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!


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