Monday marked the end of our fourth week of eating locally. When we began our local eating experiment we said that we would eat only from within 100 miles of Tucson for a month. For our purposes we decided to define “a month” as four weeks.

So how did we do? We’re pleased to report that it was a very successful experiment. We managed to eat entirely from within 100 miles of Tucson, other than the exceptions we outlined initially (salt, water and the Tucson CSA). We did cheat a tiny bit with our olive oil, but we felt it was justified. At the outset of the experiment we bought a bottle of local olive oil from Queen Creek Olive Mill. We had hoped that it would last us the entire month, but by the end of the third week it was almost empty. So, we made the decision to finish up the non-local olive oil we still had from before we began the experiment. We knew that we could get local olive oil, and it seemed silly to let the other olive oil go bad.

We also managed to eat almost entirely “organic” foods (i.e. pesticide-free, synthetic fertilizer-free, antibiotic-free, added hormone-free). We believe that the one exception was the fruit we picked at Apple Annie’s Orchard in Willcox.

We were impressed by the quality and variety of food we found locally, and by the meals we managed to make out of it. In fact, we generally ate far better than we typically do. Our food was more delicious, more nutritious, more interesting, and more satisfying. We felt a stronger connection to the food and to the people who raised it. Most of all, we gained a much stronger sense of place. We really felt like we were living in Tucson, rather than some anonymous location in an increasingly homogeneous world. We felt good knowing that we were eating healthier, reducing our environmental impact, supporting local farmers, and strengthening our local food security.

Eating locally did require more of a time commitment on our part, but not dramatically so. One component of this added commitment had to do with flexibility in shopping – since we relied heavily on two farmers’ markets and the CSA (each of which only happens over the course of a few hours once a week), we had to be sure not to commit those times to anything else. We also had to cook all of our meals, which was actually very nice for the most part. We found that we enjoyed cooking again, and found it very satisfying to put together nice meals from whatever local ingredients we had handy. Of course we did occasionally feel grumpy about having to cook (especially toward the end), but it was good for us to get out of the habit of just running out to a restaurant to buy food when we felt too lazy to cook.

One of the most common arguments we’ve heard against eating locally or eating organically is that it is too expensive. We fully expected this to be true during our local eating experiment. However, we’re pleased to report that we spent significantly less money on food during our local eating experiment than we usually do. A year ago we had tracked our expenses carefully and found that we were spending about $20.00 a day on food (for both of us; $10 per person). Food prices have risen substantially since then, so we were probably spending more than that at the time we started our local experiment. During this past month when we were eating locally we averaged $15.50 per day (for both of us; $7.75 per person). We were amazed that we had spent less money eating purely organic local food than we did beforehand! If we had been more careful about our purchases we could easily have spent less.

Here’s the breakdown of what we spent that money on this month:

  • Meat: $94
  • Eggs: $10
  • Goat cheese: $25
  • Wheat flour: $24
  • Olive oil: $15
  • Fruits/vegetables/nuts/beans: $249
  • Total: $417 (almost all of which went directly to local growers)

To be fair, much of the savings had to do with not eating at restaurants. If we had previously eaten only home-cooked meals our food expenses would likely have been much less than $20 per day. Sometime soon I plan to do a side-by-side comparison of how much our local organic food costs versus non-local organic food and non-local non-organic food, to see how much of a difference there really is.

Still, even if local organic food proves to cost more on the surface than non-local food, I believe that local organic food is still actually cheaper (potentially much cheaper) when considering the true cost of our food. Our industrially-grown food only seems so cheap because it is massively subsidized by the government. Furthermore, industrial agriculture relies on huge inputs of fossil fuels, which are effectively subsidized by our unbelievably expensive military. I have no doubt that if those additional costs (which we already pay anyway in the form of federal taxes) were factored into the price of the food we eat, local organic food would prove to be cheaper by a wide margin. That’s not even considering the environmental and social impacts of globalized industrial agriculture, which are difficult to quantify monetarily.

What We Ate
So what did we eat during this month of local eating? We ate an impressive variety of food, but we did have some staples. The following four foods were major components of our diet, and nearly all of our meals included one of them:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Beans

Other staples included:

  • Fresh fruit (especially apples and pears)
  • Tomatoes
  • Chiles (especially bell peppers, Anaheim chiles, crushed chiltepines, and guajillo powder)
  • Tomatillos (for the first two weeks, at least)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Amaranth
  • Wheat (mostly as tortillas)
  • Olive oil
  • Honey
  • Goat cheese
  • Eggs (about a dozen per week)
  • Ground beef (about a pound a week)
  • Chicken (about half a chicken a week)
  • Salt

The remainder of our diet consisted of a diversity of other vegetables, fruits and nuts. We were really quite pleased with the foods that were available to us. We did eat some wild foods, namely prickly pear juice, dried cholla buds, and mesquite flour, and hope to make wild foods a larger part of our diet in the future.

Our favorite things we ate during the month were:

  • Tacos: wheat or mesquite flour tortillas filled with grilled chiles and onions, tomatoes, goat cheese, tomatillo salsa, and occasionally chicken or beef; the mesquite flour tortillas were my absolute favorite thing we made during the whole month!
  • Roasted chicken glazed with prickly pear juice and honey
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes: either baked with olive oil and salt and topped with goat cheese or tomatillo salsa, or mashed with roasted garlic and salt
  • Grass-fed beef burgers with roasted chile, tomato and goat cheese
  • Popped amaranth with olive oil, guajillo chile powder and salt
  • Bacon and tomatoes wrapped in arugula (like a BLT without a bun)
  • Eggs: either fried and topped with tomatoes, tomatillos and goat cheese, or as omelettes
  • Beans: Colorado River and Cranberry beans cooked with onion, chile, honey and salt

What We Missed
During the first few days we definitely had some strong food cravings. I was missing bread and chocolate, and Marci was missing salty foods (especially olives and anchovies) and crunchy snacks. By the end of the first week our cravings had mostly diminished. We became satisfied with the food we were eating and didn’t feel a strong need for anything else. However, by the third week we were starting to have cravings again. My need for bread and chocolate returned (Marci began missing chocolate too), and we began to feel grumpy about being deprived of these things. I tried making a sourdough starter so we could make bread, but it didn’t take (the starter eventually gained a nice aroma and smelled like it was ready, but it failed to rise). Other things I missed were balsamic vinegar, corn tortillas, fish, avocados, sesame, ginger, and yogurt. Marci missed Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, fish, rice crackers, coffee, fresh salad greens, and Asian food. Some of these things we can get locally if we try harder, but some of them we never will.

All told it was a wonderful experience and we are very glad we did it. We are planning to continue eating predominantly locally from now on, but with some slightly more relaxed rules. We’ll describe our new plans in a separate post.