Friday, August 03, 2007

How to Eat Local

Tell Me Already

If you have not signed up for Chicago's Eat Local Challenge, you can do it tomorrow at the Green City Market. You can draw your foodshed wide. Make exceptions wily-nily. Maybe you are just waiting to hear what you can really eat when you eat local. Fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, bacon, eggs, herbs, peppers, honey, syrup, beer, wine; does that not sound like dinner. You can spend the whole week eating local cheese (start here). What exactly you eat depends on three things: the markets, shops, stands, CSAs and gardens you can get to; what's in season at these markets, shops, gardens, etc., and what do you have stored away in your freezer, fridge, cellar. When it comes time to eat local for a week in September, what will you eat?

Let's start with the storage possibility. If you trying to Eat Local all the time, you think a lot about storing your food. You want local food in the many months without farmer's markets. In those months, your local food has to come from your stores, from canning, drying, putting away in a cold room, and especially, freezing. I'm guessing that the planners of this Eat Local Challenge wanted abundant food for this Eat Local Challenge. They probably did not expect you to have to dip into stores at the height of our growing season. Still, you have to ask yourself, will I be able to do all the shopping I need during that week of local. Maybe. Maybe not. It may make lots of sense for you to put some things aside starting now for your Eat Local week in September.

Where can you get local food. Farmer's markets fer sure. Chicago has many and many good ones. There are several downtown, including decent ones at Federal Plaza on Tuesday and Daley Plaza on Thursday. Drake at the site has a good calender for finding farmer's markets. The Illinois Department of Agriculture produces another good farmer's market directory/calender. The Local Harvest site is a great way for finding not only farmers markets but farm stands and other sources for local food. The problem is, not every farmer's market has everything you need to Eat Local. Do you want to be a vegetarian for the week? Now, both the bi-weekly Green City Market (Wednesday and Saturdays) and Oak Park Farmer's Market have vendors selling meat and eggs to keep your inner Atkin's happy. I know other markets have protein as well, but I cannot necessarily speak to them. Do your due diligence before the challenge starts.

No farmer's market near you or your hours don't match theirs? It has become more possible than ever to buy local at your grocery. (If fact, NPR notes it as a trend--hat tip to Jen at the site. Jewel and Sunset Foods are advertising their local food in their weekly fliers. Whole Food's has promised local, but 1/2 the time I'm there it never seems beyond burdock root. I was in the Caputo's on Harlem, in Elmwood Park this morning. One could eat decently enough on what they had local: cucumbers, zucchini, corn, two types of Michigan apples, two types of Wisconsin potatoes, Indiana onions, peaches, muskmelons, blueberries, milk.

Milk, that's the thing, until this year Green City had local milk. Now they do not. I'm not aware of any one stop for all your Eat Local needs. Caputo's may have got you as far as your weekly chicken dinner, but did they give you a chicken. You could go down the street to Kolatek's, one of my favorite Polish stores. They had Amish chickens from Indiana. Eating local means you can't slow down.

It also means you have to know what's in season. When you eat local you either eat what's in the ground now or what's in your storage now. Early September, when the Eat Local Challenge starts, you will have plenty to choose. Here's a small shapshot of what you may find. Here's another. You should be awash in apples. About the only major local food that may not have arrived for your challenge are the local papples.

A lot of the fun, the challenge in the challenge is the search and the creation. I don't know what exactly you will find local in September. You probably will not either. Tomatoes, eggplants, peaches, plums, bell peppers for sure, but what else? How long has it been since you tried local grapes. Do you remember grapes with seeds? Follow the lead of David "Hat" Hammond who has documented some of his Eat Local discoveries on Try new foods, new dishes. However you define your local, whatever exceptions you grant yourself, you will find plenty of things to eat during the Eat Local Challenge. I look forward to hearing how you do. Let me know what else I need to tell you.

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