Teaching Friends and Family to Be Local (vs. feeding them for a day or a meal)

29 Aug

From Rachel:

As a constant locavore, the challenge is often in explaining my convictions and trying to bring loved ones over to this side of things.  Taste and economy usually win people over faster than my nagging could.  I imagine many people taking this challenge are less challenged by getting a high percentage of their food intake from within 250 miles of where they live, but more challenged by getting friends and family to join the movement.  They may ooh and aah when you bring that delicious roasted heirloom tomato, zucchini, eggplant, herb and black bean casserole to the group dinner, but then still wonder why you aren’t super-excited that they’re slicing up kiwi and washing grapes (and I don’t mean hardy kiwi and NY grapes) to go on the table next to your painstakingly-sourced and prepared dish.  I’m talking from my experiences last weekend, by the way.  Still, I learned in a teaching course to avoid scolding, nagging, telling people they’re wrong and you’re right, etc.  That won’t win anyone over (politicians might take note).  A better path is to highlight the good, and find the teaching moments.  So that’s how I ended up teaching a friend to make bread yesterday.  Though the ingredients weren’t 100% local (still finishing up some non-local flour), they easily could have been.  For the record, we used NY Sunflower oil, NY maple syrup, salt, yeast, Organic Valley Nonfat Dry Milk Powder, parts generic Organic All-Purpose flour, stone-ground Organic Whole Wheat flour, and Small World Bakery’s All-Purpose Whole Wheat flour.  So, minus the yeast and salt, the loaf could easily be made with all local flour.  Still, I am less concerned with going to the 100%-local sourced ingredients this month.  It’s all about sharing the joy of making things that celebrate the local foods, and discovering that our default practice can be making things by hand with our local ingredients, versus going to the store and relying on a corporation to source and create our foods in a giant factory.  I’m not knocking local bakeries by ANY means, I’m just saying that enjoying the preparation of foods that seem difficult to make, such as a loaf of bread, can be a serious gateway into pursuing other locavore/local-economy habits.

The friend I baked bread with is already a supporter of farmers through shopping at farmers markets, and definitely enjoys foods made with local ingredients.  Still, this was his first time kneading home-made bread dough, after I’d repeatedly told him how fun and easy making bread can be, and after sending numerous examples of simple recipes (why wouldn’t he just dive in and start baking?).  Believe me, I was relieved that this loaf turned out so beautifully (I have a legendary habit of over-ambitious baking experiments ending in tears and ingredients tossed into the woods).  You have to be confident, relaxed and breezy about preparing local foods with newbies, or they will likely remember how hard or intimidating it was!

For any newbies to the baking arena, I definitely recommend the King Arthur Flour recipes online (they publish a fabulous cookbook as well).  They’re well-tested, come with lots of tips, and you don’t have to use their branded ingredients for fantastic results.  If you own a digital ingredients scale, you’ll be happy to know they also offer most recipes with weight measurements.  The recipe we used is the 100% Whole Wheat Loaf (though we used a combo of flours to make up the whole amount).  You could easily skip the dry milk powder, or use local milk in place of water to get the nice bread-softening effect that milk gives.  These simple ingredients combined into a gorgeous, tall loaf that we were quite eager to rip into and spread with some of my jam made earlier this summer.  Yum!

The ripped crumb with beet juice from the knife we used is evidence we were too hasty in letting the bread cool down.

I encourage you to start off Locavore month by arming a friend with a technique-perhaps as simple as how to evenly chop veggies, or as complicated as canning some crazy multi-fruit-and-herb jelly.  Locavorism isn’t about isolation in your kitchen, hiding from well-meaning relatives or friends who notoriously feed you asparagus in November or only have bananas and citrus fruits in their northern-climate kitchens.  It’s about sharing the joy in the slow food and local ingredients, and through that joy and enthusiasm sustaining a regional food system of farmers, artisan food producers, small-scale processors and distributors, restaurants, and more.  Giving a friend a local-foods experience memory is much more valuable to their decision-making process than scolding or whining at them about their choices.  Next time my friend looks at supermarket bread, I imagine he’ll at least value the fact that he knows how simple and delicious homemade bread can be.  Maybe he’ll forgo the purchase and seek out some local flour instead, or maybe he’ll just nag me to show him again.


One Response to “Teaching Friends and Family to Be Local (vs. feeding them for a day or a meal)”


  1. Imported binge/Challenge your default cooking habits « NY Locavore Challenge - August 31, 2011

    […] (not really) going to miss this month.  I’m starting my local-foods binge early.  My bread, local nut butter and jam, and all the veggies I want to eat (haven’t bought from a store in […]

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