On Finding Balance: 5 Strategies for Happy Locavore Times

3 Sep

Lea Kone, a Rochester local who’s worked in the organic farming advocacy world since 2008, writes in today.  Read on for an in-depth look at how she works Locavore principles into her life year round.

Five years ago, I went on a relaxing Caribbean vacation with two books packed for beach reading–Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I am not entirely sure what inspired the local-foods themed picks, but I do know this: After that vacation, my life was never the same. I flew through Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s prized non-fiction account of her family’s year-long attempt to eat only food that they grew themselves or could obtain locally. Everything about the book – from Kingsolver’s exquisite writing, to the recipes, and even the facts and figures in the footers– drew me in and made me want to do what they were doing.  I was hungry and ready to become a local foods “disciple” and to spread the word about how eating local and organic could save the world.  And that was when I became a believer. I quit my job, moved back to New York and began a career in the organic farming and advocacy field. You’re thinking “she did all that just from reading two books?” – the answer is yes.

I was terrified for my first day of work in the organic farming advocacy sector, not because it was a new job, or because it was a new “field” to me.  I had no idea what to anticipate for those things, but my actual panic was about what to pack for lunch.  I was in the process of moving into a new apartment, I hadn’t unpacked a single kitchen utensil and had zero idea how I was I going to whip up some amazing local, organic, and seasonally appropriate dish to bring for lunch.  Would my coworkers ask where the grain from my bread was grown? Was my cheese local, organic or both? Was it better to bring a vegetarian meal or show my commitment to pastured protein sources? I thought that being committed to “the good food revolution,” and working within the field meant that I must become the ULTIMATE LOCAVORE immediately.  I did not encounter sideways looks or a shunning based on my lunch choices.  I have since learned that the community of locavores is encouraging, but most of the pressure to perform comes from within.  During the Locavore Challenge, we have a chance to put more focus on our habits and what more we can do, and this is a good thing.  In those first few days of wanting to be the best possible locavore, I had some lessons to learn about what really mattered to me in that department.

wheattasting 077

Eating locally and organically can be (but doesn’t have to be) over-thought and stressful. The truth is that this change to local and organic is supposed to be a good, healthy and happy change in your life, but forcing yourself to become The Ultimate Locavore is too much.  It’s too much change, too fast, and too absolute.  Now that I think about it, that’s a good life lesson in general, but it’s an imperative lesson when becoming a Locavore, and more importantly, a Locavore who still sees their friends. [Editor’s note: don’t forget that you can engage your friends and find new ones through the locavore challenge, though Lea certainly has a point here about not creating Locavore-colored walls around yourself].

When I participated in the very first Locavore Challenge in 2010, I tried to approach it like an Iron Man Challenge. I stripped my cabinets bare of any imported pastas, oils, sugars, and regionally un-identifiable canned beans and vegetables. I trained like I was a future Olympian as well, pre-preparing tomato sauces, chicken broths, crackers, breads and soups.  I made local, organic ice creams and plum upside down cakes for desserts, became a connoisseur of fine sustainable New York State Rieslings and turned my nose up at people with bananas or peanut butter.

locavore pig

So, “Fine,” you might grumble, “You’re great at being a Locavore.  What’s the problem?” Well, attempting the Locavore Challenge with too much force, as an obsession and with an all-or-nothing approach rather than a passionate pursuit with some self-forgiveness and flexibility built in, will probably wear you out.  Going “cold (organic) turkey” is a tough approach for anything.  You’ll know if you’ve taken it too far, because the next thing you know you’re 20 days (or 2 days) into the challenge and hiding in a dark corner of your local bar on a Wednesday night inhaling a piece of pizza made with ingredients from who-knows-where, contemplating a non-organic, not-lovingly-prepared, not-local chicken wing, and rationalizing it all because you are drinking a Peak Organic NY Local Series Beer and muttering incoherently under your breath “at least I know where my hops come from.”   For the record, Peak Organic is brewed in Maine, but that particular brew is produced with all NY state ingredients.  Take it a little easier than the perfection approach, find the areas in which you can sanely and reasonably challenge yourself to do more, and you’ll find yourself increasing your Locavore lifestyle without that binge effect.

Top 5 List for Becoming a Locavore Living and still LIVING

5. Identify your breakfast options right away. It is the most important meal of the day, and if you start your day as a grumpy, hungry, unprepared Locavore, you are going to be sitting in Dunkin’ Donuts sulking and ashamed by Day 3.

My Breakfast Go-To: Fritttata (that’s EASY EGG DISH in Italian)

A frittata is as good, if not better, cold than hot and great for lunch or dinner too. Start by sauteeing local veggies, bacon (if desired) and potatoes. Add beaten eggs, cheese, and seasoning. Heat until set and then finish under the broiler.

4. Discover local grains. Wheat berries, freekeh, rolled oats, cornmeal and local wheat flours are going to change your world. Open your arms to them.
Grains (photo: John-Paul Sliva)

My Local Grain Go-To: Polenta (that’s CORN MUSH in Italian)

It is easy to make, super versatile, and is good for any meal of the day. Try it with a poached egg and salsa in the morning, or with cheese, sausage and roasted veggies for lunch of dinner.

IMAG0078

3. Commit to one afternoon or evening in the kitchen. It’s no surprise that a little advance planning and preparation
can make a world of difference. Pick one day, either the same day or shortly after a market or CSA day and go nuts in the kitchen.

My Day: Sunday

My market of choice is Sunday morning, and for me, it just makes sense to shop, come home and wash and prep all of my market bounty [Lea’s not the only one hip to this plan]. I like to start by roasting a whole chicken, and then turn that into a soup that I can enjoy well into the week.

My Chicken Soup: Shredded chicken with homemade broth, and chock full of the extra roasted veggies from the roasted chicken. My favorites: carrots, onions, fennel, parsnips and potatoes. This becomes a hearty stew like soup that embraces all of the flavors of late summer and early fall.

John-Paul Sliva 021

Cut up and roast a big pan of root vegetables on your in-the-kitchen day. You’ll have food for now and the start of hearty salads and sides later in the week.

2. Set realistic goals. Will you choose a few non-local items that you must have: coffee, tea, peanut butter and eat 100% local otherwise? Will you just eat local at home? Or will you try and replace certain items in your cupboards or refrigerators with local alternatives?

My Goal: To eat 90% local and organic.

This is really my goal all year, and its really my aim for it to be as close to 100% as possible, but I believe that setting reasonable and achievable goals is always better than setting oneself up for failure. This season is bountiful with local products, so I start by stocking my fridge exclusively with local and organic fruits and vegetables. I choose local grains, beans, meats and dairy products as well, and allow myself to add small amounts of non-local oils, seasonings and accents (like the occasional lemon or Parmesan cheese). That sets me up for being nearly 100% at home, and allows me to be open for what options I may have before me while eating with friends or family.

Locavore home cooking: sauteed okra, herbs and corn fritters.

Locavore home cooking: sauteed okra, herbs and corn fritters.

1. Be real. Let yourself be human, and don’t aim for perfection. Even the most committed local and organic food experts have occasions when they eat chocolate and bananas and drink coffee and tea. Of course, they prefer Equal Exchange, Fair Trade and Organic to Dole, Nestle and Folgers, but you get the gist. This isn’t the Organic Olympics or the Sustainability Seminary. Give yourself a break and just focus on enjoying the delicious food.

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