Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Food Miles Matter – Part 3

Energy and the Environment – Some of you may be surprised that the environmental aspect of buying local wasn’t the first thing I addressed.  This is because it is not as clear cut as, say, the idea that fresh food is more nutritious.  Currently, there are studies out there showing that buying local won’t ‘save the planet’ because it is not necessarily the most environmentally friendly choice.  They say this because there are other energy considerations to think of than transportation.  I agree that buying local can save on food miles but I can’t dispute the fact that the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture indicates that only 11% of a food’s  carbon footprint is in transporting it.  However, I think it is important to remember that eating local is about more than just cutting youj0406558r food miles, it’s about changing your mindset when it comes to eating.  If we are making an effort to cut our food miles by eating locally, we are getting in touch with what our local ecosystem is capable of offering and we are supporting farmers that create healthy communities.  In the Forbes article referenced in the hyperlink above, the author, James McWilliams, notes that it makes more environmental sense for someone in the UK to eat lamb from New Zealand as opposed to lamb from the UK because lambs raised in the UK depend on “intensive factory-like conditions.”  These operations tend to have odor, pest, and pollution issues that any community would find undesirable.  Locavores investigate where their food comes from and upon learning that this would be the source of their lamb, they simply wouldn’t consume it because they wouldn’t want their food choices to support an operation like that in their community.  Believe it or not, a person can live without lamb (gasp!) and they can live without many other luxuries that we tend to think of as necessities.  It makes the most environmental sense to eliminate something that cannot be created locally in a sustainable manner as opposed to taking on more food miles for a supposedly more sustainable option.  The local food that benefits communities and that is supported in the locavore movement comes from small farmers who are subject to consumer input and review, so they are breeding foods that are tastier and fresher.  Because of this, they are creating a more diverse supply of food that is easier on the soil and less susceptible to large pest problems, depends less heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and preserves local crop varieties that are meant to be in that local ecosystem through seed saving.  These unique varieties not only taste better, they provide higher yields and let the farmer get more productive use from smaller areas of land. 

If you read the rest of the Forbes article, the author continues on with the issue of eating meat versus being a vegetarian.  I plan to write another blog entry about this issue, so please note that I am not ignoring it!  It would just be too long to address both issues in one entry.

In conclusion, there are many different types of benefits a community and an individual can receive as a result of making informed local eating decisions that reduce food miles.  Whether you are interested in your health, your community, or your environment, it makes sense to buy from local sources that are transparent about their practices.

Monday, March 29, 2010


As some of you know, I enjoy drinking decent beer, and for a Christmas gift last year from a particularly awesome girl I got a beer making kit with all the equipment goodies. I made one batch early this year and before I knew it, it was gone, so it was time to make another. This time I'll be making a Weizenbier out of a kit I purchased at Gentiles in Columbus. It's a wheat beer with not nearly the amount hops or malt of my last one, so it should be a little easier to drink. "Brew day" was Sunday night, and I hope to bottle it this coming weekend and let it carbonate for a couple weeks in the bottle.

Soooo..... how does this relate to sustainable living, or living within Ohio? It doesn't quite fit into the whole Ohio thing at this point, but I'll be raising my own hops this year so future brews will come from the garden. In a previous post, Katie was talking about food miles, and how they are important. These kits do travel a fair way to get to Gentiles, but considering my options, getting the kit from a small store is about as good as I can get. I consider these kit brews practice until I'm able to raise most of my ingredients here.

If I drank commercially available beer, the paper packaging, labels, disposable (although recyclable) cans or bottles, shipping/distributing fuel, all must be taken into account. I don't put labels on them or put them in little 6 pack carriers. I got my glass bottles from a combination of used bottles from friends and new ones to supplement a ~50 bottle batch. My fuel cost to pick up the kit is negligible as Gentiles is just down the road from where I'll be working.

Some may say, "Hey now! This is not following all your rules! Cheater!!" And to that, I'd say, "Chill out and drink a beer!"

Carrot Bread and Crackers

I've been doing a bit of baking lately to supply myself with breakfast and snacks. I've started making a Raisin Walnut Carrot Bread, which I found on Everyday Health. I like this recipe because it's fairly low calorie compared to all the other tasty breakfast breads out there. For some reason, my bread bakes in about half the time of the recommended recipe time so heads up if you try this recipe. I've been using carrots from the Worthington Winter Market, golden wheat flour from Stutzman Farm that we got at the North Market, egg from Carousel Watergardens Farm which we got at Columbus Winter Market, the sugar we got at Meijer and is Pioneer Sugar from sugar beets, the remaining ingredients are things we have from before we took on the challenge. However, I do believe I can find walnuts at the Worthington Winter Market or at the North Market. I have been omitting the vanilla because we used up the last of that some time ago and haven't ordered more from Fair Trade dealers yet. I haven't felt like anything is lacking in the recipe as a result of that.
Today, I also took my first shot at making crackers using this basic cracker recipe from Towards Sustainability. For 3/4 of the flour, I used our Stutzman golden wheat again, but then I ran out and had to use a little bit of our remaining all purpose flour. The butter is Ohio Amish butter and the salt is what we have left from before the challenge. The crackers were fairly simple to make (and would be easier if I knew how to use a rolling pin any better than a wild monkey). The crackers were definitely ready at 12 minutes rather than 15, so alas, my first batch was a little dark. I think they still tasted okay though. I made them to bring to a potluck at work where I will serve the crackers with Jacob's Old World Smoked Swiss, Walnut Creek Summer Sausage, Meadow Maid Baby Swiss, and Meadow Maid Cheddar. I'm looking forward to seeing peoples' reactions when they get confused because the cheddar isn't bright orange.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Food Miles Matter – Part 2

Local Economies, Communities, and Workers Rights:  The rising demand for local foods has increased the number of small farming operations which are better equipped to cater to the local food outlets like farmers’ markets, local groceries, and other specialized outlets.  The traits of towns with lots of these local small farms versus towns with large corporate farms were documented in a well known study in 1940 by Dr. Walter Goldschmidt.  He found that towns with family farms had income that circulated among local businesses because in some cases they will get up to 100% of the food dollars, or income from the food they generate, which created jobs and a healthier community.  These towns had better services, higher employment rates,  and more civic participation.  Because the operations are smaller, some part time labor may be hired but a majority of the farmworkers are family members who receive the income and benefits of the farming operation.  On the other hand, corporate farming communities had incomes that went to other larger cities.  The average corporate farmer receives only an average of twenty cents of every food dollar with the rest going to marketing, distributing, and input suppliers.  Becj0399521ause less money circulates in these local economies, there are lower employment rates and generally less healthy communities.  Although this research was performed some time ago, recent studies have confirmed that these trends still remain true.  Large farming operations tend to employ workers that are not within the family.  These individuals were paid an average of $6.75 an hour in 2008, which is among the lowest wages paid for unskilled occupations.  These individuals have a higher dependency on Food Stamps, Medicaid, free school lunches, and other social service programs.  The U.S. Census Bureau’s demographic profile for farmworkers shows that 80.9% of these workers are men, 91.7% are white, 62.2% of them have U.S. citizenship, and only 20.7% have some college education.  According to the National Agricultural Workers Survey, an estimated half of all hired farmworkers are unauthorized, meaning they do not possess citizenship with legal work papers.   

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Changes, the Good and the Bad

As my diet has changed from the mainstream to the local, there have obviously been some major changes in what I eat, there are things I miss, and there are new things I have discovered that I love.  I wanted to highlight these in this entry.

The Biggest Changes in What and How I Eat

  • I eat a lot more meat.j0400573
  • I eat a lot fewer beans.
  • I don’t have as many packaged ‘low calorie’ and ‘low fat’ options, it is up to me to make my meals that way based on whole food ingredients.
  • I eat a lot more whole wheat products.
  • I have no sour cream!!
  • There are no frozen entrees, which I ate a lot of for my packed lunches at work.
  • The pasta I find always looks like straight egg noodles as opposed to angel hair, rigatoni, or shells, and the texture is a little less firm.
  • I use butter instead of margarine.
  • Instead of shopping at Kroger, I shop at a variety of smaller stores and farmers’ markets.

Things I Miss

  • Fat free refried beans j0432845
  • Any other kinds of beans
  • Tortilla chips
  • Low fat sour cream (or even sour cream in general)
  • Soda (which is strange since I never bought it for myself, only drinking it on rare occasions)
  • Low fat ice cream
  • Fat free chocolate and vanilla pudding
  • Citrus fruit (especially grapefruit)
  • Reduced fat peanut butter
  • Milk chocolate (I can still find it, but it is a lot more challenging and more expensive)
  • Candy (mainly Starbursts).
  • Baby dill pickles
  • Fluffy white bread
  • Snack foods in general (i.e. chips, crackers, popcorn)

New Things I Lovej0144416

  • Gerber’s chicken sausage
  • Sautéed cabbage (which was a real shocker for me)
  • Honey puffed spelt
  • Dutch pancakes
  • The joy of stumbling across a fruit or vegetable that has just come in season at the market
  • Jacob thinking I am a master chef because I have thrown lots of miscellaneous stuff in a pot and made a delicious dinner from it (it’s all about starting with good ingredients)
  • Learning to cook a wider variety of meals.

As I created this list, there were some things that surprised me.  As I compiled the list of things I missed, obviously lots of food items jumped into my mind.  However, as I wrote the list of things I like, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t so much the actual food items that I thought of (although those are great and that list will no doubt expand with the growing season).  Instead it was the experiences around the food that I was enjoying.  Jacob and I have been working in the garden together, cooking together, and meeting lots of new people and old friends at farmers’ markets, which has created a positive aura around the idea of eating local.  I was also a bit shocked that I really don’t mind running to a variety of stores to get everything I need because once I thought about it, I realized that I used to stop at Kroger on an just about every other day because I would always forget one thing or another.  Now, I just stop at a different store every other day or so (and I don’t forget quite as much because I have to really plan out what I am going to be cooking based on what I have found at the farmer’s markets), so I’m really not shopping any more than I was before and I get a wider variety of sights, sounds, smells, and just general human interaction.  The smaller stores tend to have more employees that are willing to talk about what they sell, and of course, the farmers’ markets are a social haven for community and food information.  Even though there are food items I miss, I am quite confident that as time goes by I will be able to fill those voids with new, healthier, more delicious local items and the experiences I am having as I grow, gather, and prepare these local items are far more valuable and rewarding than the convenience and packaged foods that I have sacrificed.      

Monday, March 22, 2010

My motivation for eating locally and having a garden out back

A partial list in no particular order:

1. It is important to me to live in a socially and environmentally conscious way
2. I like, no, love, good food
3. I'll get to work outside on a regular basis
4. It is something Katie and I can do and enjoy together
5. After the garden's initial start up cost (which isn't slight), it will be relatively cheap to eat great food all year and for many in the future
6. It will make the backyard smell and look great!

I'm sure my folks think it's hilarious that I'd be up for having a garden... I hated it when they had one and I had to go weed the dang thing "all" the time. Oh well! I've learned the error of my ways!


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Awesome Easy Pasta!

I whipped together a simple pasta recipe that I just had to share.
-Pasta (whatever you can get your hands on, we used our last box of conventional rigatoni, we usually buy our local pasta at the Clintonville Coop)
-14 oz. canned diced tomatoes plus one (optional) fresh tomato (We got local our tomatoes from Carfagna's)
-2 cloves garlic minced (local from the North Market)
-1/4-1/2 onion chopped (local from Columbus Winter Market)
-1 cooked Gerber's chicken kielbasa, thinly sliced (local from Hill's Market)
-1/2 cup or more mozzarella cheese (local from Worthington Market)
-1-2 tsp. dried basil
-1-2 tsp. dried oregano
-1-2 tsp. salt
-1-2 tsp. pepper
-Approx. 3 tbs. chicken broth (we freeze our chicken broth in ice cube trays, so we used one cube)
-1 tbs. oil
-Cook pasta.
-While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add onions and garlic, add broth, and saute until onion is soft. Add sausage, tomatoes, herbs, and spices and simmer until heated through, stirring occasionally.
-Drain pasta and put back in the pot. Pour the skillet contents over the pasta and mix. Add the mozzarella cheese and mix again.
-We recommend serving this with some local mixed lettuces (we got ours from Northridge Organic farm)!

Putting Together the Garden

Yesterday was a day of hard work as we prepped two of our 4x4 ft. garden beds for onions and asparagus. Because of our small yard, we are trying the raised bed system known as Square Foot Gardening. It's a much more intensive method of gardening that is allowing us to raise 16 onions in one square foot! According to the creator of the Square Foot Garden system, three of the 4x4 ft. beds should be able to provide all of the fruits and veggies needed for one adult (this is for fresh and preserved consumption). We are doing eight of these and a 12x2 ft. bed, so hopefully my black thumb will be able to get adequate food from our garden. We have made our beds with cedar so it will last a long time and not have the potential to leach unwanted chemicals into our soil (which is a risk with treated lumber). We put down the landscaping cloth yesterday to keep weeds from being an issue in the beds and created the Mel's Mix, which is a blend of compost, vermiculite,
and peat moss. We ended up filling two and half of the beds and laying wood grids that show us each square foot. We got really lucky yesterday on our search for vermiculite that led us away from Lowes and over to Oakland Nursery (a haven for any gardener!). We not only found vermiculite we also found two year old asparagus crowns so we were able to put them in! We ended up planting 16 yellow onion sets, 16 white onion sets, 9 Mary Washington asparagus crowns, 9 Jersey Giant asparagus crowns, and a few random onions around the house. Surprisingly, it only took us about 2 1/2 hours once we got all of our supplies!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why Food Miles Matter - Part 1

For some people I may be preaching to the choir, so to speak, when it comes to the issue of food miles, and if that is the case for you, please forgive me, but for far too many people, this is still a foreign concept. First off, what are food miles? Food miles refer to the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is finally purchased or consumed by an end user. In the United States, the average piece of local fresh produce travels 56 food miles while its conventional counterpart travels an average of over 1,494 miles. To put this in perspective, it is approximately 1,255 miles from Boston, Massachusetts to Miami, Florida. So why is this so important? Whether you are an environmentalist or not, food miles make a significant difference in the food you eat because they can affect taste, nutrition, biodiversity, energy consumption, local economies and communities, food safety, and workers rights, amongst other things.

-Taste, Nutrition, and Food Safety: Locally sourced foods tend to be fresher, being harvested shortly before transport. Because the foods don’t have a long way to travel, farmers can focus on breeding their crops to be tastier, higher quality, more nutritious, and more adapted to the unique climate of the area. Oftentimes, you will hear about breeds called ‘heirlooms,’ which have been around for generations. When foods are being purchased that have traveled a longer distance, they obviously are not as fresh as they could be, and to make the journey in one piece, the crops are bred for uniform shape and appearance and durability to make transportation easier. The farther your food travels the more freshness is lost and the more nutrients are depleted. Unlike the local options that are picked at the peak of freshness, long distance foods are picked before they are ripe and then artificially ripened, which gives the produce the appearance of being ripe but not the flavor or nutritive value so they can make it to the store and still be edible. The issue of food safety enters the picture when we combine two important qualities about our food sources: we allow them to be anonymous and we allow them to disperse their foods all over the country if not the world. When local producers are selling directly to the consumer, as is the case in many local foods situations, they are held fully accountable for their product and how it is created. If they know that their consumers can drive to their farming operation to wander around and see how it functions, common sense declares that they are less likely to use questionable standards. Also, in terms of food safety, if there is a food outbreak from a particular farm in a local foods situation, the exact source is drastically easier to trace. The anonymity created in the large scale food industry allows farms to use practices that we as consumers may not approve of if we saw them. An example of this involves the E. Coli outbreak in spinach in 2006 in which 1,002 pounds of spinach from a single farm in California was able to sicken 204 people across 26 states and Canada. The suspected cause of the outbreak involved a farm operation with irrigation wells near surface waterways that were contaminated with feces from cattle and wild pigs that tested positive for the E. coli strain.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Welcome to Local Foods Columbus!

This is a blog about a couple (Jacob and Katie) taking on the challenge of eating everything (or at least as much as possible) sourced within the state of Ohio. I am an environmentalist and my boyfriend simply enjoys good food, so we decided to do this because of the benefits to our tastebuds, the environment, the local economy, and our health. We decided to take a few hints from people who have already experienced similar challenges (Barbara Kingsolver for example) and lay out some guidelines for ourselves. We have a few exceptions to our strict diet regimen including the following:
-We can eat at restaurants and at friends/family houses (although if possible when dining out, we will try to eat at local, independently owned restaurants)
-We have a few items that we refer to as 'sanity savers' (chocolate, alcohol, tonic water) and there are a few items that are necessary for simple cooking that cannot be sourced locally (baking soda, baking powder, spices). For all of these items, we may not buy locally but we will try to get them using the most sustainable methods possible, for example getting fair trade, organic chocolate. There are also a few items that stretch our geographical boundary just slightly, like beet sugar that we found sourced in Michigan by a company that benefits the economy the beets are grown and processed in.
-We will pay close attention to our labels and just because a product is manufactured or distributed by a company in Ohio doesn't mean it qualifies for us. Most if not all of the raw materials in any processed product need to be sourced from Ohio.
-We are allowed to eat the processed foods that are already in our pantry but we cannot purchase any new ones. As they say, waste not want not!
We started switching over to this diet approximately a month ago and have a had a few small hiccups but are surviving. This blog will follow us in our adventures and we will try to post as many resources as possible for other Ohio locavores! To all readers of the blog, please feel free to post comments and questions to your heart's content because local eating is all about making social connections and finding alternatives to the 'norms' of society.