A Few Last Thoughts on the Eat Local Challenge

All of the food you see here is locally grown or produced,
except for that pesky block of Spanish manchego
near the top.
Well, we can't all be perfect, can we?

I hate to admit it, but I dropped the ball the last week of the Eat Local Challenge. My excuse is that it coincided with moving to a new place, but really, there's no tip-toeing around the fact that I totally blew it off at the end of the month. Worse, not only did I bomb the end of the challenge, but I ate frozen fish sticks, microwavable meals and anything else I could find that was in the freezer or cupboard that entire week, just so that I didn't have to think about dinner or move it to the new place (shh...one of those microwavable meals was set to expire one week after I ate it...Lord help me!). So, since I guiltily cheated and bombarded my digestive system with all manner of preservative-laden and nearly expired processed foods, I thought I should at least weigh in on some of the things I learned during the month. Consider it a retribution of sorts for my lack of gastronomic discretion, or... the least I could do.

Since I had opted for the "produced in Hawaii" as part of my "exceptions" list, I had been planning to have a single week (preferably the last week) where I would eat only foods grown in Hawaii, but alas, in the midst of it all, that didn't happen either. I did have several meals that were made from only locally grown foods (and you'll be seeing the recipes and the stories to go with them in the coming days), but they didn’t happen consecutively. Since I'm a card-carrying member of the Alice Waters devotee club and could be happy eating a tomato fresh from the garden with only a sprinkling of finishing salt (black lava salt of course) or sauteed greens with only a little macadamia oil and a splash of shoyu (I never found garlic here either), many of the meals were simple.

Ba-Le Bakery bread (Oahu) with Surfing Goat Dairy goat cheese (Maui),
a fresh North Shore Farms heirloom tomato (Oahu) and a Blue Lotus organic egg (Oahu) -
topped off with black lava salt from the Big Island.

Most of the truly local meals consisted only of meat or fish with vegetables or vegetables only (remember, there are no grains grown here and no dairy widely available). No matter what we were eating though - locally grown or locally produced - I wanted the flavors of whatever ingredients I was using to shine through, barely unadulterated. I figured that if we were getting the freshest ingredients, grown closer to our front door than anything else we could possibly buy, then I wanted to be able to taste the difference. And you could. Since nearly everything that travels here must come from at least 2000 miles away, crispness in a head of lettuce or chicken that has no smell of ammonia is a treasure in itself. Don't get me wrong, we have our diamonds though too that are hard to find elsewhere - the sweetest mangoes and pineapples, rich Kona coffee and chocolate, and amazing grass-fed beef (even better than any I had in Oregon).

The Challenge was certainly an eye-opening experience. I began to think about things I hadn’t before, like labeling laws and which large grocery store chains had foods that I wanted to support, because they supported the farmers and producers I wanted to buy from and had the most local foods available (or had clerks that knew something about the food they were selling!). I found wonderful new farmers and producers that make and sell fabulous foods, right here in Oahu, and I even got to know some of them. I was blessed by the kind offerings of things like home-grown okra and freshly picked macadamia nuts from friends who wanted to help out. One family even cooked us a meal in their home full of locally grown vegetables, so that we could stick to our convictions when we dined with them. I found beautiful new vegetables, fruits and fungi (from "French" sorrel and dragonfruit to tree tomatoes and pepeau), ate the bounty of the land (beautiful papayas, mangoes, coconut and taro) and experienced eating a truly free-range chicken. I learned an incredible amount about the food itself and the people who grow it here, and I am still learning...honestly, this journey has really only just begun.

North Shore Farms Big Wave and Heirloom Tomatoes

I'll certainly continue to eat mostly local foods - all of my eggs, vegetables, fruits and the majority of the meat and fish we consume have always been local. I feel it's important to keep my money my local economy, especially in such trying and expensive times, so I'll continue to support the farmer's markets and the farmers and producers that grow and make beautiful products, and especially those that follow practices that I support - like organic farming. I'll also continue to boycott products whose practices I don't support - like shipping pigs in from far away...my pork will be from the mainland, and an organic farm, until I can find a more acceptable source closer to home.

It's definitely possible to eat only locally grown foods (read here, for someone that did it the entire month - and a great blog and website to boot!) and even more so to eat only locally grown and produced foods. It's not easy, but it's definitely a worthwhile experience (and way of eating). In general, locally grown vegetables were cheaper at the farmer's markets than at the grocery stores. But searching the grocery stores for local products wasn't as easy on the wallet (or the gas tank) as I had hoped. And it will continue to be that way, until we demand from the stores that the local products are the ones we want to buy. Until something changes, we can choose how and where we spend our money. The people here in Hawaii (and elsewhere) need a better awareness of our foodshed in general, and while there are some great places and organizations making big strides in this arena, there is always room for more...I hope to be a part of that movement in the future.

Local papaya, pineapple, dragonfruit, tangerines and a tiny citrus fruit from a
tree on the Island where I work - very sour, but perfect for drinks!

And LB? He made it through the month with shining colors - even suggesting we continue to have a week here and there where we only eat locally grown foods...I'm so proud. Now if I could just get him to take the reigns and do the actual shopping for it. Maybe next year?

For other posts related to the Eat Local Challenge, as well as many resources for local foods, go here: 1, 2, 3, 4. Also read the Eat Local Challenge website and the Share Your Table blog - both are full of great information!

7 comments from you:

Claudia said...

You are really into it. That's great and Hawaii seems like the perfect place to eat locally as the islands can produce a lot of good stuff.

I am pretty concerned about buying and eating organic food too because I can't stand the idea of feeding my kids with pesticides, fertilizers and hormones as it is already an issue to keep them completely clean from E-numbers of all kinds.

The locally is not my issue though as I live in Norway and there isn't local enough to feed not even half of the little people that lives here, not even of locally grown apples, while the local greenhouse production of vegetables and leaves is as bad to environment as it is to taste and flavor since Norwegian tomatoes, spinat, rucolas and others taste nothing at all.

In Norway we eat not the fresh, but the freshly shipped which means never fresh stuff, unless frozen, always super green and never the fun of ripe flavors.

For a girl of the tropics like me, who grew up eating 100% local because that's the way it is in Brasil, it is sad to eat so bad.

But the discussion doesn't end here as the logic is more perverse than it seems as most of the local production in developed countries are heavily subsidized and behind the organic farms lays industrial farms of the growing GMC.

In a global world eating local also harms the poor organic producers of the world heavily. Small farmers of the third world are the ones who are avoiding and can remain away from the pressures of Monsanto and Syngenta.

Life isn't simple anymore, not even the act of eating a pear or a banana.

I am around. Cheers!


Zoomie said...

I'm actually pleasantly surprised that you could do as well as you have - obviously, the local foods interest has reached Hawaii as well as the Mainland. I remember wooden tomatoes from my years in Hawaii - pale pink and shipped unripe from far away! Good for you!

Julie said...

I'd say you were very succesful, especially in how well you educated yourself (and how well you are educating anyone reading this) about locally grown resources. I also read Claudia's comments with interest. She's right. Nothing is a simple as it seems.

I've also read arguements questioning whether locally produced food is really better for the environment because of the pollution created in transporting many small lots of food vs. transporting larger lots. But the reason for eating locally that resonates most strongly with me is creating an economic impetus to keep farmland as farmland. Every field that won't one day become a townhouse development is a victory for the environment.

vlb5757 said...

Oh, how I have missed reading your blog. I have gotten behind because of some computer mess ups. I have finally gotten back to blogging (the knitting one only) and hopefully the food one will not be too far behind. Glad to have read that you found another place to live! Hang in there girl!

Michelle said...

Claudia, you're absolutely right - it's not simple. That's one of the most important lessons I learned while trying to eat locally. Hawaii cannot support it's own population either - there simply isn't enough land. But half the population doesn't care that their milk gets shipped 2000+ miles at room temp then repasteurized once it gets here, nor that they are eating pesticides. Well, we do what we can, don't we? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Zoomie, thanks! We are lucky here with tomatoes these days. There are several tomato farms, and the tomatoes taste good the whole season. We're just now moving into only having cherry tomatoes. For a girl whose favorite food is tomatoes, I'm a pretty happy camper!

Julie, you make some really great points too! I hadn't thought of the small lots vs. big lots, but at least here in Hawaii, I don't think that's a major issue...though I could see it being a big one elsewhere for sure. I also think it's just important keeping my money here in my own economy - supporting the people and farmers whose hands I have the pleasure of being able to actually shake and say thank you to!

Vickie, my dear, it's so good to see you! We always have our lives outside of blogging that sometimes take precedence. Glad to hear you're back - knitting, cooking, eating, living! My futon - and my blog - will always be open to you!!

Debinhawaii said...

I am behind in my visiting. I think you did a bang up job in the challenge--especially with all you had going on. I really enjoyed your posts and learned a lot--including really looking at the fish labels for Hawaii and not "island favorite" or "island caught". You inspired me to make better choices even if I didn't do the challenge so thank you for taking the challenge!

Michelle said...

Deb, me too! Thanks for all the encouragement throughout the ELC. We both cook a lot with local ingredients, so I'm proud of both of us for doing that even without the incentive of the challenge. Maybe we can do it together next year!