Right now in my refrigerator, I have roughly 50 percent locally sourced food items. Of that fifty percent, 80 percent of it is produce, twenty percent is meat or stocks I have frozen. The other fifty percent is organic prepared foods (sold by www.greenling.com) or Asian stuff (we eat a lot of Vietnamese and Thai food) from the local Chinese grocery.
Right now I can find out, in a few minutes, where my food was grown, what was used to grow it, and (in the case of the meat and eggs) a whole chemical analysis of it. My meat has a chain of evidence from pasture to plate.
Great, but what does that buy us?
Well, I think we're all aware by now that both industrial food processing and the global economy have radically changed both what we eat and how we eat. The goal of an industry in a capitalist economy is to make as much money as possible while still providing you with what it is that you paid for. If they're a public company, they have to do this to satisfy their share holders. If they are a private company, they do this for many reasons. In the end, it comes down to cash.
Some companies / providers have conscious. This is due to the owner or shareholder insistence that the business be run according to a set of morals, morals that may not actually be profit oriented. Early Ben and Jerrys, early Whole Foods (for an example of how Whole Foods used to be, check your area for a grocery co-op)...there are companies out there that make money and manage to have the interests of both their profits and their consumers at heart.
What do we want, as consumers? I don't know what you want, but I have the following requirements for my food:
- if possible, beef should be from pasture fed animals from a local (within one day's drive) ranch
- if possible, eggs should be from pasture fed chickens
- if possible, poultry should be from pasture fed chickens or wild game (quail are very prevalent here in Texas)
- Venison, bison, and "alternative" red meats should be as close to source as possible, i.e. I know a few local processors who sell venison that is local
- Produce should be seasonal to my area and locally grown when possible, but the minimum requirement is organic, sustainable.
- Minimum use of processed foods, no "fast food" unless it fits the above models.
I used EatWild to find two things: a local organic produce delivery service (in Austin we are so, so lucky to have www.greenling.com) and a few different ranches for meat, eggs, and such. I also hit up the local farmer's markets to find ranches and farmers not listed at eatwild.
The ranches I've purchased from, I've toured. I've asked tough questions and been given tough answers (ever seen your dinner get slaughtered?) but in the end, I know precisely what made my dinner every night for the last three months.
How much does it cost?
A lot. I won't lie: small providers charge more. My produce / sundries bill each week is $200 without meat, on average. That's for two people, and includes $140 worth of produce, eggs, butter and bread, and $60 for diet Dr Pepper (my wife requires this to live, apparently), chemistry (cleaning supplies, flours, pharmacy) and etc. That's 800 a month, for produce and sundries. My meat bill every week is $70 to $100. A week. That is beef, mutton, chicken, fish, and "other" (bison, quail, ostrich, goat).
Compare that to processed foods and "cheap" meats...I used to live pretty well for $150 a week.
The upside is: I am eating healthier. My diet has not changed at all. I still cook every goddamn night. My cholesterol has gone down (because grass fed meats and eggs from pasture-raised chickens have a ton of omega 3, and at the very minimum balance their omega fats), my weight is still, meh, high. But my protein is quality stuff, and I do not have stomach problems like I used to. I developed a wildly sensitive stomach...I couldn't eat at, say, Chilis without getting sick. Now? I make some pretty impressive "dangerous" meals (oysters rockefeller with a 4oz extra-rare locally-source kobe prime rib) and I feel fucking great.
The produce? The produce is amazing. We started getting summer squash and eggplant, and I guess I've never had summer squash or eggplant before, or at least never tasted it fresh. It's a whole different thing. Man, we get onions that, I only have to use one small one small one where recipes call for many. Our local mushrooms are astounding when sauteed in some Texas wine, a stick of organic Wisconsin butter and a some local garlic and poured over a venison steak.
The salads? There are greenhouses here, man oh man, they grow everything. I get spinach from ten miles away, it's amazing stuff. Tomatoes? Sweet potato? All of it, holy crap. I can't get over how good our produce is, and all of it is due to the folks at greenling.com. Each delivery has a hand written note from the guy who packed the order, last week had "Happy happy happy happy happy happy happy friday, Jason!" on it.
When was the last time your grocer wanted your Friday to be happy? When was the last time he knew your name?
What we eat is a large part of who we are. I was telling Laurea the other night that when I was a kid, after the divorce, we had no money at all. My mom would get flour tortillas and hotdog buns (from the second-day line at the local Mexican bakery), a $0.69 pack of hotdogs, and a can of "Q-so" cheese sauce with chili. That was dinner for a week. Breakfast was dried milk and cheap cereal (in the summer) or provided by the school (we got free breakfast and lunch for being, ya know, poor).
Once a month, my dad would drop off the child support check and, like, a bucket of chicken or a pizza. One every couple of months he'd get a package of steaks, and grill them for us. That and some potatoes and greens?
Yeah. Heck yeah. For me, I was raised on three different kinds of food: Mexican food, southern food (I didn't know spaghetti was considered Italian until I was in highschool...redneck spaghetti is overcooked noodles, red sauce made from canned tomato paste, water, and oregano, and browned ground round) and whatever we could afford.
Now? My food now is carefully chosen. It is simple. The preparation is as basic as I can get away with. Every now and again I'll make something French or Indian that requires serious work, half a day of prep. But for the most part? Grilled, sauteed, or steamed. Baked sometimes. Raw when it can be done. We eat steak three times a week at times (bison, grass fed beef, or the like). I make a killer salad, mostly due to former roommate Joel's amazing salads. When I do make Asian-sourced food, it is simple stuff.
It's sort of strange how my food went from basic cheap stuff to basic expensive stuff but the hope is the same: efficient, tasty nutrition. I wish I could do it fo4r less, but for now? Until everyone starts buying their beef from Betsy Ross Farms, I'll have to pay a premium.
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