Illustration by Mott Jordan
See Girl Eat Local
Four weeks on the 100-mile diet
By Denise Vivar
I love to travel. I find a certain exhilaration in stepping out of myself and into new experiences and challenges, rocking the boat of my assumptions and swimming in the sea of humanity. For the past month I've been on a journey, an epic adventure, no less, and I didn't even need my passport. In fact, except for a brief sprint up to Portland, Ore., I haven't even left the county. I've been living la vida loca—the life of a locavore, that is, and I'm not sure when I'm coming back.
"Locavore" is a term coined by a group of women in San Francisco to describe a person dedicated to a movement that has been taking shape worldwide and has quickly gained legions of members. The movement is defined by its focus on eating foods that are grown and produced locally, within 100 miles of one's home. Proponents argue that the choice to buy foods that are locally grown and in season is a healthier choice for the body, the ecosystem and the local economy, with the added benefit of tasting better than products with many food miles behind them.
So I have taken the locavore challenge to eat locally for a full month and have been challenged indeed. Herein, some postcards from my journey, the path well worn by generations before us, to be rediscovered and possibly revived.
Week One: Lean, Green Local Machine
From the get-go I am filled with optimism for my new eating plan, since much of what I currently eat is grown right here in Santa Cruz County anyway. I can shop five days a week at a local farmers market where I get fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, eggs, local fish and meat. The stores carry local dairy, beer and wine. I live in a gastronomic paradise, even by California standards. What more could I need?
In certain regions of the country. 100 miles is too small a radius to consider seriously as one's local area, so some extend it to 200 miles or more. It turns out the only dairy strictly within 100 miles is the raw milk dairy Claravale. New Leaf Market carries Claravale milk and cream but not butter or yogurt. These are among the first casualties of my eating plan unless I make my own or duck outside the 100-mile limit. Just beyond that magic line lie both the Straus Family Creamery (at about 135 miles) and Clover Stornetta Farms (115 miles). For now I keep to the 100-mile designation and eschew the dairy.
Happily I am not a coffee addict, but I do enjoy a cup of tea each morning. That goes too. Away with the exotic spices, salt and grains, none of which are grown in our area: no bread, pasta, oatmeal or granola. I can do this for a month.
It's a good thing I like to cook; since restaurants don't serve strictly local foods I will be doing lots of it. Becoming a locavore requires a little preparation and planning, and I'm not altogether ready on my first day, having forgotten about such things as condiments and flavorings for dishes. I wanted the first day of my venture to have some import, perhaps a bit of ceremony. But in reality, every day is a good day to start being more conscious, and so I begin on a Friday as I head to the hot springs for the weekend.
After work I rush home to pack, filling a couple grocery sacks with food for the weekend: fennel, squash, tomatoes, chard, potato, onion, a tin of Dave's local tuna fish, Everett Family Farm eggs. I'm looking forward to eating more lightly. It's an inconvenience to have to pack food and prepare it away from home, but I'm freshly committed to the plan, and it still smacks of adventure. I basically live on such spare fare for a week except for one dinner out, at Café La Vie.
This first week is about realizing the challenges and limitations of the plan, and gathering more information on food sources. My diet consists largely of raw, steamed or sautéed vegetables, fresh fruit and scrambled eggs, and it feels pretty lean. I'm thrilled for the local olive oil, which is just about the only flavoring agent I have. I suddenly miss salt. And although I like to cook I can't seem to find the time to do so, and so my only other source of protein besides the eggs is a couple of tins of Dave's albacore tuna—at a pricey $6.99 a can. I console myself with the prospect of enjoying a fine local wine, but the truth of the matter is, I'm feeling a little light-headed at times and not up to any alcohol content to speak of on this lean diet.
One of the major challenges I face as a locavore is my responsibility as a food writer. I'll have to balance my personal goal of eating locally with the professional requirement to taste a variety of restaurant dishes and expound on my experiences. While some locavores allow themselves a certain food cheat such as coffee or chocolate, mine will have to be my dinner reviews. Even at La Vie, where the emphasis is on local and organic, I find it impossible to order a meal with 100 percent local ingredients. I feel guilty for the transgression, but no one wants to read about my steaming excursions with vegetables. Steamy excursions with vegetarians, maybe, but that's not my assignment.
Photograph by Kathleen Olson
Great Balls of Fire: Happy Boy heirloom tomatoes at the peak of ripeness mean it's late summer on the Central Coast.
Week Two: Homeland Security, Ma'am, One Beet at a Time
I'm approaching the airport security checkpoint, silently guessing the odds that I'll be pulled over and searched—one of the random checks or, more possibly, under certain suspicion. I appear normal enough but for my carry-on, and it is at this point I begin to question my decision not to send it as checked baggage. While others are placing their laptops and purses, backpacks and shoes in the gray bins I'm toting a small cooler, much like the ones they use to transport human organs destined for transplant. I am not carrying a lung or a kidney, nor am I concealing any weapons, bombs or—heaven forefend—more than 3 ounces of toothpaste. I am packing kale and potatoes, beets, blueberries and hard-boiled eggs, and this is my lifeline for the next three days.
I'm heading up to Oregon for a music festival, and who knows where the food comes from at those things? So I've thought it better to just bring my own. As I suspected, the content of my cooler raises suspicions and it is flagged for investigation by a couple of security enforcers. Each zip-lock bag is unfurled, inspected and set aside. One officer comments on my nice packing job as he returns the nonthreatening steamed fingerlings to their container, but the other seems concerned and peers over the greens, asking me: "Are you all right?" I might have caused less of a stir had I been carrying a kidney.
On the way out to the festival, we stop at a Wild Oats market to pick up a few supplies. I don't even bother to take a cart, settling instead to tour the store just out of interest. I look on with envy as my friends pile their carts with beer, roast chicken, pasta salad and dips. But I spy a "local" sticker on a shelf and perk up. I know these stickers, like the ones in New Leaf Markets—beacons pointing the way to the legal bounty. Then I notice a few more here and there and my heart leaps.
The produce section turns up local apples and I gleefully pick up two organic Granny Smiths. I round the corner and run into the dairy section, where you would have thought I had just discovered gold. Cooing, "Hello, local organic Cascade plain yogurt," I pick up three cups, one for each day. And then Helayne reminds me, "They produce fine pinot noir right here in the Willamette Valley." I tote a pinot and the yogurt and apples to the checkout, feeling like I've just won the lottery.
It's not at all unusual for me to go a week or two without yogurt, but having to cut it out of my diet this week has made me miss it. I've passed my own test of temptation and feel like I've been rewarded. I offer up thanks to the local dairy farmers and count my blessings. In the car I drop a handful of blueberries into the yoghurt and experience feelings of deep appreciation for what I am about to eat.
Once home again, I make more of an effort to add interest and more protein to my diet by picking up some meat from Severino's, and I step over the 100-mile marker into dairy country with some raw butter from Organic Pastures and yogurt from Straus Creamery. Suddenly I feel flush with extravagance and luxuriate in the additions to my meal plan. Until I attempt to cook with the butter.
All the accounts I find of raw butter describe it as earthy and green smelling, with a delicious taste. Perhaps we differ in the semantics, but I can only politely describe my olfactory experience with the pat I put in the pan as foul and curdled. A telephone call to the dairy went unanswered with a machine too full for messages. Not one blogger anywhere seems to have shared my experience, and I'm left with a very expensive tub of acidic curd. Back to pasteurized butter for me.
All Things in Moderation
My favorite things to shop for are books, kitchenware and groceries. I fawn over a bottle of olive oil like some women ogle new shoes. OK, I ogle shoes too, but olive oil is right up there. I still walk the aisles of the grocer's, picking up interesting packages and perusing the shelves for artisanal goods, smelling the breads and fondling the exotic fruits. But it's been like going to a museum for me now these last few weeks: "Ooh, Andalusian olive crisps—don't touch," "Mmm, smell this pineapple—what memories I have of them." I miss chocolate and feel guilty for missing it.
It is a bit disappointing not to be able to take home some of the exotic goods that I come across, but the discipline has definitely given me a new appreciation for the choices that I make. Not everyone has the luxury to even consider the choices that I contend with—to choose the more costly organics over conventional products, humanely produced meats over feedlot meat, eggs from free-range chickens over caged, local goods over the cheaper discount food store counterparts. I don't like paying the higher prices, yet I am grateful that I can make choices, and I hope by doing so my dollars count toward effecting change. Maybe someday no one will have to choose between healthy foods and their lesser counterparts.
Sometimes my choices have been limited due to availability, and to a good end. Last week the local fishermen didn't have such a good catch, so there was little fresh local seafood to be had. Instead I ventured over to Justin Severino's booth at the market and picked up some of his TLC Ranch pork sausage. It turned out to be the most incredible sausage I have ever tasted, and I thought I didn't like pork. This week the fishing was good and Severino's was completely sold out. Ebb and flow is the natural order of things, and I'm finding it feels pretty organic and satisfying to have what's fresh and available.
And sometimes what's available is just what shows up on your plate. I have planned as well as can be expected to stay within my food mile guidelines, but when out in the world it's not always completely up to me what I eat. Travelers and polite people everywhere will understand the dictum "Eat what is put in front of you." With family and close friends you may feel comfortable pushing away a plate given to you. But otherwise, if you should find yourself at a friend's house for the very first time and she puts a plate of freshly baked peach cobbler in front of you without asking your consent, and that cobbler should have out-of-state grains on it, you must eat it. And if someone should surprise you with a fruit tart during a picnic in the glen, why be anything but gracious? These were special times and it was like a little taste of heaven. Rigidity has no place in human relations.
Still, I have settled into a more comfortable place with the locavore plan. It has become closer to a habit than a temporary challenge, and I have been inspired to venture into new food preparation frontiers. I have always wanted to make my own cheese and yogurt, to make a perfect corn tortilla, and lately have decided to give canning another try. Even the idea of sea foraging has recently slid into the realm of possibility for me. I'm excited about shopping for my next new kitchen tool: a food dehydrator.
Week Four: The HomestretchThe voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.—Proust
My friends have been asking me when I'll be finished with my eating project, as if I'm in prison and soon to be out on parole. With good behavior, perhaps never. But they know and I know that life is more complicated than that.
This last week has been interesting. As I prepare to depart from the train I've been traveling on, I'm not feeling as anxious to get off as I was a week or two ago. I thought I might move into the eco-regional diet this week, extending my range to the Central Valley to include rice, nuts and more fruits like citrus, but have not felt compelled to do so just yet.
Admittedly, I began this challenge with the idea that it was a limited excursion, and at the outside I might pick up some good eating habits. I've read a few accounts of detractors discarding the local eating plan for its inconvenience, cost or restrictiveness and imagined a life of strict locavorism to be rather joyless.
But now I know the man who has been in the field with the cow that I will eat next week, the woman who gathered the chickens' eggs this morning that I'll put in the pan tomorrow. I put locally earned dollars into the hands of the people who grow my vegetables. These people are all committed to the biodynamics of sustainability, and being a part of this dynamic is a pretty gratifying feeling—even more gratifying than chocolate.
There are a few things that I will add back into my diet for variety and health's sake. Ultimately I will move into a more eco-regional plan. And although we don't grow wheat, rye or oats in this state for bread, I can support the local bakers who use organic grains. I'll drink fair trade organic tea, and yes, an occasional piece of chocolate, exotic fruit or foreign cheese. Even still, I can support good stewardship, right human relations and the farmers who work to make a living everywhere, and eat well in the bargain.
Local farmers markets (see p. 27)
By Denise Vivar
Dave's Gourmet Albacore
310A Coral St., Santa Cruz
Specializing in hook and line–caught tuna and salmon
H&H Fresh Fish
Aptos, Downtown SC, Felton and Monterey farmers markets; Specializing in local seafood
Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf
Offering local seafood
Deep Roots Ranch
137 Kerr Road, Watsonville
831.761.3765 [email protected]
Telephone or email orders for farm pickup; ChickenTLC Ranch 410 Hall Road, Watsonville
Available through Severino's butchers (831.425.7675 www.severinos.com), Felton, Downtown SC and Westside SC farmers markets; Beef, pork (coming soon: lamb)
Black Hen Farm
Downtown Farmers Market; Cage-free, organic eggs
Everett Family Farm
2111 Old San Jose Road, Soquel
Downtown SC, Felton farmers markets; Cage-free, organic eggs
785 Travers Lane, Watsonville
Downtown and Westside SC farmers markets; Cage-free, organic eggs
Glaum Egg Ranch
3100 Valencia Road, Aptos
Food Bin, New Leaf Markets, Shopper's Corner, Staff of Life Natural Foods; Cage-free, organic and conventional
San Benito 831.772.7779
New Leaf Capitola and downtown SC; Raw milk
Clover Stornetta Farms
5401 Redwood Hwy, Petaluma
Food Bin, New Leaf Markets, Shopper's Corner, Staff of Life Natural Foods; Organic and conventional dairy products
Straus Family Creamery
Food Bin, New Leaf Markets, Shopper's Corner, Staff of Life Natural Foods; Organic dairy
Alvarado Street Bakery
500 Martin Ave,, Rohnert Park
Available at New Leaf Markets, Shopper's Corner; Organic, sprouted breads
Downtown, Westside farmers markets; Organic, artisanal breads
Pickled, Canned Fruits and Vegetables
Happy Girl Kitchen Co.
P.O. Box 832, Aromas
Downtown and Westside farmers markets; Canned fruits, vegetables and pickles
Valencia Creek Farms
1535 Valencia Road, Aptos
Deluxe Foods Aptos, Gayle's Bakery Capitola, New Leaf Markets, Shopper's Corner; Olio del Colline olive oil, dried flowers, herbs
233 Peckham Road, Watsonville
Call for availability
1130 Mission St., Santa Cruz
Local and regionally produced fruits and vegetables, dairy goods
New Leaf Community Markets
Boulder Creek, Capitola, Felton, Downtown and Westside Santa Cruz
Local and regionally produced fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, dairy goods, organic breads, with in-store guide to eating locally and regionallyShopper's Corner
622 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
Local and regionally produced fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, dairy goods
Staff of Life Market
1305 Water St., Santa Cruz
Local and regionally produced fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, dairy goods
A guide to farmers markets in the Santa Cruz area
By Denise Vivar