Eat local? Easy for a Californian to say. Michael Ruhlman responds to Kim Severson’s New York Times piece (registration required) about the increasing demand for locally grown food. “Kim! No one tells me what I’m supposed to do in Cleveland in December.”
While Ruhlman acknowledges that “eating locally is nevertheless important for numerous reasons—from the quality of the food to broader issues such as a sustainable food supply,” he wonders how feasible it is for those outside of California’s balmy climes. “Am I supposed to live on root vegetables and pork confit ALL winter? … How does the Eat Local mandate work in the wintertime heartland?”
Not surprisingly, his blog post has elicited a good amount of feedback—from those in favor of local eating and from those who think the idea is a nonstarter, at least in the winter. “I think it’s telling that the movement to promote the consumption of local in-season foods got its start in a state with a 365 day/year growing season,” observed one reader. “If it had started in Lapland I’d say shoot, I need to take this seriously. But dude, the ground’s frozen here in the winter.”
And there are those who are a bit more (ahem) pointed in their criticism of the ideals. “It’s only a small and vocal minority of unbalanced nuts and shameless panderers to the confused, who fret about where their food comes from while refusing to acknowledge that what most people need, and deserve, is something affordable and good to eat every day,” writes another reader.
Others had suggestions for how to navigate the Midwestern winter question. “How does the Eat Local mandate work in the wintertime heartland? One word: Canning.” This suggestion, however, met with resistance from some readers. “I live in a 750 square foot apartment with a very small freezer … there’s no place for anything else, literally.”
But those who support the Eat Local mandate recommend moderation over full rejection. “Please don’t toss the eat-local baby out with the short-growing-season bathwater!” one of them pleads. Proponents point out that everyone can make some effort without hardship. “Luckily it’s not an all-or-nothing situation,” writes one reader. “Buying locally when you can (during the growing season) and then going to the supermarket when you can’t is a lot better than shopping at the megamart all year long.”
“It is fine to eat oranges in winter,” another reader explains. “For me the idea is to make sure I’m not buying something from afar that is being produced locally—this means in winter (and year round) I buy most of my dairy and meat locally. Prosciutto and French cheeses and other specialty things that aren’t produced locally I buy from independent, locally-owned retailers.”
Perhaps the final word comes from an intrepid Local Eater in Maine, not a state known for a long growing season. “My personal motto is ‘do the best you can’ …. Support local farmers during the growing season, buy storage crops (like potatoes, winter squash, onions, carrots, etc.) in the fall to take you through at least part of the winter … buy local meat and dairy…. If we can source at least some of our vegetables year-round in Maine, I truly don’t understand how the rest of the country finds it such a hardship.”