Sunday, August 30, 2009

7 Day Challenge Complete!

Before I write about how successful this 7 day challenge was, I have a confession. On the last day, I cheated. No, I didn't eat any of this glorious looking meat you see from the "Meatapalooza" event on Saturday (none of it was organic). But after a few hours watching everyone else eat ... and with just a few hours before the official end of the challenge, I ate a non-organic brownie and a piece of corn bread (fueled probably, by the organic wine I was drinking). Before passing judgment, know that I was STARVING. So ... full disclosure on that one.

Aside from the chocolate mishap, I really stuck to my rules on this one. 7 full days and everything I ate or drank was local (within the 5-state region) and, if not USDA certified organic, grown or raised with sustainable farming practices and without pesticides or chemicals. And I had more fun doing it than I would have thought! I enjoyed the conversations I had with the workers at the Birchwood Cafe or McDonald's liquor store when I asked them to point out the local, organic stuff. But I especially liked how much this challenge made me focus on what I eat and where it comes from. Never before have I read food labels so intensely (and to the chagrin of grocery store customers behind my slow-moving cart) and had so limited a choice in what I ate. Over the course of the week, I tried organic beer from Wisconsin, grass-fed pork from Minnesota, and gigantic juicy tomatoes grown right here in the metro area; all things I plan on consuming again (but the organic wine has a ways to go). So to sum up:

Eat only local and organic food for one week
Nearly 100% (who would have thought a meat-smoking party would be my undoing?)
We normally spend a little under $100 a week on groceries, plus an extra $20-40 on restaurants/lunch spots. This week, we spent a little over $100 on groceries, plus an extra $50 on restaurants/lunch spots.
Somewhat. I never felt I needed to cancel plans or restrict what I did. But planning meals ahead of time was crucial. And certain situations proved challenging, like having to say no when my husband wanted to open a bottle of non-organic wine, and avoiding all things fried at the State Fair.
The debate over the government-approved label "organic" is more intense and heated than I realized.
Eating food that you know where it came from gives a certain pleasure to a meal I've never experienced before.
I won't continue to eat only local or organic foods - it's simply too limiting at this point. But the super-processed foods that were often a staple of my lunches at work or my late-night snacks are a thing of the past. So no more Spaghetti-O's or trans-fat filled microwave dinners.
And we will definitely be cooking from scratch more with fresh produce - that was the most rewarding part of this week!


Friday, August 28, 2009

Day 6 - Stay Local, Go Organic

For someone watching what they eat (and like me, writing a blog about it), Friday and Saturday are the toughest. Romantic dinners, barbecues, a night at the movies …. All can be ruined by that simple phrase: “No thanks, I’m on a diet.” So I anticipated this Friday and Saturday with growing dread, as I tried desperately to cling to my challenge of eating only organic, local foods for seven days.

While I’m at it, why not make it as difficult on myself as possible? Why not enter the Lion’s Den, the mecca of all things fried, fat-filled and served on a stick? I’m talking, of course, about the Minnesota State Fair. It was not my idea to attend today – it had been a planned work outing. The additional fact that my husband was there for work as well (yes, we have great jobs) made it a no-brainer that I’d attempt to run the State Fair food gauntlet in search of local/organic.

I knew local wouldn’t be the problem, but naturally-made food is harder to find at the fair than an open bathroom stall. At least, thanks to tips from the Simple Good and Tasty website, I knew to head to the Eco Experience. But here’s the one problem. Despite how interesting and informative the Eco Experience is about the growing local food movement, sustainable farming and organic cuisine, there was virtually no actual food to munch on! I was growing desperate and panicking about my options – go hungry, go home, or go crazy on mini-donuts, cheese curds, cookies, chocolate-covered bananas, is that a deep-fried snickers bar?

Then we found it – the one booth actually selling and advertising their local, healthy food. The Countryside Market right outside the Eco Experience had farm-fresh-tasting Capresse on a stick and mouth-watering yellow watermelon. But that was about it. I’ve since heard that French Meadow has a booth at the state fair. We didn’t make it there, but wouldn’t have had enough money to try anything anyway. There’s very likely other food at the fair that would fit the definition of local and organic but if so, they weren’t promoting the fact because we didn’t see any and we walked a fair distance looking. I hope next year, the Capresse on a Stick has some competition.

So I managed to stay on track even at the State Fair. But let’s see how tomorrow goes. My husband and friends are holding a Meat-Smoking event that’s an all-day affair. Hope I don’t just have to say “No thanks, I’m on a diet……”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day Three of Eat Local, Go Organic

I am less than halfway through this Eat All Local and Organic for an entire week and I’m feeling two things I didn’t expect: I’m hungry and tired!

I have been eating some fantastic food and testing out great recipes. Sunday night we tried out a Lemongrass Pork Tenderloin that I found on the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market website courtesy of chef Tammy Wong. It was succulent (Justin’s word, after some serious thought). Here’s a link to the recipe (scroll down about halfway).

Monday night we ate Rosemary potatoes that were fine, but nothing special so no recipe sharing for that one. Three nights of cooking in a row? No thanks, so tonight was a frozen organic veggie pizza from the Seward Coop (not cheap, but we both thought well worth the $9 price). I’ve been having the leftovers for lunch at work but I am so starving by 2:00 every day. And I’ve been hungry when I go to bed every night. I think I made one terrible misstep in my shopping; I bought virtually no local, organic snack food. So I’ve been eating great meals but nothing in between. My former diet was one of 5-6 small meals throughout the day, so maybe this has been a tough shift for my hunger gene.

The tired thing is harder to figure out. As my last entry explains, I’ve been filling my coffee mug each morning with locally roasted, yummy Peace Coffee, but I still feel exhausted. Perhaps it’s because the food this week has had very few carbohydrates. It’s easier to find local, organic meat, veggies and seasonal fruit rather than breads and cereals. So my carb count is down. I don’t know how people on the Atkins diet can stick to it!

Four more days to go...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Keep it Local, Go Organic - 7 Day Challenge

The smells of a Farmer’s Market are invigorating. The whiff of basil, pungent peppers, or the steamed warmth of the kettle korn. These are the smells microwave dinners often try to imitate but never fully realize. This is where my next 7-day Challenge began for me.

But let me back up. This challenge was inspired by the book I was (and still am) reading for my book club: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I’ll spare you the details (and I’ve heard In Defense of Food is better), but the gist of the book is informing us where our food comes from. How food gets from the ground or animal to our dinner table. And as you might guess, Pollan is pretty critical of the way Americans grow, process, sell and eat food. The author favors organic growers and I agree. Essentially, the best food for you, for the land and for our economy is the least processed, most natural and grown closest to you (with of course, some exceptions).

So my challenge to myself is to try and eat completely local and organic foods for Seven Days. These terms mean different things to different people so my first step was to define what they meant for me.

Take “organic”. Basically, organic means growing without the use of pesticides, herbicides or insecticides and giving animals no growth hormones or synthetic food products and allowing them access to pasture (they’re preferably entirely grass-fed). The term, as the U.S. government defines it, has been criticized of late for allowing large, corporate processing companies to get the organic label with some questionable production methods, but that’s an argument for a different day. I decided if it was labeled USDA organic, I could eat it.

Then there’s “local”. Before I realized how limiting it would be, I decided “local” was anything within 200 miles of me (in South Minneapolis). But when I looked on the Seward Co-op’s website, and they defined local as anything grown or raised in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa or the Dakotas, I figured I should re-evaluate. So I took their definition. And their second rule of “local” really got my attention: “Some level of production (beyond repackaging) must take place locally. For example, a local coffee roaster is considered local.” I was resigned to no coffee for the week, but just for the java, I’ll enact this rule. All food products though, for this week, must be grown or raised in the 5-state region.

I decided there were three places I needed to shop for my food this week: The local Farmer’s Market, the Seward Co-op, and my regular grocery store (a SuperTarget). I was prepared to spend copious amounts of money and walk frustrated and angst-filled through the aisles, but it was actually easier than I thought to shop. At the Farmer’s Market, I asked a couple local growers if they grew organic. After one man gave me a stare (it’s a touchy subject for many), he said, “No pesticides, no chemicals, just picked this morning from a farm 50 miles away. Good enough?” Indeed it was! The Seward Co-op was also great but harder than I thought to find the combination of local/organic (at least under a price tag of $9, which is what a bag of oatmeal was – ouch!) But surprisingly, since I limited myself to recipes I plan on making this week, I didn’t spend much more than I would have on more processed food at SuperTarget (in fact, I was virtually done with my list by the time I got to Target).

So now the challenge begins (Sunday, August 23rd to Saturday, August 29th), and I can’t wait to eat the Pork Tenderloin from Kerkhoven, Minnesota or the peppers from the fairly angry but “good-enough” guy’s booth at the Farmer’s Market. Check back all this week for great recipes I discover!