10 ways to localize your diet
If you’re concerned about reducing “food miles” and the use of fossil fuels in food shipping, and also about supporting local agriculture, you might want to make the choice to eat more locally. But all-regional eating requires a fairly hefty time commitment for research, shopping and cooking, and it’s not necessarily cheap, either; while you can get inexpensive produce in season, a lot of high-quality local food can be pricey, especially dairy products.
There are, however, plenty of changes you can make in your shopping habits to go more local—even if you’re not ready to swear off bread and imported prosciutto just yet. Here are 10 ways you can boost your local food consumption:
1. Join a CSA. Community-supported agriculture, in which you typically pay for a share of a farm’s produce and pick up an ever-changing box of produce at a central drop site weekly, is a great way to learn about seasonally available local foods, support area farmers directly, and possibly try a few vegetables you haven’t had before. There are several in the Sacramento area. To search for options by ZIP code, go to www.localharvest.org.
2. Hit area farmers’ markets. The greater Sacramento area has farmers’ markets almost every day of the week, with two of the biggest being Davis’ Saturday-morning market at 4th and C streets and Sacramento’s Sunday-morning market at 8th and W streets. Other markets are scattered from Elk Grove to Sunrise Mall. In addition to fresh produce, you can shop for everything from fresh halibut to honey to almonds to bacon. Plus, you can ask farmers directly about where their food comes from and how it’s grown. Sacramento farmers’ market schedules and locations are available online at www.california-grown.com; there’s also a finder tool for other California markets.
3. Patronize markets with source labeling. Some area markets—notably the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, the Davis Food Co-op and to some extent Whole Foods Market—provide at least some information about the origin of the food on their shelves, particularly produce. The Davis Food Co-op also has a “food miles” label for bulk goods and on-the-shelf groceries, such as olive oil, that come from within 100 miles of Davis.
4. Browse the perimeter of your market. It’s a commonplace of grocery shopping that the fresh items—produce, dairy products, meat, eggs, bread—are ranged around the edges of any store. These minimally processed items are far more likely to be local—or at least to be traceable. Mass-produced snacks, canned goods and prepared foods are so highly processed with so many ingredients that they are essentially untraceable. That chicken in the cold case, on the other hand, probably has just one ingredient—i.e., chicken—and by reading the label or asking the butcher you can probably get a good idea of where it’s from.
5. Skip most out-of-season produce. Produce that’s in season, even if it doesn’t come from precisely within 100 miles, is likely to be from much closer than out-of-season produce. Plus, a Chilean peach in December will be wooly and flavorless; a Central Valley peach in July is juicy, aromatic and delicious. If you can’t get to a market that labels where its produce comes from, you’ll increase your chances of getting local food by learning what grows in our area at what time of year and buying those items.
6. Pick one eat-local category. You may find it easier to research just one type of food—dairy products, for instance, or produce—and plan on eating only local foods from within that category. That way, you don’t have to worry about researching everything; you only need to get to know one market segment well, and you’ll have plenty of choice in the rest of your diet.
7. Look for local processors. If a food just doesn’t grow in these parts, you still may be able to find a local source for the finished product—even if some or all of the raw ingredients hail from distant parts. Buying from area coffee roasters or bread bakeries, for instance, means that at least some of your food dollar supports local businesses.
8. Get more information online. Web sites can make the research for local eating a lot easier. If you’re interested in mapping your 100-mile radius for local eating, for instance, visit the Canadian site www.100milediet.org, which also offers a local-eating blog and comments from readers engaged in their own local-eating experiments. At the Eat Well Guide (www.eatwellguide.org), you can plug in your ZIP code and find nearby farms, restaurants, and markets offering local foods. (Other Web sites are listed above.)
9. Eat in restaurants that rely on area farmers. No restaurant can realistically be entirely local, but there are several in the greater Sacramento area that work with local food producers; two favorites are the Waterboy and Mulvaney’s Building & Loan. Many menus these days tout these farm-to-table connections, but you can also ask your server about the foods’ origins. Unfortunately, the local-eating trend hasn’t really trickled down to inexpensive restaurants; it’s mostly high-end places that can afford to invest time and money in working with local suppliers.
10. Grow your own. It doesn’t get much more local than herbs from planters on your back patio or tomatoes from your own garden. Granted, you might not be able to fit a cow pen in your urban backyard (or, for that matter, on your apartment’s balcony), but almost anyone has room for a pot of basil or chives—and that might mean one less little plastic packet to buy at the supermarket.