From Too Many Chefs -

May 3, 2006
Better late than never: Joining the Eat Local Challenge

This is as local as it getsWe are actually three days into the Eat Local Month of May, hosted by Locavore and Jen of Life begins at 30. Although this is the first mention of it on the blog, I've actually been testing the process since the first of May. Well, the second really: we were travelling on the first of the month and so it's hard to say what was local. We brought sausages back from England; I'm counting them as local because they were brought over in transportation that would have made the trip regardless.

I'm glad I'm participating in this effort already, because it's made me aware after only two days exactly how difficult it is to eat locally. I've always thought I that I'm particularly spoiled for choice, living here in Paris. And it's true that we get great produce. At the markets, the origin of produce is always labelled and I've always delighted in watching each fruit make its way up in the labels marked "Maroc", then "Espagne", then "Provence" and finally - if you are lucky - "Ile de France". But I hadn't noticed how the supermarkets just label the country of origin, not the region. And I certainly hadn't noticed that the small organic section of my local Monoprix is mostly stocked with fruit and veg from South America, South Africa and Israel.

I hadn't thought about the fact that the super-cheap drinkable wine I buy doesn't even have a proper designation, giving its origin. It has a label saying "bottled in F32725" or some such postal code, which is apparently somewhere in the Pyrenee mountains. Decent Loire wines or a nice Chablis are going to cost us at least twice as much but they will also be twice as tasty so I guess I can't complain.

On that note, last night I bought an experimental Loire rose that was not spectacular. The Critic took one taste and said "This wine is too sweet. You can drink this bottle but I'm having the white." When I explained that I had bought it so I could participate in the Eat Local Challenge, he said "But do I have to??!?"

Well he didn't: I was stuck drinking the sweet pink wine and he had the dry white.

I have had to make some exceptions of course. Well, not of course, but I'm not a freak and I have work, this blog and a very active 16 month old in my life (not to mention a somewhat needy husband) so I'm doing what's practical. Read on to find out more about my personal goals...

1. What's your definition of local for this challenge?

Ideally 200km, but I'll settle for France when necessary. I'm thinking of rating each recipe on a scale of one to ten on how well I've succeeded in keeping to the radius. This should allow me fish from the Atlantic, wine from the Loire or north end of Burgundy and chickens from Loue, which is actually known for its great poultry.

2. What exemptions will you claim?

Things that are already in my kitchen will be exempted: I'm not going to ignore them or let them go bad. I have not stocked up on difficult items before the challenge and I'm going to be hoarding that small piece of remaining ginger. I have already been avoiding exotic fruits such as mango and pineapple and bananas for a while and will probably continue. I might have to break down on Spanish lemons as I love them and only have one and a half left. I will also be exempting food consumed at someone else's table, be it a restaurant or friends. We don't eat out that much these days but I know that we are invited to a few dinners in May.

3. What is your personal goal for the month?

My goal is twofold: Firstly to learn more about the food I'm eating - I tend to pay attention when the source is mentioned but don't ask questions when it's not. And secondly to see how far I can carry the principle while factoring a busy life of work, family and blog.

A note on the photo: the best local food is the stuff I grow myself. Last year was a middling year in terms of vegetables and May is certainly too early for vegetables anyway. But I'll be including lots of locally grown (i.e. less than two metres from the kitchen) sage, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. Unfortunately, the three baby lemons on my lemon tree won't be ripe for a few months.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at May 3, 2006 2:59 PM

The folks that made the 100 mile diet popular among those that read eco-blogs now have a website that has a simple but handy Google map:

Don't know where to go to find local food? is a good place to start.

Meg, I'm really interested in your participation. I hope you'll write up your experience at the end of the month and let us know how it went.

Posted by Justin on May 3, 2006 at 10:13 PM

Justin, I will certainly share the experience as I go along and I'm sure to have some conclusions at the end. I'm pretty sure already that it's going to include a) very difficult and b) very expensive.

How is the local issue in Bogota? I would have thought that a lot of your produce is very locally produced? Sure you don't want to join in? ; )

Posted by Meg on May 4, 2006 at 3:18 AM

Eat lots of's practically right in our own backyard!

Posted by David on May 4, 2006 at 8:02 AM

Ooh, that's a good point! I was thinking I would have to confine myself to the endless varieties of goat's cheeses from the Loire valley!

Posted by Meg on May 4, 2006 at 8:10 AM

Very expensive? Really? I don't know too much about food subsidies in France, but it seems that local would be cheaper.

Here in Bogota it's very easy to eat domestically. I almost always do. The problem (and the reason why I can't really participate in the Challenge) is that I have no idea where in Colombia something is from. I can probably guess that the pineapple is from the coast, which is pretty far away, but I have no idea which province most stuff is from. There are no signs telling me like at the Whole Foods.

So we pretty much eat domestically (cheese, unfortunately, included) with the occasional apple from the US. The only item we buy regularly that is imported is wine (usually from Chile and Argentina) and sorry, but I'm not giving that up. I'll drink Colombian rum, but the domestic 2 buck chuck that they sell is an insult to the grapes.

Posted by Justin on May 4, 2006 at 10:52 AM

Justin, if you think about it, it's natural that the locally grown stuff is more expensive: it's generally small producers who have small niche markets who produce locally. The cheap food is produced bulk anywhere from the Netherlands to Spain. If I buy flour from the organic market, it's locally grown and ground, but in small quantities. I have to pay for that...but it's worth it, I think.

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 4, 2006 at 4:45 PM

Hi Meg - Really glad to have your participation! I was excited when I saw your name come through the Locavores site yesterday. It's going to be interesting to hear what your results will be in France. Looking forward to it.

Posted by jen maiser on May 4, 2006 at 5:10 PM