Lessons from an all-local dietPosted: November 14, 2011
My month-long experiment of eating local is over. It was a long month, and one I don’t plan on replicating any time soon. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the many trips to the market, the meal planning and the research. It’s just that there were so many trips to the market, and so much meal planning and research. It really is easier to shut down your brain and grab the closest food-like product.
But I learned a lot from this experiment. I ate my way through Nova Scotia, so to speak, and had some amazing meals and conversations about food. I even lost 11 pounds. Now I’m ready to share these lessons with anyone prepared to embark on a similar adventure.
Define “local”: It’s funny how one five-letter word can mean so much to so many people. I started off thinking I’d eat only foods that were grown or produced in Nova Scotia. Basically, this meant ignoring anything that came in a wrapper. But why deny myself organic cheese from Pictou County or dried cranberries from Lunenburg? The cranberries are local, even though they are lightly coated in oil and sugar — two ingredients not produced in the province. It’s the same issue with wine. Why not drink something when the main ingredient is truly local? I could have saved myself a week of grief if I had defined the term at the start. In the end I accepted that I was on a 95-98% local diet.
Read the fine print: Vendors like to throw the L word around. I had more than one seller tell me something was local even when the main ingredient clearly wasn’t. It’s also easy to be taken in by misleading advertising. For example, Acadiana Soy Products tofu is made here but the soybeans are from P.E.I. The flax in Omega Crunch is from Manitoba and the maple syrup is a mix from here and Ontario. Read the ingredients list. Scour websites. Question vendors. This is important once you define what local means to you.
Plan ahead: There is no such thing as spontaneity with an all-Nova Scotia diet. You have to plan your meals a day or two ahead. If not, prepare to go hungry or eat eggs for every meal. I scanned websites for Nova Scotia ingredients and came up with a list of meals based around them. I took that list with me every time I went to the market, which turned out to be a couple of times a week. I knew every morning what I would be having for dinner that night. Planning meant having enough variety in my meals to keep it interesting and healthy. And the big question of “What will I eat tonight?” became “How do I get leftovers from that?” You can make it even easier on yourself and plan months ahead. Store that precious bag of local flour. Collect your fats. They will come in handy.
Learn to cook: Remember that long list of meals you drew up? Well, someone needs to prepare them. If you’re a great cook with a creative bent you won’t have a problem. But if you’re like me, go find your Home Ec. book from junior high. I looked up the correct way to boil an egg since I was eating so many of them. (Don’t laugh — I guarantee my eggs are better than yours) I flipped through a number of cookbooks to find recipes I could adapt and looked for substitutes for all the ingredients I was missing. I found a simple recipe for shepherd’s pie on the Kraft website of all places, and it turned out surprisingly well, though it needed salt. Tom even came up with his own Shake n’ Bake recipe for me using finely chopped rosemary, thyme and hot peppers with seeds. That’s one trick that’ll get a lot of play in the kitchen.
Enjoy the solitude: I hope you like your own company because you’re gonna spend a lot of time at home, specifically in your kitchen. Now, I love dining out with friends. But you can’t eat out in restaurants if you don’t know exactly what you’re getting. Other than that one time at Obladee, I stayed home every night and cooked. No restaurants or bars meant no friends. There was one dinner party where I served spaghetti squash, but that meal was less than spectacular. Truth be told I was reluctant to host more dinner parties because I felt it was unfair to subject others to my diet. Also, I was pretty focused on meal-planning and preparation. Keeping one person well fed and healthy is tough enough.
Accept you’re on a diet: It took me a while to figure out I was basically on an elimination diet. I only found flour that final weekend, so I didn’t have any bread or pasta during the month. Snacks consisted of vegetables and fruit. Every time I stared at my empty coffee mug I’d pound back the water. I didn’t plan it, but I lost 11 pounds.
All in all, it was an experiment worth trying. Maybe next summer I’ll give it another go. I’ll make sure my BBQ works then.