Years ago I had friends over at Madison's Center for Integrated Agricultural Studies who radicalized me about... local vegetables.
Looks like summer is thinking about dropping in today, just in time for summer, and that set off the following panegyric.
Think globally, eat locally
“I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals.
I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants.”
– A. Whitney Brown
My wife and I have always loved to cook (and eat!) but last week we crossed a dangerous and embarrassing threshold which, for the first time, nearly shoved us into the bark-chewing vegan-curious Alice-Waters-groupie New-Yorker-cartoon foodie-elitist category. The shame is almost too much to bear, but confession is good for the soul so here it is: last week, for the first time, we made our own granola.
We kept the blinds down. We stashed the granola away in a big Tupperware tub on the floor of the pantry behind the potatoes. We didn’t tell our friends for days. It gets worse; we’ve been eating it with organic yogurt and fresh blueberries. I like to drizzle a little Wisconsin maple syrup on top.
Do you see what I mean about the barkchewing foodie elitist thing? I’m prepared to admit this in public because my wife’s granola (and I can still barely type the word with a straight face) possesses the two virtues most important to Wisconsin food: 1) it is stupefyingly delicious (better tasting than anything I’ve ever eaten out of a box) – and perhaps even more important to local values and custom – 2) it’s cheaper than buying cereal at the grocery store.
A lot cheaper.
And here we run into one of the great food mysteries I’ve never figured out: it almost always costs less to eat food that tastes better. Consider locally produced cheese, beef and vegetables.
When I first moved back to the Midwest I thought it would be a kind of funny gag gift at Christmas to send my family packages of Wisconsin cheese – you know, chunks of cheddar shaped like Holsteins along with an assortment pack of aged Swiss. It was only funny the first time. Now they demand it every year. Cheese from elsewhere in the U.S. isn’t nearly as good as ours – especially our local companies. We usually run up to Gibbsville, but I don’t want to start a war with those of you who love the cheese curds from Beechwood or brick from Bieri’s. You know what I’m talking about. There are a dozen small cheese factories within an easy drive of West Bend that make great stuff. Pick one you like. Again, it’s often less expensive than a lot of the industrially produced cheese you get in the grocery store and it tastes better.
The beef (and pigs and eggs) we eat also come from Washington County. For the last few years we’ve only eaten cows raised around Kewaskum or northern Ozaukee. One of our local organic farmers produces the best beef I’ve ever eaten. His cows eat what cows love to eat, they live happy lives and produce happy steaks and soup bones. And here’s that weird principle again: our local beef costs less and tastes better than anything I can get at the supermarket. Or anywhere else in the country.
Oh, and for the record: cows in California are not happier – they’re just medicated.
I don’t have enough room to talk about bacon, so let’s turn to vegetables for a final paragraph. We eat locally grown veggies, too. We shop the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or, as we did this year, subscribe to the “community supported agriculture” from Wellspring over in Newburg. Again, it doesn’t cost a lot more than it would at the store and it tastes better since it’s picked fresh.
There are a couple of additional pluses that tie bioregional agriculture into “the bigger picture,” that get you more global bang for your local buck: 1) when you buy locally, you know where the food comes from (i.e. not from China), 2) it keeps money in the local economy, and 3) locally grown produce has a lower carbonfootprint than food grown 2,000 miles away. It’s probably better for you – and the planet – to eat something grown locally than that expensive, heavily packaged, supposedly organic stuff grown in California. Again: costs less, tastes better.
Try it out yourself: hit the farmer’s market where you live. Check around to find locally grown produce. Better yet, plant your own garden or check to see if your town has a community garden project (like we do in West Bend).
A wise old woman once told me “kid, the best revenge is living well.”
Living well starts on your dinner plate – especially when it costs less and tastes better.