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10 Ways Local Food Has Changed My Life

It was just over 6 weeks ago when I joined my first CSA, bought Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and started hunting down restaurants serving local, sustainable foods. Before then, I might have been the person my friends thought was most likely to eat "edible food-like substances" (thanks again, Michael Pollan!), and least likely to start a garden.

Sure, I've been obsessed with food for my entire life, and I've dabbled in local foods before. I spent most of 2001 meat-free, thanks to the book Fast Food Nation. I've always loved French Meadow Cafe, Lucia's, The Craftsman, and The Birchwood. But this Simple, Good, and Tasty commitment to learning about food and documenting the journey, this is something entirely new. I like to think that my friends are happily surprised and that I haven't become too irritating, but you'll have to ask them. Meanwhile, this seems as good a time as any to reflect on what's changed for me in the past 6 weeks, how my life is different - and better - than it was before. So without further ado, I present: 10 ways local food has changed my life.

  1. I've rediscovered the joy of eating. My love for greasy spoons has been almost entirely replaced by my desire to try new, fresh foods, and to support businesses that sell and serve them. I've started frequenting The Wedge, Common Roots, Anodyne, and other local markets. I've been to Brasa, the Red Stag Supper Club, and other terrific restaurants. (And I've learned how hard - and how immensely rewarding - it is to schedule dinner for 30+ people at The Craftsman.)
  2. I've lost five pounds, which is sort of amazing when you consider bullet point number 1.
  3. I've connected with fantastic people I never knew, like Rob Smart, who writes Every Kitchen Table, Zachary Cohen, who writes Farm to Table, KristenM, who writes Food Renegade, Tracy Singleton, who owns the Birchwood Cafe, Mike Phillips, chef at The Craftsman Restaurant, and Joan and Coleen, who run A Backyard Farm.
  4. I've connected with amazing people who I did know in entirely different ways. Who knew that Dave, Chuck, Ginger, Jen, Scott, Jan, Erik, Kathy, and Kevin were foodies? I should have, and I do now!
  5. My 7- and 3-year old kids now know the meaning of the words local, sustainable, and organic. They say all 3 often in the following sentence: "I don't want to hear about anything that's local, sustainable, or organic anymore!"
  6. I had a great tour of Whole Foods, and learned about what local foods are available in Minnesota year-round (not many!), and how the chain views organic, local, and sustainable foods.
  7. I've rediscovered the joy of cooking, incorporating local, sustainable, and organic foods into recipes as simple as Sloppy Joe's made from Thousand Hills Cattle Company grass-fed beef and organic tomato sauce.
  8. I appreciate farmers more, and I think I understand my in-laws (who grew up on farms) a little bit better. I'm even looking forward to my next family trip to the farm in South Dakota.farm222
  9. I don't need coffee to keep me regular.
  10. I appreciate my amazing wife - who supports this interest of mine way more than some of my other crazy ideas (she's even agreed to do a stay-over at Harmony Valley Farm on Father's Day weekend) - more than ever. And I appreciate my friends, readers, co-workers, and supporters who care enough to humor me and to engage in this awesome, awe-inspiring topic. I am more socially, politically, and environmentally aware than I can remember. And, on a related note, I think I'm starting to understand what it means for food to be seasonal, and why that's better for me.

I think it's a pretty good list, and I completely understand why people feel the need to evangelize the things they love. If you've had a similar experience, or can share 1 or 2 (or 10) things from your own list, please do. I'd love to hear from you. This post has been submitted to Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday. Check it out. foodrenegadefist_1502

Comments

[...] Good and Tasty Posted on April 20, 2009 by Zachary Cohen 10 Ways Local Food Has Changed My Life, by Lee Zukor, Great post [...]
I totally agree with all of your comments, Lee. I've gone through a similar conversion myself in the past few years. I had read My Year Of Meats and Fast Food Nation a while back, but it was when I read Omnivores Dilemma & Animal Veg Miracle that marked a turning point for me to actually change my eating habits. So our family joined Harmony Valley's CSA for the first time last year, and we just joined a meat CSA this month. Walking the talk, right?? I'm shopping more and more at local co-ops and thinking more about the impact of my food choices. It's pretty exciting to feel connected with your food! I know what you mean about wanting to evangelize. I started a blog recently too, greenyourplate.blogspot.com, because I wanted to tell people about how a person goes about making these food changes, in a practical sense. We're kind of figuring this out as we go, but the kitchen experiments are certainly fun. Anyway, keep up the crazy food talk, I enjoy reading your blog!
What's the next step? Growing some of your own food!? I'm big into planting heirloom varieties in my garden, and finding those varieties can be tricky - especially if you're someone who might grab a veggie plant at Home Depot. Check out my blog to find more information on where you can go in the Twin Cities to find them. http://eatsustainable.blogspot.com/2009/04/saving-seeds-supporting-garde...
Hi Amy P., Thanks so much for your comments and for reading this post. Maybe we're leading parallel lives! I like your blog a lot too (you're in my blogroll) - such good, practical advice, especially from somebody who's joined the same CSA. I'm looking forward to digging into more of your recipes as the spring and summer progress. thanks again! -Lee
Hey Reetsyburger, I'm really intrigued by your thoughts on heirlooms, and I'm totally sold: yes, I'm absolutely growing my own food this summer! I'm currently working on my (not yet) green thumb with the help of Joan, Coleen, and Sue from A Backyard Farm Wish me luck, I need it! Thanks a lot for reading and commenting. -Lee
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - and what a miracle! Reading that was our pivotal point (mine and my husband's), from attempting to "go local" with some dedication, to going - as you put it - "evangelical" about it! It's amazing how one's outlook on food - and wanting that food to be from home, as well as organic and as "whole" as possible - can change so many other viewpoints. Like you, we are more in tune to what's going on out there in terms of the bigger picture. When you discover the importance of food, you discover the joy of it...we started canning and freezing food a few Summers ago, and each year attempt to get closer and closer to "surviving the Winter" on our stored goods. That process, along with starting a garden this Spring and cooking from scratch, helps us to appreciate - really appreciate - our life source. Hooray to you, for making the switch! Soon, it won't just be something your friends humor you for, or that your wife "goes along with". You (and we) are at the forefront of what is soon to be "normal", like it was for our grandparents back when they didn't have a choice in the matter. Now, while we have the choice, we can make the changes and grow accustomed, before it's absolutely necessary to do these things. We've also made it our goal to find new local places to eat, every time we go out (which isn't often). It brings such a feeling of community that is so satisfying. Of course, Common Roots is our standby for bagels and coffee! I look forward to subscribing to, and reading more of, your blog! Beth
Hi Beth, Thanks for your inspiring comment, I love it! I left this comment on another blog (http://everytable.wordpress.com/) this morning: "How ironic that adventurous eating means eating what grows locally, in season. Shouldn’t that be called “normal eating”? “Adventurous eating” is the leap of faith we take when we consume bread from Sara Lee and hope to live through it." So your comment about what's normal really strikes a chord! I'm glad to know you. Please let me know when you find good local food, wherever you do. -Lee
And so the movement grows. We can't do a veg CSA this year because the veggies in even a 1/2 share outweigh the nights we have to cook 4 fold, but we are doing a meat CSA and enjoyed our first taste of 50 mile away ground beef hamburgers (made in our own kitchen anyway) tonight and have a ton of plants we're picking up over then next 2 weeks from the eastside coop plant sale. I'm glad i stumbled upon your blog! perhaps I'll add it to my reader :)
Hi Kate, Thanks for the note and the link to your cool blog (imagespetites.blogspot.com). That meal looks amazing - how does one get on the guest list next time? ;-) Fantastic pictures, too! Which meat CSA did you join? -Lee
What a great posting! For something as important as food and nourishment - and as much pleasure as most of us derive from it - so few actually put effort into making it better. It's incredible how the "food industry" has warped our tastebuds into thinking flavor comes from sodium and synthetic flavors. Not to mention the demise of texture! We've been lulled into thinking there are two basic textures in food - goo and crunch. Your testimonial to the merits of shedding those eating habits and pursuing *real* food is inspirational! I applaud you for doing it, and even more for sharing it with others. Keep it going, Lee!
Hi Chuck, thanks for the super-kind feedback. I used to really like goo and crunch, but this morning I mixed homemade (local) creme fraiche with natural (local) peanut butter and had an incredible breakfast. Who knew that they'd combine to form a brick in my belly? ;-) You keep up your own good work at http://chezcharles.blogspot.com/ too. It's fun to blog with you! -Lee
Lee It's called sunshine harvest farm http://sunshineharvestfarm.com/Home_Page.html Their pasturing process is not unlike the farm mentioned in the Omnivore's dilemma. The cows graze and then move onto new land, the chickens follow eating the bugs in the cow dung, and replace nitrogen into the pasture with their own droppings. I get happy thinking about it everytime I eat one of our eggs (I'm a serious nerd about this stuff). I only picked up our 1st share on Saturday, but I'm sure I'll blog about the quality soon :) Also, email pairedmn@gmail.com to get on their mailing list!
Thanks again, Kate. I checked out the site and asked to be put on their mailing list. Reading about eating rabbit now...
I love the title of this post, as I have commented before that reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has changed my life and the way I think about things. And I especially like the part about your kids learning the vocabulary. We already loved shopping at our neighborhood farmer's market, but now it is a focal point of the week. Here are some of the changes I have noticed: 1. I travel for work, and when I am out of town I often look for small gifts for other people in my office. I have started making a point of making sure that the items I chose are locally made, or made from designs by local artists. Since I have started checking where souviners are made I have discovered that the majority are not local products in many cases. As a result of learning from the book about the impact on the local economy of using local products, I have started buying more interesting gifts and I feel much better about the money I am spending and the things I am getting. 2. I have started looking at where things come from when I shop at the grocery store and if there is a choice I pick the one from closer to home. 3. I have discovered the most insanely delicious yogurt that is made in my own home town. It had been on the market for a few years, but I hadn't bothered to try it before. I practically screams "I come from happy cows!" with every bite. I enjoy it more than I'd ever imagined possible. 4. I have noticed that the true gift of having a neighborhood farmer's market is not even in having easy access to good local, organic, whole foods that support my local economy, though all of that is great to be sure. But even more than that, it creates a whole community in the most wonderful ways. It is a common meeting ground where other activity and interests can be shared, values can be communicated, services can be offered. It is a return to aspects of community that have largely been lost to the development of automobile oriented societies. In short, it draws people together and I am deeply grateful for that. It makes me fundamentally happy in a way that going to the supermarket has never come close. I didn't think I would have so much to say about it when I started this post. Thanks for providing a place for me to share these thoughts. Cheri
Hi Cheri, Thanks for a terrific note. You point out such great things - your focus on community is so important, whether it be related to local souvenirs or getting to know the people at the local farmer's market. It sounds like the time you spend finding and using (and eating!) local things brings you (and, I'm guessing, the people around you) untold rewards. Hooray! I feel like this process continues to reveal itself in unexpected ways, and I'm enjoying all of it. Please tell me what yogurt I should be looking for and where to find it. Thanks so much for participating. Your comments mean a lot. -Lee
Wonderful post, Lee. I'm sure I've become a bit zealous about food, but I also hope my friends don't find me too annoying! Thanks for participating in Fight Back Fridays today. This is just the kind of encouraging story that might help others on their journeys. Cheers, KristenM (AKA FoodRenegade)
Hi KristenM, Thanks a lot. Fight Back Friday's is a great thing you do. Lots of momentum building, nice job! Have a great weekend. -Lee
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