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While we’ve been largely successful in our efforts to eat locally for the past two months, we’re well aware that we’ve been doing this at the most bountiful time of year, at least in terms of cultivated crops (spring and summer are arguably better for wild foods). Local farms have probably been producing the greatest diversity of crops they are likely to do all year, and the farmers’ markets are hopping. At least some chickens are laying (ours aren’t, probably because they’re moulting), and goats are producing milk.

This is all likely to change in the next month or two as the weather cools off, and we’ll have to adjust our diet accordingly. Already we’ve seen a strong shift toward more greens in our diet, although our old staples of potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and beans are all still major components of our diet. Most importantly from my perspective, fresh chiles are still available. Tomatoes are also still available. These two important crops will likely vanish from the farmers’ markets soon, unless our abnormally warm weather continues. Our average first frost date is rapidly approaching (November 23rd or 24th), but I would be very surprised if we see freezing weather anytime around then. We were seeing near record highs until just a couple of days ago, when a low pressure system finally moved into the area and brought our high temperatures down to around the climatological average (mid-70’s), though our low temperatures are still about 10 degrees about average for mid-November. There’s actually a possibility of rain later this week!

Anyway, on to the point of this post: With the change in season will come a change in the types and quantity of foods available to us. Food preservation is an important skill which has enabled people to set aside food when it’s abundant so that they can eat when it’s less abundant otherwise. We should have been actively preserving the summer and fall harvests for our (blessedly short) winter, but we didn’t get our act together to do any canning of any sort. We did manage to take the lazy route of freezing a little bit of food. This should help us cope with the lack of certain things during winter, but we really only froze enough to barely supplement our diet, rather than really contribute to it substantially. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve saved in our freezer:

  • A dozen large whole tomatoes
  • Several apples and peaches, sliced
  • Half of a cooked pumpkin
  • A large jar of prickly pear juice
  • A large jar of pasta sauce
  • A small jar of arugula pesto
  • A small jar of desert hackberries
  • Lots and lots of chiles (both roasted and unroasted Anaheims, plus some jalapeños and Gueros)

Eventually we hope to get more sophisticated with our food preservation techniques. In the meantime it will be an interesting challenge to find fresh local food during the winter.

Tonight we realized that this is a great time to be eating locally here. Most of our staple foods from last month are still in season (potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, chiles, tomatoes, okra, etc.), but there are also some tasty new foods coming into season.

For starters, greens are finally in season. During the month of September we managed to find very few greens: we had arugula once and verdolagas (Portulaca) a couple of times. In the last week or two, though, a diversity of greens have become available: we’ve gotten arugula, lettuce, swiss chard, tatsoi, pac choi, mizuna, and mustards. In fact, we’ve gotten more greens from our CSA than we know what to do with! We need to come up with some creative ways to preserve them (maybe some kind of pesto-like sauce that we can freeze?).

Marci got a nice diversity of foods at tonight’s Santa Cruz River Farmer’s Market. She came home with apples, apple cider, a watermelon, a large pumpkin, an onion, potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, Anaheim chiles, eggs, okra, wheat flour, and tomatoes. The overlap of watermelons and pumpkins is a good indication of the transition in seasons we’re currently in. We’re trying to appreciate the diversity of local foods available right now, because it may not last for much longer! While our climate allows for year-round growing, we can’t expect to have the same variety of foods from December through February.

At our CSA on Tuesday we bought a pack of beef liver, as an experiment. I’ve never cooked liver in my life, and I don’t have the faintest clue what to do with it. Marci wants to cook it with bacon, but then again she wants to cook everything with bacon.

For the past week we have been taking a mini-break from our strict regimen as we decide how to move forward for the long term. We ate bread, chocolate (fair trade organic dark chocolate) and sushi (more on that later) and each indulged in non-local treats almost daily. Chris ate out twice for lunch and once for dinner (he had pizza, which he had really been missing), and I had coffee three times. I also ate some Skittles at work where people seem to be incessantly stocking every corner with forbidden treats. But even with all of these deviations we are still eating a mostly local diet. And we are extremely happy to continue with our experiment, especially since our “treats” were mostly disappointing and expensive.

We fully expected to be reluctant to return to our local diet after reminding our taste buds how the other half lives. I was looking forward to eating Asian food as much as Chris was looking forward to pizza, but both meals were unsatisfying. I don’t know the details of the pizza fiasco, but I do know why Sushi Ten disappointed me: The iceburg lettuce salad was sadly devoid of color, nutrients, and flavor; the miso soup tasted old and drab; and the soba noodles basically tasted like undercooked pasta with overcooked vegetables drowned in soy sauce. The squid salad tasted fresh and yummy, and Chris’ salmon roll was satisfying. But overall it was not the party our taste buds were anticipating. We have been far more impressed with our own cooking than with Sushi Ten’s offerings that night. And it’s not that we’re spectacular cooks (although I’d argue that Chris is a spectacular cook); it’s just that our food is fresh and actually tastes like food. The flavors in our home-cooked meals are diverse, distinct, and rich, unlike the conglomerate of meek tastes and textures dictated by restaurant foods that are either harvested too early so they can weather the 2,000 mile journey to Tucson, or are produced en-masse days, or weeks, before being served.

I’m not saying that all processed, non-local foods are unappealing to us. We fully enjoyed the chocolate bar, for example. We don’t intend to deny ourselves every luxury in the long run, and as we determine how we will redefine the rules of our experiment we are allowing for regular special treats. The following is a description of our modified rules for the experiment for the near future.

We will be allowing ourselves balsamic vinegar (eventually we hope to start making our own), yeast (until we have both a steady source of flour and a working sourdough starter), and spices (in moderation) on a regular basis. We feel that these items will greatly enhance our enjoyment of our food without compromising the spirit of our experiment. We will allow ourselves to eat the food that we still have in our fridge and freezer from before we started the experiment. Also, if someone visits us, bearing gifts of food local to their point of origin, we will gladly accept- and eat- the food. For example, my parents gave Chris a lot of organic honey from near their home in L.A. We will be devouring that honey! In addition, we will allow ourselves one treat each (i.e. a chocolate bar, a cup of coffee, a danish) every week. And we will occasionally eat a non-local meal if we are invited to a friend’s house or feel the deep desire for a night away from the stove. It should still be easy to eat at least 95% local foods, which is our long-term goal.

Now that we know we can thrive on a 99.9% local diet we don’t see any reason, save convenience, for eating any other way. Of course, sometimes convenience speaks louder than good health or flavor. But generally speaking we are proud to have successfully shifted the focus of our eating habits away from international corporations and toward the people in our community. We are excited to seek new food items from our region, and we look forward to experimenting with making our own vinegar, ice cream, dried fruit, yogurt, and sourdough starter. We’ll be continuing to blog as we make new discoveries.

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.

Time
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.

Expenses
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.

Okay, we’ve been on this local kick for just about 2 weeks, and an intense desire for chocolate just posessed me. I’m not normally a sweets freak, but I can’t stop thinking about (and whining about) my absolute need for chocolate. This craving is motivating an interest in making some sort of dessert. I’d love to make a pie, but we don’t have enough fruit to make a filling. I’d love to make oatmeal cookies, but I have a feeling they would taste exactly like my breakfast (cooked oats with honey) since all we have is oats, wheat flour and honey. We started cruising the web in search of possible dessert recipes and I got excited when Chris told me that we could make apple cobbler. Then he said, “We don’t have raisins, brown sugar, bisquick or butter, but we have apples and oatmeal”. Great. I might just get desperate enough to try something, but for now I’ll just whine to Chris and the world that I would trade my left arm for some chocolate.

Well, we’ve been eating locally for a whole week. So far it’s been both easier and more difficult than we thought. It’s been easy to find all of the essentials for eating satisfying, healthy meals. We were happily surprised to find wheat flour, olive oil, and goat cheese, all of which we anticipated would be a challenge to get ahold of. We have found tasty ways to prepare the foods available to us, and are getting used to having very little salt. And our stomachs are generally full at the end of the day. It has been difficult, however, to quench all of our cravings for the foods we are used to having in our daily lives. At first, we were craving crunchy snacks and chocolate. Chris was jonesing for a soda and some bread, and I would have given anything for some olives and anchovies (yes, I’m a salt fiend). We felt hungry, even after a good meal.

But now, after only a week, our bodies seem to be adjusting to a new normal. Snacks come in the form of fruit, roasted squash seeds, goat cheese on homemade (tougher than nails) crackers, and popped amaranth seasoned with olive oil and chile powder. Our refreshing beverage of the week is prickly pear juice.

Finding and preparing food has become a larger part of our daily lives than it was before. It takes more energy to hunt down a locally raised organic chicken than it does to buy a Safeway bird pumped full of preservative saline solution, antibiotics and hormones. But we seem to need less food than we did before, and are no longer preoccupied with growling bellies and daydreams about forbidden fruits. It feels as if my body (and surely Chris’ too) is being truly fed, and it no longer needs to remind me constantly of nutrient deficiencies and caloric deprivations. Our diet consists mainly of fruits and vegetables with small quantities of meat and whole grains. We have no unknown ingredients in our food, and no longer consume iffy corporate additives such as cornstarch and high fructose corn syrup. This contrasts starkly with our previous diet, which consisted mainly of carbohydrates and meat, supplemented with veggies, fruits and snacks I’m hesitant to call “food”.

Another major benefit of our new eating habits is the incredible decrease in garbage generated. We are producing almost no trash (I believe that recycling is just another form of trash, especially in Tucson where the city has been known to throw all recycling into the dump), which eases my conscience tremendously. I had been feeling terrible about all the plastic packaging, glass bottles, cardboard boxes, and styrofoam containers we were using daily for our rice milk, ginger ale, Trader Joe’s snacks, takeout food, and breakfast cereal. For me, this is the single most tangible advantage to eating locally so far.

At this point, we seem to be spending about the same amount of money on food as we did before. If we bought our meat, oil, and fruit in bulk we could spend significantly less. This is great news since it means that we can actually afford to eat all natural, organic foods!

Chris and I both feel like we have lost weight in this first week of our experiment. We are both a few pounds over our ideal weight, so this is a good thing as long as the trend doesn’t continue for too long ;). Eating locally has forced Chris to kick his caffeine habit, which he is very happy about. I have kicked my over-salting-everything habit, which pleases me, too. It’s been fun to experiment with new recipes and to share our discoveries with friends. We are looking forward to the second week of eating locally!

In previous posts we’ve mentioned that we’re restricting ourselves to food grown within 100 miles of Tucson. But what’s contained within that 100-mile radius?

Our foodshed

Our local foodshed (image courtesy of 100-Mile Diet and Google).

Our “foodshed” includes most of southeastern Arizona as well as part of northern Sonora, Mexico. It goes from close to the New Mexico border in the east, to the border of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to the west, and from Phoenix to the north down almost to Magdalena de Kino to the south in Sonora. Besides Tucson, this area includes roughly half of the Phoenix metropolitan area, numerous smaller towns and cities, and the large Tohono O’odham Reservation.

Several large protected areas are found within 100 miles of Tucson, including Saguaro National Park, Sonoran Desert National Monument, Ironwood Forest National Monument, and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, as well as numerous smaller reserves and parks. Much of the land is included in the Coronado National Forest.

Tucson is at about 2,500 ft. in elevation and sits within the far eastern edge of the Sonoran Desert region known as the “Arizona Upland”. According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum’s nice discussion of the Sonoran Desert’s regions, the Arizona Upland is the highest and coldest region of the Sonoran Desert. The flora in this region is dominated by saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), palo verde (Parkinsonia spp.), and velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina). It is a spectacular and diverse ecosystem(s). Roughly half of our foodshed is composed of Arizona Upland (judging by the Desert Museum’s map of the region).

Saguaro National Park

Sunset in Saguaro National Park

East of Tucson our foodshed includes a thin sliver of Chihuahuan desert along the San Pedro River (and elsewhere), a good deal of grassland, and numerous “sky island” communities (small mountain ranges topped with oak or pine forests). Apparently our 100-mile radius also includes a tiny bit of chapparal east of Phoenix. There are a few perennially-flowing rivers in the area: the San Pedro River, the Gila River, and the Salt River. Other rivers, such as the Santa Cruz River a mile from our house, are now dry except after heavy rains. There are a handful of man-made lakes in our radius, as well.

Southern Arizona has an amazing diversity of species, due to several factors. First, it is at a crossroads where temperate species from the north intermix with tropical species from the south (due to our subtropical climate). For example, we have mule deer, black bears and other temperate species intermingling with coatis, peccaries (javelinas) and other more tropical fauna (including jaguars and ocelots, until recently). This pattern is visible throughout the region’s fauna and flora.

Secondly, there is a broad east-west elevation and climatic gradient from the Sonoran Desert into the Chihuahuan Desert. Third, there are localized elevation gradients from the low deserts up to the tops of the sky islands (some of which are quite high; Mt. Lemmon near Tucson is nearly 9,000 ft. in elevation, while Mt. Graham to the east is over 10,000 ft. high). Finally, minor local variations in topography, climate and soils leads to additional faunal and floral variation over small spatial scales. All of this translates into impressive habitat and species diversity in Southern Arizona.

The climate in Tucson could be generally described as hot and dry. We get an average of 12 inches of rain a year (which is actually a lot by desert standards) and high temperatures are near or above 100° F for four months of the year. However, the climate is really characterized by five distinct seasons. We are currently approaching the end of the summer monsoon season, which is characterized by hot and humid tropical conditions and frequent thunderstorms. These thunderstorms are often spectacular, and have led Tucson to be considered the “Lightning Capitol of the World” by many meteorologists (although Florida also seems to claim that title). The monsoon usually lasts from early July to mid-September. High temperatures in Tucson during the monsoon are typically in the 95°-105° F range, with low temperatures in the 70°-85° F range. We get nearly half of our yearly rainfall during this 10-week period.

Lightning Over the Santa Rita Mts.

Lightning over the Santa Rita Mts.

The monsoon gives way to autumn, which is warm and relatively dry. Winter is generally mild (high temperatures are usually in the 50°-75° F range), though freezes are not uncommon and snow falls in Tucson every several years on average (we got an inch of snow at our house this past January). Spring is warm and dry, like autumn, and lasts from February through April. The fifth and final season is very hot and very dry, and is what is termed the “foresummer drought”. High temperatures during this period (May and June) can reach 115° in Tucson, with humidity in the single digits. Rainfall is rare, though we’ve actually gotten one decent storm during this period for each of the past two years.

All of the climatic and habitat variation I discussed above provides for a great diversity and abundance of wild foods in this region, which we plan to take advantage of during our local diet. In the deserts, the most important sources of wild plant foods include mesquite (Prosopis spp.) pods, palo verde (Parkinsonia spp.) seeds, desert ironwood (Olneya tesota) seeds, saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) fruit, prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) pads and fruit, and cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia spp.) flower buds. There are many other minor sources of wild desert plant foods, such as agave, yucca, hackberries, and wolfberries, but those listed above are the ones present in greatest abundance. The mountains contain their own set of useful wild plant foods, including acorns from Emory oaks (Quercus emoryi), pine nuts (Pinus spp.) and juniper berries (Juniperus spp.).

Wild game is abundant, and though we do not anticipate drawing on this resource during our local diet, it ultimately should not be ignored in any truly sustainable regional food economy. The area has abundant deer (both mule deer and white-tailed deer), javelinas, cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, several species each of quails and doves, and many other species which could be eaten if desperate. Tragically, some formerly important game animals, such as bison, pronghorn and turkeys, are now either completely gone or endangered in the region.

Insects are also abundant, and are a widely ignored and vilified source of nutrition. Our area has a long tradition of entomophagy (insect eating). The Tohono O’odham people of southern Arizona traditionally ate great quantities of white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars (Hyles lineata; Marci did her Master’s thesis on the cultural and nutritional value of this caterpillar). Other local edible insects include cicadas, grasshoppers, beetle (buprestid and cerambycid) larvae, and honeypot ants. This is another fantastic source of local food which should not be ignored (we all eat insects all the time anyway without knowing it!). We plan to eat a fair bit of insects during our local diet.

Next time I will discuss our sources of cultivated food, other than our own yard (which will get its own post later).

After much thought we settled on a core set of rules for our local eating experiment. These rules are as follows:

  • We will eat food grown without added pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, and hormones, whenever possible.
  • We will only eat food grown within 100 miles of Tucson, with a couple of exceptions (see below).
  • If and when we travel we will try to eat foods local to the region we are in, whenever possible.
  • If we are invited to an important work-related activity or special event for a friend we will do our best to bring food from home, but will allow ourselves to eat non-locally if necessary.
  • We will allow ourselves to take non-local medicines or vitamins if necessary for health reasons.

We are allowing ourselves three additional exceptions to the local-only rule:

  • Water: Most, if not all, of Tucson’s tap water comes to us via the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which channels water from the distant Colorado River. We are not yet equipped to harvest potable rainwater off our roof (but plan to do this in the future), so we are allowing ourselves to drink our arguably non-local tap water. Actually, we get our drinking water from Aqua Vita, but we assume that their water comes from the tap.
  • Salt: We debated about this one quite a bit. While the Sea of Cortez is only 140 miles from Tucson, the nearest commercial source of salt we can find is Bahia de Lobos, near Obregon, Sonora (240 miles away). For now we are allowing ourselves to use this brand of sea salt (Sales del Valle), until we can find a better alternative. We do not want to go entirely without salt, as it seems there may be health risks associated with such a low-sodium diet. However, we will treat salt as a precious commodity and use it sparingly. One alternative strategy we plan to explore is to plant a few fourwing saltbushes (Atriplex canescens) in our yard. This is an edible native plant which sequesters salt in its leaves as a strategy to increase water uptake during times of extreme aridity. We will experiment with using saltbush leaves to season our food, instead of salt.
  • Tucson CSA: The Tucson Community Supported Agriculture is a wonderful organization and we love supporting it. Its produce comes from Crooked Sky Farms, which is centered in Phoenix but has fields east of Tucson in Willcox, as well. Most of their fields are within 100 miles of Tucson, but some of them are just outside this radius (the main farm is apparently 110 miles from Tucson). We feel that it is more important for us to support the CSA than to be nitpicky about 10 extra miles, in this case.

We plan to be strict about these rules for the first month, and then think about ways that they might be altered to better achieve our evolving goals. For now our goal is simply to see if we can eat completely locally, but ultimately we hope to focus more explicitly on issues of sustainability (such as minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, neither of which are necessarily best served by a strict local diet).

Today we began our experiment in eating locally. We live in Tucson, Arizona, and have decided to try eating food grown within 100 miles for an indefinite period of time. Our goal is to only eat food grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, added hormones or antibiotics. There are many reasons to do this, and many other websites discuss the benefits and importance of relocalizing our diets (100-Mile Diet is a great place to start). For us, the reasons are numerous and include:

  • We’ve become keenly aware of how energetically inefficient and environmentally destructive our modern lifestyles are, with food production, processing, packaging and distribution being a major factor in this. We are taking gradual steps to reduce our footprint in other aspects of our lives, and are now turning our attention to the food we eat. According to one oft-cited study, the food we eat travels an average of 1,500 miles. Most of this food has been grown using vast quantities of fossil fuels to produce fertilizers and pesticides, to run heavy farm machinery, to produce energy-costly packaging, and to power refrigeration. Unsustainable agricultural practices are contributing greatly to soil erosion and salinization, water and air pollution, habitat destruction, aquifer depletion, and desertification. Reducing food miles and eating “organically” is an important way to reduce the energy usage and environmental impact of food production, although we recognize that eating locally is not always better (we will return to this topic in the future).
  • We believe that the social costs of our globalized food economy and culture are severe. Although this is a very complex issue with no simple solution, we believe that eating locally can begin to address some of the harm done by the disconnect we have from the food we eat and the people who produce it. By getting to know the people who grow our food we gain access to information about the growing conditions, worker rights and environmental sustainability of each farm. The farmers are thereby held more accountable for the ways in which they operate, and we can be much better-informed about the true nature of the food we’re eating. Similarly, by eating local food we face the consequences of irresponsible farming practices more immediately and have more at stake in seeing that farms are run sustainably.
  • Eating locally supports local communities and economies, which is important to our food security in the event of a downturn in the global economy.
  • Food shipped long distances must be preserved or picked well before its prime if it’s to weather the journey. By eating locally we will be eating tastier and more nutritious food.
  • We’ve come to appreciate the native flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert and this provides an incentive for us to explore it more deeply. This region is spectacularly diverse and offers great potential for a unique and vibrant regional cuisine. We hope to be part of a revitalization of native food cultures and are excited to come up with our own culinary creations as well. Southern Arizona may be the birthplace of the chimichanga, but we know that this region has more to offer (and we say this as devout worshippers of the chimichanga).
  • We’ve become lazy and bored with our eating habits, we consume many packaged products (filling our recycling bin far too often), and we feel generally unhealthy and unfulfilled with the anonymous food we typically eat. We want to relearn what eating can really mean.

We will be using this blog to document our experiences and discoveries as we eat locally. We plan to be strict with our diet for the first month, and reassess as we go. In a later post we will discuss our “foodshed” and the few minor exemptions we’re taking. If you are trying something similar in this (or any) region, we’d love to hear from you!

Chris and Marci

August 2017
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