The Local Diet


News from Vermont, by Janisse Ray

Two hundred years ago, eating local was a way of life. Vermonters stocked root cellars, smoked meat, made sauerkraut and pickles, and canned fruits and vegetables for winter. Now, eating local has become an important way to decrease dependence on fossil fuels and to help build a more dependable, decentralized food system. The average calorie travels 1,500 miles to arrive on our plates.

To help us get back to eating locally produced foods, Vermont Localvore is sponsoring the Winter Localvore Challenge in the Mad River Valley, Vermont, for one week: January 29- February 4, 2007. The challenge is to eat only foods grown, produced, or raised within a 100-mile radius of your home – for a meal, a day, a week – you decide what is a challenge for you. Click here to join the Winter Eat Local Challenge. All Winter Challenge participants will have access to an email list where they can post questions and receive email updates about the Challenge.

Last August, over 160 people signed up for the summer Localvore Challenge, and hundreds more participated region-wide. “Are we utilizing our land to actually feed our people, and how can we make our region more sustainable?” asks Jonathan Crowell, who, organized the summer challenge. A buckwheat pancake breakfast kicked off the week in Brattleboro. The flour was from Basin Farm, eggs from Fair Winds Farm, maple syrup from Deer Ridge Farm. To solve the problem of yeast, someone took on the task of making sourdough starter. Someone made yogurt.

Fifty people purchased “starter kits” that included hard-to-find items like cornmeal, beans and vinegar. The commitment had many levels: eat local for a day or week or month, or eat one local food at each meal. Nightly potlucks were scheduled.

Crowell is one of those who has been sourcing the food. “Local food keeps money in local communities,” he said. “Besides, it supports a food supply that is disconnected from the politics of oil.”

He said that the project is really about supply-and-demand economics. “We’re acting as a local community to transform the economic and political topography of the region to make it more sustainable. We are now a force.”

Local food is thousands of miles fresher, thus more nutritious, and is not compromised by techniques that make growing and shipping more profitable.

Many local farmers, orchardists and businesses have responded to the demand and are ramping up efforts to produce local foodstuff. Riverview Café, in Brattleboro, for one, features many farm-fresh items on its menu. Some products, like cooking oil and oats, have been difficult or impossible to find.

“This is a community exercise to find out what foods we’re missing,” said Crowell, “and to encourage farmers to diversity in order to create a more-rounded local food supply.”

When asked what he expects to eat in January, he lists potatoes, parsnips and other root vegetables, vegetables that he has pickled and canned, and local meats and cheeses. He has even found a Maine source for salt, which is not exactly within 100 miles but which he plans to use.

Post-Oil Solutions is sponsoring the challenge. It is a group that, in light of peak-oil predictions, is preparing for a world without easily available and affordable fossil fuels. This year, it has started a community garden, hosted a student essay contest for “beyond petroleum” ideas, held canning and gardening workshops, supported a “Buy Local” campaign, and initiated a winter farmer’s market.

Is there an “eat local” movement where you live? Tell us about what’s going on in your community.