I guess I've sort of missed the boat on Jen's August Eat Local Challenge, which is unfortunate because I am a huge supporter of eating locally (and seasonally, sustainably, organically). If you've been following my blog at all, you know I was out of the country, heroically enduring smoke-filled, oxygen-deprived, un-air-conditioned, pay-by-the-hour Internet cafés of Spain in order to post my blog entries and photos to this site.
So, although I'm arriving at the Eat Local party when it's half over, I want to offer my support and congratulations to all those who have been participating for the whole month! Go team!
For me, eating locally and seasonally is without a doubt a high priority in my life. It's a goal for me really all year long. In August, when the harvest is exploding with plump tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, green beans, fresh herbs, juicy peaches and plums, it is really no challenge at all (or so I pompously thought, until I looked in my pantry, fridge and cellar...see below for the dirty secrets).
This past Saturday was the first Saturday I've been in the Bay Area for many weeks, so I was itching to go to our great local market, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market . I've been a faithful shopper at the market's many incarnations since it opened in 1993, right around the time I began my culinary career. In fact, these early visits to the farmers market were what first inspired me to dream of opening my own restaurant. I attended demos by Annie Somerville, Alice Waters and Reed Hearon (whatever happened to him?), all of whose kitchens I've since worked in, for the first time at the Ferry Plaza market.
Nothing compares with the personal interaction you get when you buy your wild salmon, for example, from the guy (Larry) who caught it and your strawberries from the farmers (Ben and Karen) who planted and picked them. Over the years I've been fortunate to have even visited some of the farms and artisan food producers that supply our market. Every night at dinner, my wife and I have a ritual of thanking the people by name who grow and produce our food before we take our first bite. Overall, I'd have to say that eating locally has really enriched our experience at the table.
With this as background, I was surprised by how many things we eat that are not local.
When we eat Mediterranean-style, we would have to claim many exemptions in our larder. Our capers, olives and olive oils (at least some of the oil is local!), vinegars, mustards, fancy cans of tuna, anchovies, sea salt, pine nuts, risotto and paella rices, pasta, polenta all hail from Europe. When we cook Indian, is there a single one of our dozens of spices that is grown within 100 miles? Could we live without Basmati rice, our half dozen different varieties of lentils and our cans of Alphonso mango nectar? And then there's all the fish and soy sauces, black bean and miso pastes from all over Asia populating our fridge. We won't even discuss the contraband Spanish jamón iberico de bellota (ham from acorn-fed pigs) that is also currently residing in our fridge.
We really fall down in the beverage department. We're both tea drinkers and have over a dozen varieties of loose-leaf tea, not a single one from any continent but Asia. And my wine cellar (well, if you could call 30 or 40 bottles in the garage a cellar) currently has only one bottle from California (I don't know how it got in there...someone must've given it to us). The majority is from Spain, southern France and Italy, simply because their wines tend to be, in my opinion, more food friendly. They complement and enhance the flavors of what I cook, rather than overpower or drown it out. The good news, I say very sheepishly, is that at least my favorite wine importer, Kermit Lynch, is located just across the Bay in Berkeley. And I buy the Spanish wines from the Berkeley location of the Spanish Table....
My conclusion is that it really is a challenge to eat 100% locally. While I go out of my way to buy all my fruits and vegetables, breads, dairy products (except for parmigiano-reggiano...and maybe just a few other cheeses I can't live without), fresh meats and fish from local producers, most of the foods and beverages in my pantry and cellar come from much further afield. So while maybe 80% of the calories come from locally grown foods, I'd be willing to bet that 40% of the overall budget is spent on non-local foods. But I wonder, am I alone in this?