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, we eat approximately five billion fast food hamburgers a year. Nearly every car sold in the US today comes standard-equipped with several soft drink holders, and the national auto parts retailer Pep Boys will even sell you a French fry holder to go along with it. One in three American children is overweight. American adults eat approximately 150 pounds of sugar every year of their lives. According to the New York University Medical Center, family dinners have declined by 33 percent since the 1960s. Nearly half of us eat our meals alone. TV screens have become ubiquitous, not just in homes, but in many restaurants, blotting out with their incessant chatter all possibility of enjoying a quiet conversation with loved ones over dinner.

Do we like this picture of ourselves? Is the American foodway filling us with joy, bringing us closer together, bolstering our economic security, or providing us with robust health?

I’m guessing that this book caught your attention partly because the romance has gone out of your relationship with food. You probably have a childhood memory of biting into a ruby red tomato and having the taste explode on your tongue, yet the things they call by the same name in the grocery store today are insipid mush. You’ve thought, maybe it’s because I’m getting old and my taste buds are dying. Maybe it’s because the universe is in entropy and tomatoes have lost their tomato-ness. Or maybe, you’ve concluded, it’s not your fault or the tomatoes’ fault at all. Perhaps the blame lies with the massive corporations who grow tomatoes with the same conveyor-belt efficiency as the folks who manufacture tires or assemble microwave ovens.

It’s probably not just the taste of your food that has you concerned. If you’re like me, you get an ice-cold knot in your stomach when you read that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six hundred thousand Americans die from heart disease each year, or that 35.9 percent of American adults are obese. We are facing unprecedented numbers of cases of high blood pressure, stroke, colorectal cancer, and diabetes. What’s causing this? Could there be a connection between the state of our health and the food we’re eating?

You’re also probably aware that we’ve got even bigger problems looming: the way we’re living is messing up our atmosphere, wrecking the fertility of our soil, and polluting our water and air. We are looking at a near future dominated by climate change, rising energy costs, and shortages of everything from arable land to drinking water. Here, too, could these foreshadowed global crises have anything to do with the way we produce our food?

There’s more. You’re probably aware that, in many places in today’s world, people still go hungry. For them, there is no dollar menu to fall back on. Here in the United States, we produce about 700 calories more per day per person than we could possibly stuff into ourselves. Yet, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), 870 million people across the globe don’t get enough food each day to stay healthy. Approximately 220,000 per year die as a result. How is it that in 2014—in the 21st century, for God’s sake—anybody can still starve to death? If we can allow this to happen, something is deeply out of whack about our global food priorities.

If you’ve followed this path of thinking, then your next step may have been to cast about for alternatives: if you don’t want to eat mass-produced schlock that undermines your health, pollutes the environment, depletes resources, and doesn’t do a damn thing to relieve human hunger in other parts of the world, then what are your options?

That’s when you began to discover that there is this whole other food system that has been quietly producing delicious food in ways that not only don’t wreck any ecosystems but actually improve some of them. These are the foods lovingly produced by small-scale farmers and family-run cottage businesses, not corporations. They’re made in small quantities close to your community by people who cherish their land and work hard to keep it healthy.

The food these people produce don’t add dioxin to your dinner, have seldom been linked to a major outbreak of E. coli, contain far less fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar, and even give you more healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They don’t depend on government subsidies, and they don’t leverage small farmers in developing countries off their lands. They burn less fossil fuel in getting to you because they are grown within a hundred miles from your home. And when you sink your teeth into a tomato grown this way, you get the same juicy explosion of flavor you remember from childhood.

So you may have decided that this is the way you want to eat from now on. You’re not alone. Many of us have come to the same conclusion in recent years—so many that we sometimes get called a movement.

But that’s where you might have hit a snag. Let’s say you’ve happened to score a head of organic, locally produced Romaine lettuce in your local grocery store. You’re happy—until you look at the price of the stuff. Oy! And of course, this just confirms what you’ve seen in the media, read on the Internet, and heard from friends: sure, local provender is a trendy treat for the foodie crowd, but nobody can actually afford to eat this way.

It’s time to challenge that notion. If a thing is worth doing, there’s got to be a way to do it.

I’ve heard dozens of voices on TV, radio, Internet, and in print, grumbling that local and organic food was bound to be more expensive, and not one voice suggesting that it could be cheaper. I decided to be that one voice.

Sometimes people repeat a thing so often that it comes to sound like the truth, and sooner or later, we may even accept it as such. And if we do, the brilliant start we Americans have made toward changing the way we obtain our food will never amount to more than a well-intentioned fad. We have an opportunity here, and I think we should run with it.

You don’t need another book that tells you how to eat. Eat Local for Less isn’t going to give you yet another set of rules about food choices. Instead, it will trust that you have already made that decision for yourself, and will help you go about acting on that choice.

I want this book to empower you to rely on your own good sense and your storehouse of food knowledge. You may have come to believe that you don’t have any such thing, but you have far more than you think. You’ve just let the media shake your confidence. If you relied on your own food wisdom, you wouldn’t be as likely to eat their advertisers’ over-processed, nutritionally bankrupt products.

The impulse toward local food is part of a larger cultural shift. If the emphasis in our society in recent decades has been on commercialism and individual gain, then the pendulum appears poised to swing back toward community, family, and connections: shared household responsibilities, shared food-getting, shared cooking, and shared meals.

This book is not an indictment of what we’re doing wrong; it’s a celebration of the fact that we’re starting to get it right. Its goal is to help as many people as possible act on the choices they’ve made to eat purposefully and buy responsibly.

In this book, I’m entertaining a new mindset for the American foodway. I’m suggesting ways for us to grow, buy, cook, eat, and interact with food that are in harmony with who we truly intend to be. I’m proposing that our eating habits can be an expression of our respect for ourselves, our love for one another, and our awe of nature.

Here are the ultimate goals of this new foodway:

  • Nutritious, safe, abundant, local, and accessible food for all people
  • Food self-sufficiency for all communities
  • Food that is grown sustainably and responsibly
  • Multiple food streams and sources, to preserve true variety and choice
  • Transparency of method: food growers who habitually show their farms and discuss their techniques with anyone who wants to know
  • Food that is exchanged via responsible economics: in other words, a food economy that is need driven, rather than profit driven
  • Agrarian wisdom, ecological knowledge, and cooking skills for all

We are the futuresmiths: by our eating habits we will forge the links of a new food chain. We are the bodhisattvas of the home-cooked meal: we hold open the kitchen door and invite everyone in to taste the simple goodness they’ve been missing. We do this, not because there are big bucks in it, but because it’s what any thinking, feeling species does for its own, and for its planet, when it finally gets its act together.

I’ve heard dozens of voices on TV, radio, Internet, and in print, grumbling that local and organic food was bound to be more expensive, and not one voice suggesting that it could be cheaper. I decided to be that one voice.

Sometimes people repeat a thing so often that it comes to sound like the truth, and sooner or later, we may even accept it as such. And if we do, the brilliant start we Americans have made toward changing the way we obtain our food will never amount to more than a well-intentioned fad. We have an opportunity here, and I think we should run with it.

You don’t need another book that tells you how to eat. Eat Local for Less isn’t going to give you yet another set of rules about food choices. Instead, it will trust that you have already made that decision for yourself, and will help you go about acting on that choice.

I want this book to empower you to rely on your own good sense and your storehouse of food knowledge. You may have come to believe that you don’t have any such thing, but you have far more than you think. You’ve just let the media shake your confidence. If you relied on your own food wisdom, you wouldn’t be as likely to eat their advertisers’ over-processed, nutritionally bankrupt products.

The impulse toward local food is part of a larger cultural shift. If the emphasis in our society in recent decades has been on commercialism and individual gain, then the pendulum appears poised to swing back toward community, family, and connections: shared household responsibilities, shared food-getting, shared cooking, and shared meals.

This book is not an indictment of what we’re doing wrong; it’s a celebration of the fact that we’re starting to get it right. Its goal is to help as many people as possible act on the choices they’ve made to eat purposefully and buy responsibly.

In this book, I’m entertaining a new mindset for the American foodway. I’m suggesting ways for us to grow, buy, cook, eat, and interact with food that are in harmony with who we truly intend to be. I’m proposing that our eating habits can be an expression of our respect for ourselves, our love for one another, and our awe of nature.

Here are the ultimate goals of this new foodway:

  • Nutritious, safe, abundant, local, and accessible food for all people
  • Food self-sufficiency for all communities
  • Food that is grown sustainably and responsibly
  • Multiple food streams and sources, to preserve true variety and choice
  • Transparency of method: food growers who habitually show their farms and discuss their techniques with anyone who wants to know
  • Food that is exchanged via responsible economics: in other words, a food economy that is need driven, rather than profit driven
  • Agrarian wisdom, ecological knowledge, and cooking skills for all

We are the futuresmiths: by our eating habits we will forge the links of a new food chain. We are the bodhisattvas of the home-cooked meal: we hold open the kitchen door and invite everyone in to taste the simple goodness they’ve been missing. We do this, not because there are big bucks in it, but because it’s what any thinking, feeling species does for its own, and for its planet, when it finally gets its act together.


Top Ten Reasons to Buy Local Food

  1. Buying locally gives you the opportunity to get to know the person who grew your food.
  2. Local farmers are more transparent about their food production methods.
  3. Local farmers are part of your community. They have more reason to be accountable to you.
  4. Local farms are likely to be small, so they make less of an impact on their environment.
  5. Local farms are more likely to use environmentally friendly techniques.
  6. Local food hasn’t traveled hundreds or thousands of miles. By eating it, you’re conserving fossil fuels.
  7. Local food is usually grown from varieties suited to your climate, so they make more efficient use of resources.
  8. Local food is likely to be less processed—better for your health and that of the planet.
  9. Fresh food retains more of its nutrients, and local food is the freshest.
  10. Fresh food tastes better, and local food is the freshest.

Top Ten Ways to Eat Local Food for Less than You’re Paying Now for Supermarket Food

  1. Eat less meat
  2. Make several meals from each chicken or large piece of meat
  3. Buy the seasonal avalanche and freeze it
  4. Buy single-ingredient items and cook meals from scratch
  5. Buy directly from real farmers
  6. Plan meals around what’s cheapest at the time
  7. Serve a filling first course made of what’s cheap, serve a smaller second course of the pricier stuff
  8. Grow some of it yourself
  9. Buy the farmer’s seconds
  10. Buy the whole cow or pig, not just the pricey cuts
 
What Brings You to Local Food?

Feed Thy Neighbor: No Pehunan, No War

The Semai people of West Malaysia are known for their strong preference for peace. They’re one of a tiny handful of non-violent human societies.

What keeps the Semai peaceful, while most other societies regularly engage in violent conflict? Anthropologist Clayton Robarchek claims that it comes down to the Semai’s concept of pehunan, a state of want or dissatisfaction a person may experience, which the Semai believe the group is obligated to fulfill.

A person in need is a danger, both to himself and the group. It’s the obligation of every person in the community to feed, clothe, shelter, and include anyone in a state of pehunan. To refuse to do so places them at risk for conflict.
If, as the Semai assert, conflict is a result of unmet needs, then the group must meet those needs. They simply don’t see violence as an option.

 

Rocket Fuel Red Slaw

My husband Al and I devised this recipe after finding an entire, very intimidating, head of red cabbage in our CSA bag. This slaw can be made with 100 percent fresh local ingredients during their growing seasons.

  • 2 cups roughly shredded red cabbage
  • 1 roughly shredded carrot
  • 1 small sliced onion
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dill
  • 1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper seeds

Shred the vegetables in big chunks so they stay toothsome and crunchy. Combine vegetables in a large bowl. Combine mayo, vinegar, dill, and pepper seeds in a small bowl. Pour mayo mix over vegetables and stir thoroughly. Chill, then serve. NOTE: this stuff is AWESOME as an ingredient in sandwiches!

Does the POTUS Eat Local?

Believe it or not, since 1800, every sitting president of the United States has had access to ultra-local food, produced right on the White House grounds. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not only home to several vegetable gardens, including the one installed in 2009 by First Lady Michelle Obama, but it also maintains its own beehive and brewery. The honey from the commander-in-chief’s bees is used to craft the signature presidential brew, White House Honey Ale.

 

Sources: Finding and Buying Local Food

Coop Directory Service: www.coopdirectory.org
Field to Plate: www.fieldtoplate.com
LocalHarvest, Inc.: www.localharvest.com
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch: www.seafoodwatch.org.
National Agricultural Statistics Service: www.nass.usda.gov
USDA Farmers’ Market Search: http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets


© Copyright 2014 by Julie Castillo   All rights reserved.