Sunday, December 6, 2009

Food, Glorious Food!

One of the most discussed topics on my blog when I first started blogging regularly back in 2006 was our transition to local foods. I joined the One Local Summer local food challenge for two consecutive summers, and it changed our entire lives.

I was incredibly passionate about the local foods movement then, to the point that I annoyed a lot of friends and family members, but in November 2007, my passion for local foods resulted in my family being featured in a story in the local paper, and so I felt validated for what some people may have deemed rather overzealous behavior on my part.

I'm still quite passionate about local foods.

And I still annoy friends and family members.

But, mostly, I'm okay with their (sometimes not so) gentle ribbing of our food choices (like Deus Ex Machina's brother-in-law making fun of the fact that I won't buy a $20 butterball turkey, even though it's a great deal, because it's not "local").

Today, at the grocery store, there was a vendor from Cabot cheese. He started his spiel about how his display was sponsored by "Maine dairy farmers" (and I said to the girls, but loud so the guy could hear, "Like Mr. our local dairy farmer"), and how great their cheese is. Deus Ex Machina held up the two pound block of Cabot cheese we had in the cart to show the guy, "Hey, look. We're already buying the cheese", but the guy kept talking, which was fine, because he handed Deus Ex Machina a coupon for $1 off two items, and he was giving the girls bracelets and pencils and everyone free cheese samples.

So, we took the coupon, and I asked Deus Ex Machina, again loud enough for the guy to hear, "Do you want some sour cream (which we normally don't buy) or more cheese?" He shrugged. I went up the aisle to grab another two pound block of cheese (we freeze it and grate it later), and when I came back, the guy was still trying to sell us Cabot products.

I held up my hand and said, "Preachin' to the choir!"

Then, I felt bad for being rude. But, seriously. We had something like $20 worth of his sponsor's cheese in our cart and had told him that we always buy this brand. We were already sold! So, like, shut-up-already-no-offense.

Cabot cheese is local to me, and since we started our local diet, there are only three creameries from which we buy cheddar cheese: Cabot, Pineland Farms, and Silvery Moon Creamery. Of the three, Big Little Sister likes the Cabot cheese best, and so that's the one we get most often.

I wanted to tell the guy that all of our dairy is from "local" dairy farmers, and if he'd looked in our cart, in addition to the cheese, he would have seen the Kate's butter.

If he'd have looked in the cart, he would have seen a marked lack of fresh foods. No meat. No produce.

All of our meat is local.

All of our produce is local.

We don't buy either from the grocery store.

He'd have seen a pretty marked lack of processed foods, too.

Our "local" diet has resulted in our eating a lot of "whole" foods. That is, food that is as close to natural as we can get it, and much of which is purchased fresh and processed in our own kitchen, like cucumber pickles, applesauce and strawberry jam.

I found this website today, when I was looking for information to debunk the myth that butter fat is bad.

I liked this quote:

Don't be afraid to eat real food. The closer to nature, the better it is for you. Choose foods in their whole state. Do your best to avoid processed, prepackaged foods, especially those that are reduced-fat products.

When we started eating a local foods diet, the first thing we had to cut out was processed foods, because even though there are some processed foods that are manufactured here in Maine, I couldn't verify the origins of some of the individual ingredients.

In the beginning, our local meals were pretty simple, and I always felt like they were missing something, and they were - bread, pasta or rice. I grew up with the base of our meals being bread or pasta and meals without one or the other just seemed ... lacking. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, grains just aren't grown in Maine.

We still eat a lot less bread than we used to eat, and now, instead of thinking that our meal of roasted chicken and salad is incomplete without some dinner rolls, it seems natural, and it's always filling (especially when the salad is topped with a homemade dressing made from real cream, mayonnaise, a splash of vinegar, garlic and herbs :).

The result of cutting out processed foods, because they weren't local, has been that we've become markedly healthier than we were five years ago, when we were eating a low fat diet, consisting of lots of processed foods, in an effort to control our weight.

Is it ironic that we were fatter when our diet had less fat? Deus Ex Machina, at his heaviest, weighed thirty pounds more than he does right now, and he lost all of his extra weight simply by changing his diet. He's at his ideal weight, now.

It may seem funny to people who talk to me about the way my family eats, and to hear my assertions, "Oh, we don't eat ...." It's probably odd that we don't eat at McDonalds, not because it's crap food, which it is, but because McDonalds isn't "local", or that we don't drink Pepsi or Coke, because neither is local (and because they both contain high fructose corn syrup, which we definitely don't eat, and wouldn't even if it were local!).

In the end, though, I feel comfortable with our choices. We're healthier for it, and our food tastes really good.

But there's another reason why I've so fully embraced the local foods movement, and that has to do with food security. If we change our diet now, while we still have a choice, and become accustomed to eating real foods from local farmers, when processed food because more scarce in a lower energy future, my family won't suffer from food fatigue or hunger.

We'll already know where to get our food, and if dinner consists only of smoked rabbit, roasted potatoes, and chunky, home-canned applesauce ... well, that would be no different than usual.


  1. As you know, I do a lot of the things you do, just not as consistently. Food is a huge issue for me and has been (in several different ways) for decades. My diet has definitely evolved as I've matured and learned, and I hope for the better. I gave up fast food in high school but didn't kick my soft drink habit until pretty recently. While we grow a lot of our own veg, and source all our meat and much of our dairy locally, grains and oils are our stumbling blocks. I can make my own bread from scratch, but if I can't get flour from local wheat (and I can't), I'm still going to include bread in our diet. We eat a LOT of it in several forms.

    If TSHTF, I'm sure there will be shortages of basic foodstuffs such as flour. But I also think that in the long run, people will find a way to move real essentials again. Even the pioneers got hold of flour once or twice a year.

  2. Interesting. I just bought our first block of Cabot on Saturday. But they're a cooperative. Like Shoprite where I bought the cheese. But aren't co-ops also killing the Mom & Pop (like Walmart)? Does that count when it's cheese?

  3. Nice post. Glad to hear that eating local (and thereby eating less processed foods) resulted in better health for you and your family.

    Another great Maine cheese is from Sonnental Dairy in Smyrna. It is available in some grocery stores in Aroostook County and also through the Crown of Maine Organic Co-op at


  4. Definition of food coops:
    Food cooperatives are worker or customer owned businesses that provide grocery items of the highest quality and best value to their members. Coops can take the shape of retail stores or buying clubs. All food coops are committed to consumer education, product quality, and member control, and usually support their local communities by selling produce grown locally by family farms.

    About Cabot:
    Being a co-op, we are owned and operated by our members, which for Cabot are our farmers and their families.

    Wal-Mart is *not* owned and operated by its "members" or its "customers", and the people who "own" Wal-Mart would never work there.

  5. Kate, I should clarify and state that we still eat grains. I bake my own bread, too, and I buy flour by the 25 lb bags straight from King Arthur (another "cooperative" :). It's just that grains aren't the staple in our diet that they used to be, and we're more likely to have potatoes for dinner than rice, pasta or bread.

  6. What about State of Maine cheese? They carry it at Hannaford.

  7. Thanks for the recommendation, Laura. I did some sleuthing on the cheese you mentioned, and it sounds wonderful. I like cheese :).

    Unfortunately, though, my kids didn't like the State of Maine cheese, Liz, and so we don't normally, buy that.

  8. I'm sorry that our demo guy was a bit over-enthusiastic and not as observant as he should have been! AND I want to thank you for supporting our farmers and all the other farmers and local companies!