A special guest post by Khaled Allen, of Farm to Table Online.
As I was starting to get more into Paleo, one of the glaring inconsistencies was the heavy reliance on foods that are only available because of a global food system. Surely, it would have made zero sense for humans to rely on a foods from around the world to get sufficient nutrients for optimal health.
How would you get them all in one place?
Besides that, it was becoming clear very quickly that the principles behind eating grass-fed meat applied equally to vegetables, namely, only eat what was grown and fed in the way it was meant to be. Eating Ecuadorian bananas in the dead of a New England winter was just as messed up as eating cornfed cows or soyfed chickens.
Local, seasonal eating was the obvious answer.
Why Eat Local
Local, seasonal vegetables have a much higher nutrient density than supermarket veggies shipped across the country. They aren’t bred just for durability and shelf-life, so you see a huge variety of strange and colorful items, a literal cornucopia of exotic minerals, nutrients, vitamins, and tastes. Small farmers often meet organic standards, even if they’re not officially certified. They do a hard job with meager financial rewards, so they generally farm out of love and take good care of their animals and land.
Christy Colasurdo is the co-founder of Graze, a company which delivers organic and sustainably produced foods from local farms to folks in Fairfield County, CT and Massachusetts. Christy says, “A lot of our small farmers and local suppliers are aware of the Paleo community’s preferences, and work hard to make getting grass-fed and pasture-raised beef as convenient as possible for communities and individuals seeking to eat clean. The farmers are very careful about what they will and won’t feed to their animals. They take pains to avoid feeds that contain hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and corn products.”
So you know you’re getting the best possible food in terms of health, and it’s really nice to get your meats and poultry from someone who understands why it’s important to you to know what the animals were fed before they feed you. And for me, the enjoyment I get out of my local food makes it worth the effort. The taste and flavors are mind-blowing (tomatoes that actually contribute to a salad!) and I feel even better now than I did while eating Paleo before going local.
The hardest part was figuring out where and how to get all my food; you can’t just stop at the supermarket. For those of you interested in searching out local, sustainable food in your community, read on for some how-to advice on making the transition.
Hunting and Gathering
Eating locally is a little like being a hunter-gatherer: you have to learn your food landscape, time your hunt just right, and get comfortable with improvising.
1. Farmers Markets. The most straightforward way to get your food is to visit your local farmers market. Check out localharvest.com for a nationwide listing. You can often find grassfed meats, eggs, handmade salsas, and grassfed dairy (if you’re into that sort of thing). Occasionally, you’ll even find seafood if you live near a coast. However, markets are usually the most expensive option.
Once you find a farm you like at the market, you can usually arrange to get food from them directly if they are close enough or do direct-shipping. This ends up being cheaper, but adds a bit of hassle and is usually limited to meat and eggs.
2. CSAs. Many vegetable farms do CSAs instead (community supported agriculture). Because of the economics of small farming, it is difficult to coordinate planting with market demand, so farmers offer crop shares, which you buy before the planting starts. The farmer is assured of buyers, and you are guaranteed fresh, local vegetables delivered to a collection point or your doorstep every week. CSA shares are cheaper than shopping at the farmers’ market, and you get a lot of food (and a wide variety of offerings) with your deliveries. I usually have trouble finishing my share by week’s end.
3. Cowpool. For meats, you have two reliable options if you can’t find meat at your market. The first is to join a buying club, or cowshare, like this one. These clubs pool funds to purchase animals, and then ‘hire’ a farmer to raise and slaughter those animals. The economics of this arrangement allow you to get a section of a grassfed cow for sometimes as low as $4/lb, paying a set price for various cuts ranging from low- to high-grade.
4. Delivery services. If you’re lucky enough to live in certain states, you can also get reasonably priced, local meats from a farm-to-consumer delivery service, like Graze (Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York), Spud (West Coast), or Greenling (Austin, TX). These services aggregate the products of select small farms, with very high quality standards, and deliver to your doorstep on a weekly schedule.
Christy Colasurdo, co-founder of Graze, explains, “What we do is different from a meat CSA. Our customers like to order exactly the cuts they want, when they want them, so they don’t have unwanted cuts of meat crowding their freezer or going to waste. Our model offers the best of both worlds: sustainably raised meats and customer choice. Another advantage to our model is that we provide more than just the meats, so customers can order the seasonal produce and prepared Paleo sides to plan full meals that work with a Paleo diet.”
5. Mix and match. The best solution will be a combination of these – maybe a CSA or delivery service for staples, with occasional trips to the market for fresh vegetables, and a cowshare for your years’ supply of meat. (A freezer is a necessary investment if you want to really leverage the economics of local eating).
Navigating the Obstacles
I know what you’re thinking: “It was hard enough getting over all that bread and pasta, and now you want me to only eat things I can find within 200 miles, and in season?!” So let’s be realistic about your foray into local, sustainable eating.
1. Not everything can be local. First of all, you won’t get everything locally. Some things (like oils, nuts, chocolate, coffee and other delicious things you shouldn’t be eating much of anyway) can be considered specialties. You probably won’t find these items locally, so accept that you’re going to have to make some accommodations.
2. Start with meat and veggies. Staples, such as meat and vegetables, put a higher burden on the food system, and they make up the bulk of your calories, so if you make those local (which is luckily much easier), you’ll be making huge progress, and a solid contribution to your local economy.
3. Eat seasonal. You’ll have to get used to missing berries in the spring and fall, and gorging on them in summer. Squash is out of season in the spring and summer, but you’ll get lots of succulent leafy greens to make up for it. When the fall comes around, you’ll be ready for the deep, satisfying flavor of the gourds, when their unique nutrient profile is most needed by the body (like any animal, we too have seasons when certain foods serve us better than others). Whole9’s Seasonal Produce Guide can help you set appropriate expectations.
4. Get creative with fats. The biggest problem for Paleo-types will be finding local fats and oils. Local olives and coconuts are rare. You can ask your local meat farmer if they can spare you the lard or tallow from their butchering process, or you can settle for buying your cooking oils at the grocery store as usual. Nut farms are limited to the South and California. You could mail-order nuts from small farms; it’s not local, but it still supports sustainable farming, and you’ll get fresher, more nutritious nuts and seeds than anything you’ve ever tasted before. (You’ll be amazed at the difference: check out pastureraised.net if you want to go this route).
Ready to start?
The best way to start eating locally is replacing some foods with local ones. Vegetables are the easiest option. Start in the summer, and get to know your farmers at the market. Browse local health food stores and co-ops, and talk to the owners and vendors. And check the labels before buying produce in your normal grocery store, avoiding items imported from other countries.
Once you’re comfortable with the sourcing options, try branching out to meats (often, via the same sources as above), and then specialty items.
Before you know it, you’ll look down at your dinner plate and realize you know exactly where everything on it came from. It’s a good feeling. And once you get a taste for local, you won’t ever want to go back.
Khaled Allen runs the local food blog, Farm to Table Online, and is an active CrossFitter. He is currently teaching English in South Korea while training to be a ninja.
If you live in Fairfield County, CT; Weston, MA; or Wellesley, MA; or visit Stratton, Stowe, Sugarbush and Okemo mountains during ski season, Graze is offering a free entree (up to a $20 value). Visit http://www.grazedelivered.com/ and use the code Whole9 at checkout.