The modern food message is eat local

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Think globally, act locally.

That's a challenge we hear over and over. Since I think a lot about food, when I think globally -- or at least nationally -- on the subject, I'm appalled at the condition of the food system. It's a great big mess. There was the E. coli outbreak in spinach last year. Before that it was scallions, then lettuce, peanut butter, and the last straw for many, the adulteration of our pets' food. And those are only some of the ones we know about.

The food we eat comes from a global Everywhere. The latest official catch is toothpaste from China containing a chemical used in antifreeze. Less than one percent of our imported food is inspected. I won't hold my breath until President Bush's newly created cabinet-level panel finds ways to guarantee the safety of imported foods.

Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette
Tomatoes are for sale at the Original Farmer's Night Market on state Route 50 in South Fayette.
Click photo for larger image.

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Then there's the dark side of crop regulation and food manufacturing that I learned about from Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation." Last week I finished Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," a memoir about how Ms. Kingsolver and her family gave up nonlocal foods for a year.

Add it up, and what do you get?

Act locally.

I have challenged myself to eat locally grown and locally produced food.

Eating local usually means that your food comes from within 100 miles of where you live. That's called the 100-Mile Challenge. Some give themselves the name "locavores." No thanks. Why eating local has to be labeled a trend, a fad or the latest hit on the foodie bandstand escapes me. It's just B.S. -- as in Before Supermarkets.

Two generations ago, most people ate locally because there wasn't the highway system, refrigeration, industrialization or technology to do otherwise. People had vegetable gardens, they baked, they raised their own chickens or knew somebody who did. They had to.

Today we have a choice.

Eating local

For the month of August, I'll aim for 80 percent of my food purchases to be locally grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. If I can find them, great. If not, then eastern Ohio and northern and central Pennsylvania will become local enough. I don't expect this to be easy. This isn't California, where eating locally is a breeze and I'll bet there's a law against can openers.

But I have no intention of denying myself any pleasures of the table.

Let's call the other 20 percent of my food buys "the gimmes": olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemons, sugar, all-purpose flour (I bake a lot), spices and seasonings. Coffee and chocolate are in if I want to stay married. Good local beer is easy to find, but wine? Unless somebody can improve on the likes of, say, the Wilmerding Wine Works, I won't be drinking local.

Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette
Bambino eggplant at the Original Farmer's Night Market.
Click photo for larger image.Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette
Sweet peppers are for sale at the Original Farmer's Night Market.
Click photo for larger image.

The Eat Local! blog

We extend the Eat Local Challenge to you. All this month, let's eat and find out about the good foods that grow and are produced in our region. And in September, we might do some canning and preserving, so we can eat local when the snow flies, too.

I'll update you on my progress, and welcome input from you, on my Eat Local! blog that you can find at www.post-gazette.com/food. If you know of any great sources or ideas, e-mail me at mparrish@post-gazette.com and I'll share the best on the blog. We'll also update the story in September, when there'll be plenty of time left for us to keep eating local.

-- Marlene Parrish

I won't be buying avocados, mangos or Italian canned tuna this month. I won't be making Asian-based dinners, which I usually do at least once a week.

But fish? Whoa, here's a problem. Henry Dewey of Penn Avenue Fish Company occasionally has trout from Ligonier. That's not enough. I'm going to go with unfrozen, wild-caught fish from U.S. waters and those that are green-lighted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's sustainable Seafood Watch list.

Not local doesn't mean bad. Giant Eagle carries local produce in season, but spokesman Dick Roberts notes that can never include fresh pineapple or coconut. "Our goal is to provide customers with the opportunity to cook with and experience both the delicious flavors of our local markets as well as those from around the world." And you can bet when I'm not local this month -- visiting Seattle -- I'll pick up some marionberry jam.

August is an ideal time to eat local. We are in high season for local produce. Farmers' markets are bursting with fruits and vegetables, and there's a ton of home-canned pickles, relishes, preserves and jams on the tables.

I had only a little idea of what else is really out there. So I hit the stores, including:

East-End Food Co-op, Point Breeze. This place is in a two-way tie for Local Food Ground Zero. Fran Bertonaschi, perishable foods buyer, pointed out local products and identifying labels on the shelves. "We carry Ron Gargasz's (Volant, Butler County) organic beef and Mickley's sausage (Volant), beef from Walnut Hill Farm (Clairton), bison from Forbes buffalo farm (New Castle, Lawrence County). We buy Eberly's Amish chickens (Stevens, Lancaster County), and our eggs are from many places -- including Nu-way (Fredonia, N.Y.) and Blackberry Meadow Farm (Natrona Heights). We stock milk from Turner Dairy Farms (Western Pennsylvania) and Minerva Amish butter (Ohio)." Cheeses, sour cream and ricotta are local, too.

Mark Perry, the co-op's merchandising manager, says, "I'm planning on setting up a local foods [display] of product exclusively distributed from Frankferd Farms to include as much local product as possible including flours, granolas and pancake mixes. Customers will know that by purchasing these products, they will be directly supporting our local natural foods distributor."

Frankferd Farms is a certified organic farm and flour mill. The co-op also stocks local honeys and maple syrup, Frog Ranch salsa (Gloucester, Ohio) and a line of Davide pasta sauces (Penn Hills). They also carry Heinz organic ketchup. Well, that would be sorta local, too (though it's made in Canada with California tomatoes).

McGinnis Sisters, Monroeville and Brentwood. These stores are tied for Local Food Ground Zero in the supermarket division. Eight cheese items, all raw-milk and most grass-fed; four sliceable cheeses and Parma sausage products in the deli; 42 grocery items including eggs, frozen pastas and wedding soup; six dairy product lines including pasteurized and raw whole milk, sour cream and cottage cheese; eight meat items including Gargasz beef, Forbes buffalo, Berk's bacon (Reading) and chickens formerly residing two hours west of Pittsburgh; four local bakeries and more goods from scratch; and a ton of local produce, including Mung Dynasty (South Side) sprouts.

Whole Foods Market. Even the national chain, Whole Foods, is continuing to put a bigger emphasis on local: If you go to the Web site www.wholefoodsmarket.com and click on "Products," you get a "Locally Grown" page that gives profiles of some of the growers the company works with in different regions. The Whole Foods in East Liberty carries a long list of local, including produce from several farms, Miller's Mustard (Butler County) and Woo City ice cream (North Canton, Ohio). And new "Locally Grown" signs highlight this stuff. The store invites local producers in for demonstrations and even holds a local farmers market in its parking lot on the third Wednesday of the month through October (the next one is 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 15). Says marketing manager Kim Wynnyckyj, "People are becoming much more connected to the food they eat, and we are committed to putting a face to that local product."

Here are some more foods from around here:

Bread -- Mediterra Bakehouse, Robinson; BreadWorks, North Side; Wood Street Bakery, Wilkinsburg, and Mancini's, McKees Rocks, are just the tip of the loaf.

Ice cream -- Dave and Andy's, Oakland; Glen's Frozen Custard, Springdale, and Rheinhold's, North Side.

Dairy -- Marburger Farm Dairy, Evans City. They make excellent buttermilk and a good iced tea, too. Schneider's (dairies in 10 counties), Lamagna ricotta, Verona; BL sour cream, North Side.

Lamb -- Elysian Fields, Greene County; Pam Bryan's Puckerbrush Farm, Shelocta, Armstrong County; Jamison's, Latrobe, Westmoreland County.

Beef -- Rose Ridge Farm of Waynesburg, Ohio.

Pork -- Wil-Den Family Farms, Jackson Center, Mercer County, for naturally raised pigs.

At Pennsylvania Macaroni in the Strip District, find their homemade fresh mozzarella and locally made pasta sauces. Victor ravioli (Verona) and Donatelli pastas (Bloomfield) are in the freezer. There's a brand new line of Beano's (Fox Chapel) sauces and sandwich spreads. Lots of cookies, too.

At Reyna in The Strip, find Mejico brand red, blue, yellow and white corn chips, which are locally made and broadly sold in the area. Excellent soft corn and flour tortillas are made in the store every Friday and Saturday.

At Parma Sausage in the Strip, house-cured prosciutto, sausages and other salumi.

But for some foods, I'm going to have to dig. A neighbor says that Prestogeorge on Penn Avenue makes sauerkraut in the fall. Another knows a woman who makes pierogi. You get what you ask around for.

If you know of a food that is grown or produced around Pittsburgh, e-mail us. And tell us about chefs and restaurants that make it their business to source local suppliers.

As a consumer who's actively seeking this stuff, I want more and better labeling!

Post-Gazette
Produce abounds on a table at the Saturday morning farmers market on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon.
Click photo for larger image.

Marlene Parrish, who will be blogging this month about eating local ( www.post-gazette.com/food ), can be reached at mparrish@post-gazette.com or 412-481-1620.


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