Eating local is one of the most talked-about causes in recent years–but I couldn’t have known what I’d gone in for. The experiment was nothing if not daunting from the start. When I began to truly dissect my eating habits, I realized I was close to dependent on bread, pasta, rice, beans, soy products, and fruits that are not native to Oregon. I was having a lot of trouble picturing a breakfast dish without avocado. Despite the nerves, I dove headfirst into what I was hoping would be a fun and challenging adventure.
My first real test came the night before my week started. I went to the store and started scouring the produce section for anything grown in Oregon or Southern Washington. I was able to find potatoes, kale, apples, pears, 3 different kinds of mushrooms, a red onion, a mysterious green bell pepper that was sourced to either “Oregon or Washington”, and some pasta which was made in the onsite deli, though I couldn’t confirm if the wheat used was from Oregon or not. Some things I was disappointed to not find: no local zucchini, no tomatoes, only the most expensive wild rice, and hardly any nuts except chestnuts (Can you even cook chestnuts without an open fire? No really, how do you cook chestnuts?).
The next morning, my first day as a localvore, I eagerly prepared my first meal: a homefry scramble. Right off the bat I looked at my oil selection and cursed. How could I have not have considered my cooking methods? The olive oil was imported from Italy, the coconut oil from Hawaii, and the truffle oil was my best bet – a product of Seattle but derived from mushrooms native to the Northwest. So I based my meal with truffle oil, which felt extreme in a dish already containing mushrooms. Once I put the food on my plate I reached for some seasonings – hot sauce from California, salt from the Mediterranean sea, cracked pepper from Greece, and I realized I would not be able to top my breakfast with anything currently in my cupboard. Served plain the dish was okay, but it wasn’t very satisfying even though it left me full.
The second day went better, but still challenging. I made myself a big salad for lunch using mixed greens, red onion and bell pepper, and an apple. For the dressing I used a locally sourced red wine vinegar, which was surprisingly delicious. I tend to prefer creamy dressings, so this was a step out of the comfort zone for me.
That afternoon I went to a weekly farmer’s market at the co-op down my street and was blown away by the options I had. EVERYTHING was grown within a 50 mile radius, and most of it far closer. I found tomatoes, strawberries, garlic, an acorn squash, broccoli romanesco (my favorite!), chanterelle mushrooms, the elusive purple bell pepper, and–drumroll please–bread and tortillas made from wheat and corn grown in Oregon! I was ecstatic!
My third day mostly consisted of blue corn tortillas with garlic sauteed chanterelles, and more mixed green salads. For dinner I made a sandwich–something I had been craving–using my local rye bread, raw tomatoes and peppers, and some Portland hot sauce. The bread was amazing, but not a perfect substitute for sandwich bread. That night I went out with some friends and enjoyed some local craft beers, but sadly had to opt out of the nachos ordered for the table. This was incredibly hard for me because, to be perfectly honest, I’m addicted to nachos.
On the fourth day I woke up with serious cravings. I managed to eat a fruit bowl for breakfast featuring strawberries, blackberries, pears, apples, and grapes that I was sad to learn were seeded. I sorely missed bananas in this dish. I work right next to a wonderful Thai restaurant and was tempted to cheat on my weekly goal for some pad Thai, but I didn’t! I powered through and made myself a taco with sauteed peppers and onion. That night I wasn’t very hungry and just roasted some acorn squash rings. I seasoned them with dried rosemary and some more truffle oil. Simple and delicious.
My last day was finally here! I finished off the rest of the rye bread by eating marionberry jam and spinach toast for breakfast and lunch. Dinner was the most delicious one I’d made yet: I took all my remaining veggies–kale, tomatoes, bell pepper, broccoli romanesco, jalapenos, and portobello mushrooms–chopped them up, threw them in a baking dish, and let them roast for about an hour. This dish had so many warm, savory natural flavors swimming around it didn’t need any toppings or seasonings. Probably would’ve been best served over rice, but stood just fine on its own. I went to bed completely satisfied, but dreaming of seitan and guacamole.
Just in terms of produce, I found that I actually saved money buying directly from farmers. Things got a little expensive when I started to factor in bread, pasta, oils, and salad dressings. Here’s what I really think after my eating local experiment: Some things, such as bananas and avocados, I can understand outsourcing since they are not native to Oregon. But others, such as tomatoes, onions, and spinach, should ALWAYS be bought local when available. These are foods that can grow in the climate I live in and therefore have no need to be transported from California, or further. It is shocking to learn that California grows 97% of the country’s kiwis and 95% of our garlic, which are both foods I found at my local farmer’s market. However, something nice to consider is that transportation accounts for only 11% of a product’s greenhouse gas emissions. This means that if environmental concerns are your biggest motivator for going vegan, there is a strong argument in favor of outsourcing exotic fruits and veggies. What I took most from this week was to buy local whenever available, and sticking to what’s in season when doing so.
Also by Francesca: Why Do Vegan Companies Still Use Palm Oil?
More self-experimentation on I Tried It: Taking Vegan Probiotics for 30 Days
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Photo: Francesca Polito