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The Locavore’s Dilemma

Limes, cinnamon and salt are three things I love to cook with that are not grown/sourced in the Midwest.

Limes, cinnamon and salt are three things I love to cook with that are not grown/sourced in the Midwest.

Okay, so it is time for me to come clean; I do not exclusively eat the food less traveled. Gasp! Yes it is true. I love to be creative with my food, and occasionally this means bringing in a guest ingredient (or two) that has traveled across the globe. The interesting thing is that by eating mostly local food I am more conscious of the journey these guest ingredients have taken, and conscious of the substitutions I would have to make to have the meal be entirely local.

Usually my worst offense is salt. I use salt in almost everything…and am utterly aware that we do not have a salt source in Wisconsin. Right now I am using pink sea salt from Pakistan. It is a bit easier with salt to at least know the crystal’s origin. Next time I buy I’m sure my salt will be from some other local. Out of my curiosity for this necessary kitchen item I have added Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky to my reading list. What the heck did people use before salt? In lieu of a substitute I keep buying the imported variety.

This brings me to my second worse offense; spices. Herbs I am good with, I grow my own and dry them or keep them in the house on the windowsill for winter use. Whatever I don’t grow I buy at the farmer’s market. Spices are a different story. I have no idea where most of my spices come from. I assume the indian ones come from India, and the Thai ones from Thailand. But most likely this is an inaccurate assumption. The main reason that I use spices is that cooking in season can, lets face it, get a little boring, especially over the Winter and in early Spring. Curried root vegetables are a welcome change from the more traditional hearty stews and roasted roots I typically make.

The third category of food-stuff that I typically get from across the globe is oils. Yes, I can always use local butter in their place, but it is really nice to have some variety. Plus, I often want a healthy oil choice, such as coconut or olive oil.  Those two are staples in my pantry. One of my goals this summer is to seek out some local oils I can use. I’m sure there are some healthy nut oils made somewhere in the midwest. Besides, it is really hard to make a vinaigrette using butter!

The next category is vinegar. I try to use apple cider vinegar, but occasionally the taste is over powering, or just wrong for a dish. So, you will also find a bottle of balsamic and a bottle of rice wine vinegar in my cupboard. I feel like I should be able to at least find a source of balsamic vinegar in Michigan (with the number of vineyards it boasts), but I haven’t thus far.

Number five on the list is citrus. This one is really tricky. I have used vinegar in place of citrus in a few recipes with some success, but truly citrus cannot be replaced. I may just need to get a greenhouse to fight nature on this one. For now I am not going to worry too much about my citrus intake, and limit it to using the fruit to add flavor to a dish instead of eating an orange a day.

The last category that most would assume I struggle with is sugar. But, surprisingly there is a sweet, local, sugar company nearby. The Michigan Sugar Company, which makes Pioneer Sugar. Uses sugar beets to make granulated, powdered, and brown sugar. I don’t use sugar in much of my cooking, but it is pretty much a requirement with dessert! I also love honey. And I find that eating local honey tends to keep my allergies at bay. So sugar I have figured out! Now if I could just work on the other 5 areas.

Most of this list includes items that are local to the south of France. When I was living there I purchased everything from the market. It was an amazing existence, but I have no plans to move back anytime soon (unfortunately!) so I am challenging myself to really look at the sources of these flavor filled pantry staples and find out is a local source is possible. It is my goal to seek out as many of these items locally as I can. I will get back to you with the results in a few months. I encourage you to do the same!

In the mean time, if you have suggestions they are always welcome.


3 replies »

  1. I hear you. Coffee and olive oil are two things I can’t live without. And the occasional avocado. It’s quite difficult to live 100% off local food. I know those spices aren’t coming from around the corner, but I am conscious to buy them from the food coop, where it’s bulk ordered and reduces packaging/waste. My coffee is fair trade and/or rainforest alliance certified and generally locally roasted (to keep money in the community). Like you, I’m very aware of the journey these foods make to get to me. I think that’s what’s most important, even if you can’t commit to being local, knowing where and how food gets there.

    • Melissa,
      I should have included coffee and avocado too! (But I don’t use them as often as the others.) You bring up a good point. Eating entirely local can be restrictive. Knowing where those other items you include in your diet come from, and trying to reduce the environmental and social impact those items have on the planet is a good alternative to foregoing them all together.

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