Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eating local and the culture of food

I have just begun reading "Plenty", aka "The 100 mile diet" by Smith and Mackinnon. It's written by a couple in British Columbia who pledged, for one year, to eat only foods grown/caught/made in a 100-mile radius from where they live. I find this idea fascinating, perhaps because I live in Southern California. Fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, cheeses, even wine (or especially wine) are easy to obtain locally. Our neighbor keeps us in fish and our CSA and the local farmers markets and a couple of pots on our patio keep us in veggies and fruit.

I have to admit, however (it being the off-season, so no CSA), that I am cooking roasted vegetables for dinner, and I really don't know if they are local. The broccoli and carrots were from the store, and they are probably from California somewhere. I don't know about the onions and garlic. And the bell pepper, I am sure, is from Mexico. I know that the apples and clementines in the fridge are local, as is the parsley. I am drinking some bubbly from Italy, but the other three bottles of wine are from our very own Santa Ynez valley. I occasionally make an effort to eat more locally, but it is a bit of an effort to find some items, and I don't think I'm ready to give up wheat and corn.

On to the culture of food...I enjoy living here in Santa Barbara because of the culture of food. Fresh, local, and organic produce is very much available year round. There are nice and even fast restaurants with a large variety of vegetarian options, or at least...vegetables. I recently returned from a trip to visit my family, and I was shocked, as usual, at the difference in the culture of food.

Cheap beer (and lots of it), creamy casseroles, fried fish (why ruin a perfectly healthy food with deep frying it?), french fries, meat, potatoes, and more meat, few seems as if my home town has lost the barest of healthy eating patterns. At least as a child in the 70's, most of my friends and family members had gardens. Fresh salads in the summer and canned produce in the winter. That's not the case anymore. I even heard one of my elder sisters say "why can your own green beans when you can buy a can at Walmart for 50 cents". Why indeed. Even my own mother has all but abandoned her garden. She grows tomatoes and pumpkins. (Though I think one rogue tomato plant produced 400 tomatoes this year).

Then again, she doesn't eat vegetables anymore, so why grow them?

In just two days, I had a difficult time finding veggies. My mother purchased fruit just for my visit (yeah for the pears and bananas). But then the dinner was at a restaurant, and the salad bar was the only vegetable option. Iceberg lettuce, of course. I returned home from the trip feeling bloated and heavy. I understand now why my sister has gained a little bit of weight and why she struggles with losing it from time to time. The entire culture is based on unhealthy eating. It is easy for me to live in a beautiful place with plentiful produce. I have a husband and son who love fresh food. I am not constantly struggling with the availability of candy, cookies, and fried food. It makes me appreciate all the more the success she has when she loses and maintains her weight.

I wonder also - if I ever have to move from this place, will I be able to maintain our healthy lifestyle, or will I succumb to the lure of the food culture wherever we end up? Hopefully, I never have to find out.

In closing, dinner tonight: whole wheat spaghetti, jarred pasta sauce, roasted vegetables (bell pepper, zucchini, onions, garlic, carrots).

I did have local fruits today...apples from Cuyama, oranges from in town, and kiwi from just up north.

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