What did I learn from eating local for 30 days? Much more than just food related!
When I started the Local Thirty challenge, I had grand aspirations on what my month would look like and what I would discover. This was a challenge I undertook for the month of September, I would eat only foods grown and produced within 200 miles of my home. I had 10 “cheat items”, which are from outside my radius. If you missed it, you can read more about the challenge here.
And I had hoped to share my journey with you. But, hey! Look at that, it’s now the second week of October, and my last post was from the beginning of the challenge. Opps.
So, how did it go? Did I cheat?
I was gone for 5 days in the middle of the month for a woman’s retreat. Meals were provided so I did not follow during this time. I then had a book club meeting (a highlight of each month) and this month’s host provided goodies and cheese that were not local, but I still imbibed on her hospitality. And, during the last few days of the month, I was camping. I had cooked and brought all my food with me, things that could easily be reheated in one pot and then eaten with a spoon. And while I could have followed the challenge, by the last dates on the calendar, I felt like I had met my goals and I also wanted foods that were easier to manage in my limited camping kitchen.
Overall, I would say that this challenge was a success. I’m glad I undertook it.
I stayed within my cheats, other than the occasions mentioned above. I did meet my goal to learn about what foods are grown locally to me, I found local flour and local garbanzo beans. I discovered that a local farm grows corn and does nixtamalization so the masa can be used for tamales or tortilla chips. Another local farm grows sesame seeds. I discovered that paying more for local small-batch vinegar and olive oil, is in fact, worth it because the quality is outstanding.
Overall, this challenge ended up being more than just local food and instead taught me some things about myself.
I don’t need as much variety as I thought.
When I first taught myself how to cook, I made a different recipe Every. Single. Night. When there were so many great flavors out there, why eat the same thing over and over. And it was exhausting. And it stressed me out immensely, and I got to the point where I was neurotic about finding something new to try.
Since then, I’ve relaxed quite a bit and will make the same soup or casserole a few times a month. As I’ve gotten more comfortable in the kitchen, I also no longer rely on recipes and eat the same type of dish over and over, using whatever is in season. Sauteed chicken with veggie with rice. Beans with greens over toast. Roasted veggies over a grain. It’s like one of those math problems I could never figure out in school: “if you have 3 different pizza sauces and 15 different toppings, how many combinations can you make?”
I get bored eating the same dish over and over again as leftovers, and assumed I would get bored using only my local rice and my cheats of barley and quinoa. But I didn’t. Which brought me to the next thing I learned.
A month is not that long.
At the start of the month, it seemed like September would take For. Ev. Errrrrrrr…….(please read that in your best Sandlot voice.) Perhaps it was because I had my retreat in the middle, but the month went by very quickly. A good life reminder on the value of time, and to truly honor each day.
I can find a lot of local things at my local natural food coop. They are great about labeling where produce comes from. But, they don’t carry local meat. Mostly because the farms around are too small to deal with USDA regulations, and instead just sell direct. Which means I had to get my ass out of the house early enough on a Sunday to find parking and avoid the anxiety-inducing crowds of the Farmer’s Market. That happened exactly once during the month.
Yes, I wanted chicken a few times. But, not enough to make that Sunday trip a priority. So quinoa it was.
And those sesame and nixtamalized corn? They required driving to the farms and purchasing during their farmstand hours. Nope, to restricting. I’d rather sit on the couch and read. I’ll just eat some barely. Which brings me to my next point.
I’m OK with being mediocre.
Part of the reason I didn’t post any Local Thirty recipes as I had planned on was that nothing was noteworthy enough to share. I made a chard tart that was pretty good, but not amazing. Some crackers from sourdough and local flour. But they came out funnily shaped. I tried a cantaloupe, lemon verbena, and honey popsicle, but, they didn’t turn out.
I ate a lot of mediocre things during the month of September.
Not on quality, I was eating local and organic. But, lots of meals that were just ‘meh’. Dishes that could have been elevated a level with a grating of local aged cheese. Or some cilantro to brighten the dish.
But, see above: “I’m lazy”.
And while this may seem like a bad thing- after all, mediocre isn’t the best, and don’t we always want the best? I see it as a bit of an eye-opening realization. Not everything I make has to be amazing. Filling? Yes. Nutritious? Yes (well, ok, for the most part). Instagram worthy? Nope. Nope. And Nope.
A home-cooked meal made with organic ingredients, albeit a bit boring on flavor or creativity? Good enough.
Being mediocre sure takes a lot of pressure off being the cook of the family.
But, this also made me think about life in general. There is so much pressure and media out there urging us to “hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.” (as quoted from this excellent article)
But what if we were just mediocre instead?
Even with this blog, I started writing because I wanted to be known, to have an impact, to have it lead to being successful. But really, all I want to do is write. And to have a creative outlet for my words and my photography. Yet I get so wrapped up in all the things a blogger is “supposed to do” in order for it to be “correct” and “great” and “popular” and “successful”.
Sure, I would love those things. But, I don’t want to pretend I have it all together all the time. I don’t want the stress that it requires to be “great.”.
I’m ok with just being mediocre.
And I think it took this challenge for me to see that.