I really need to find a way to make this blogging thing pay. It's taking up all my time. And the reason is: challenges.
Let’s Get Real! Food Challenge. Growing Challenge. Project GROW. And they all want their posts on Sundays.
So one challenge per post, and apologies for three posts (maybe four, also going to Chicago Flower and Garden Show) in one day. Current plan is an appropriate recipe for each one, but we'll see how I feel when I get to #3.
Let’s Get Real! is an incredible challenge, taken to its extreme. With the premise of minimizing packaging and food miles, in the three days since starting just the research (forget the actual eating), I have discovered that, despite living 50 miles south of the dairy heartland of America, most of the dairy products at the chain grocery stores come from places like California. (Can't buy the most ecologically correct brand, because I don't want to fund the on-going political career of the conservative wingnut who owns it.) They're just packaged in Wisconsin. WTF. No wonder my milk always tastes sour. It's been frozen and thawed and is already a week old by the time it gets on the shelf.
Forget flour. There is absolutely no way to tell where your flour comes from, and I'm sorry I'm just not going to mill my own. Which brings us to the main philosophical problem with trying to eat "real." Where does the balance tip the wrong way? I could drive about 20 miles, to where there's a year-round farmer's market. Or I could go to Whole Foods, where I'll pay around 5 times the regular brand price for the privilege of feeling smug and local. And frankly, I don't really trust the labels at Whole Foods. I think those brands play the same sorts of games that Dean's milk does, importing food to be packaged locally so that they can call it local.
FamilyFarmed is trying to find me locally milled flour that I don't have to order from the internet.
Then there's eating out.
I managed to locate just two restaurants where I can be reasonably sure that they source lots of their food locally, because they make it part of their branding. One is too expensive to pretty much ever eat there. The other is fine if the dinner is your destination, but last night my destination was the movies, and this restaurant is on the other side of town (and I live in a big town). We ate at the Golden Nugget. It was food. Not even going to think about how "real" it was.
UPDATE from Abby: Mado, Publican, Blackbird, Avec also source ingredients locally.
I'm sure once all these logistical issues are sorted out I will find that the food is better, but at this point I'm not sold on the concept, and it's not just about the inconvenience. It's about that tipping point. I live in the 4th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. Nothing we eat comes from here (unless it comes out of my own garden). The closest working farm is 20 miles away; the bulk of the local food market is 50 to 100 miles. Is it still local?
Which is more sustainable--walking to the local big chain to buy my groceries, or driving 20 miles to go to the year-round farmer's market (and even in summer the nearest farmer's market is 5 miles away).
And to top it all off, I ran out of the Mrs. Richardson's caramel syrup that I like to put in my (shade-grown, organic, free-trade, but, sadly, imported) coffee.
UPDATE: Caramel syrup
The first time I made this, the sugar recrystalized. So here's a method that keeps it smooth
1 c. brown sugar
1-2 T water
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. cream
1 tbsp. cornstarch
Put the brown sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan, adding just enough water to make it the consistency of wet sand. Turn on the heat to medium and add the vinegar. This will keep the sugar from recrystalizing. Boil for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the butter and continue to boil until the butter is completely melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cream, then add it to the sugar and bring it back to a boil. Cool several hours in refrigerator or overnight.
3 hours ago