Lessons from an all-local diet

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.


9 Comments on “Lessons from an all-local diet”

  1. sheenahunter says:

    Wow! We are on the same page with this! You’re exactly right: in my journey I have found that “local” seems to mean so many different things to so many different people. I write a lot about the assumptions we make–just because it can be bought at the farmers market doesn’t mean it’s going to be local…so frustrating! Sorry to see that you’ve thrown in the towel. Will you pursue a compromise?

    • Terra says:

      I’m convinced we could ask 10 people to define “local” and we’d get 10 different answers. I took it to the extreme, admittedly, but I think I’ve found something workable now. I’m still eating locally produced veggies and meats, but I’m not denying myself seasonings, chocolate, coffee, etc. This is a compromise I can live with. Thanks!

  2. Karen says:

    I can’t believe that you did it with such uncompromising will. I know that I couldn’t. I think that buying local helps support your immediate community…or does it really? What about the local restaurants that you might have gone to, etc. I believe in all things in moderation. I could not have done without olive oil for example. Don’t take me wrong…you proved something to yourself, you met your goal and I applaud you for your effort.

    • Terra says:

      Thanks Karen! It was tough, and I did miss olive oil. We have some fantastic restaurants here that pride themselves on being local. Now that I’ve softened my stance I’m determined to hit them all with gusto.

  3. I loved your posting and I think this is a good challenge for everyone to try–easy for me to say, I haven’t quite done it yet! But I am definitely trying to eat more local food. Your comments about cooking were oh-so-true. I teach a sustainable nutrition class and we teach cooking as part of it; really, you can’t eat locally and sustainably without cooking. Good job and thanks for sharing your tips.

    • Terra says:

      Thanks! You are so right about cooking. It’s the only way you can really control what you eat AND save money. I’ve learned how to cook dry beans through this experiment. That’s one thing I know I’ll be doing a lot of.

  4. Rachel says:

    You made it! What an interesting experiment, I enjoyed following along at home. Sounded torturous at times. No salt or olive oil? No coffee? You’re very brave. Glad you both survived it. One thing I’d like to know: what was your first post-diet meal?

    • Terra says:

      Rachel! The first thing I ate was a post-Halloween mini chocolate bar. And it was TERRIBLE. So I ate another one. And it was TERRIBLE too. The next night we went out for Lebanese because we were so sick of cooking. But my “homecoming” meal was on the weekend … homemade lasagna and roasted chicken. (Chicken was local, of course)

    • Tom C says:

      Hey Rachel! We’ll have a post on the homecoming meal soon!

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