Just a couple of generations ago, no one identified themselves as a locavore. Outside of a special treat, most people ate what grew in their area. Because the food-preservation techniques and transportation models currently in place didn’t exist then, food was sourced close to home. Although as a nation, we’ve moved away from raising our own food, the desire to obtain food locally for the health of our bodies and the economy is percolating.
Even as recent as World War II, there’s evidence of how much can be grown locally. When the large agricultural operations shifted focus to feed the soldiers, growing for the home front depended on families. In 1944, vegetables harvested from victory gardens were responsible for 40 percent of the produce raised in the country—well over a million tons of food, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
While we’re not facing the rations of the last world war, food insecurity is a real issue, primarily because the grocery-store offerings aren’t always the healthiest options. More people understand the implications of following the Standard American Diet (SAD), and wish to make a change in how and what they eat. But the hard part is how to start.
“I think the idea of eating locally and changing is overwhelming because for generations, we’ve been buying food at the grocery store,” says Kris Bordessa, a local-food and sustainable-lifestyle advocate on the Big Island of Hawaii, where 85 percent of the food is imported. “We need to recognize some of this stuff can be made at home. It’s breaking habits.”
This is an accurate statement for so many of us who grew up with prepared foods. Bordessa was a child of the 70s, and when she thought of pudding, she automatically thought of the powdered version. All you had to do was add milk and whisk it. The cooked version was the fancy way to make it.
“It was all I knew,” she says. “I was probably in my late 20s before I realized you could make homemade pudding.”
An easy way to change your food-prep habits is to make something as simple as salad dressing. Most people don’t think they can do it, but with a few ingredients and an immersion blender, there are plenty of easy recipes that surpass any store-bought option. The same holds true for breads, tortillas, crackers, breakfast cereals, and so many other products the general public assumes must come from the store.
Sometimes, however, convincing people that they can make their own “processed” foods from local ingredients requires a shift in attitude.
“Health is the No. 1 [reason] we do it,” says Karen Geiser of Karen’s Garden Delights in Dalton, Ohio. Geiser regularly demonstrates homesteading methods at Lehman’s Hardware in Kidron, Ohio, as well as at other venues throughout the state.
She says people gave up fresh, local food when the more convenient canned and frozen foods entered the market. “Our great-grandmothers all made bone broth,” she says. They canned, and they preserved the garden harvest for the winter. Through her classes, Geiser is noticing a shift back to these old ways of eating: People want to know how to make the real food again.
But she’s is not going to sugarcoat it. “It does take more work,” she says. “We wash a lot of dishes. But when cooking is something you enjoy, it’s a delight.”
Making the change takes time, particularly because many of us are preconditioned to simply grab what we need from the shelves at the supermarket. Geiser recommends to start simple.
“Do it in steps,” she says. “Don’t trash your pantry. Change your eggs. Buy real eggs. Find pastured eggs that might take you down a muddy lane. And go with good-tasting stuff. Don’t start with bok choy.”
Instead, start with foods the entire family will enjoy. “I grow all kinds of wild salad greens that I love, but my kids like the buttercrunch lettuce,” Geiser says, so that’s what she grows for them. Her children also love Sungold tomatoes because they are sweet snacks, and surprisingly, they enjoy steamed cabbage served with a little butter and salt. The cabbage she harvested in the autumn stores well through much of the winter, making a healthful side dish throughout the cold months. It’s a bonus that her entire family enjoys it.
For those who aren’t set up to raise or store winter vegetables, farmers’ markets that boast locally grown and freshly harvested produce are becoming commonplace throughout the country. Geiser says growers are more than happy to do the work for you.
Cost is often a reason cited for not changing the menu to local foods, as certain items are often more expensive.
“A lot of people do balk at the price,” Geiser says. “Something we do sometimes is instead of going out to a restaurant, we buy a good piece of meat and create a good meal with it.” This allows you to enjoy a premium meal that will still most likely cost less than dining out.
But locally grown food isn’t always more expensive. Bordessa finds incredible deals on many vegetables she doesn’t grow at home at the local farmers’ market. It’s the perfect place to find additional ingredients for a well-rounded meal.
“I do think when you’re buying from the farmers you’re supporting the local food economy,” she says. As the farmers earn more money growing what people want, they can produce more.
As more people understand the health implications of processed foods, the positive impact on the local economy, and the better flavor of food that hasn’t traveled thousands of miles, more families are following in the footsteps of their grandparents and growing or buying local food.