Every summer I make it a personal mission to eat locally grown and produced food.
I abide by the conventional wisdom that food grown locally tends to have less pesticides and chemicals and better quality than foods typically sold in a supermarket. So, if the food is grown within 100-200 miles of my home in Greenwich, I consider it edible.
This past Sunday seemed like the day to start my summer ritual. The Rye Farmers' Market was opening. It was Memorial Day weekend. I had friends coming who were eager to taste any and all of the good food I promised them. A beach cookout combining some of my favorite local foods seemed like the only option to choose. I figured I would grab some food from the market and be all set.
Hours later, after driving around Westchester and Fairfield Counties, I realized eating local was going to require determination and patience.
The Rye Farmers' Market was disappointing. I was expecting it to have multiple vendors and fill up the parking lot with endless rows of produce to choose from, but there wasn't much. Composing a meal for four people on my grad student/reporter salary would've required taking out a personal loan. Refusing to leave empty handed, I opted to create a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce. The radishes and beets looked fresh and colorful; well worth a return trip in the future.
Next, I headed to the new Whole Foods in Darien, Conn. It offers fuel-efficient car parking in the front, but after parking my Mini Cooper next to a Hummer, I felt like some of the store's patrons needed a lesson on the definition of fuel-efficient. Bigger than my former high school, this Whole Foods is for foodies what candy stores are for little kids. The store had aisle upon aisle of food marked local, organic, or conventional with descriptions about where the food was grown. Maybe Americans shouldn't ask how sausage and laws are made, but glistening strawberries and vibrant red and green peppers are another story.
I barely made it through the doors when a woman giving out samples of salad dressing stopped me. Produced in Westport, Kerry Wood, the brand of dressing she offered me, is composed of Parmesan cheese, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I bought it for the salad and as a marinade for the steak and chicken after the sample got me hooked.
Next stop was the cheese aisle to find some cheese for the salad. I settled on some goat cheese from a Connecticut producer and headed to the meat and poultry section dodging the hoards of people picking through the sale on hamburgers.
Grabbing steaks from a farm in New York, less than 50 miles away, the chicken proved to be a little harder. I was able to buy chicken from Pennsylvania, staying inside my own local food barrier of 180 miles. Many people who subscribe to the idea of eating local food settle on a 100-mile radius, but after doing some research, I found this wasn't a hard number since most "locavores" give in to eating a few things outside of that distance. I picked 180 miles for my local food diet because from my home in Greenwich the radius gives me a wide range of local food options, making it easier to stick to a strictly local food diet.
After all the running around during the day, the food turned out great with that fresh taste you only get from local food. We all enjoyed the smell of good food mixed with the light salt air, especially our city friends who acted as though they hadn't seen a beach in years.
With the warm weather and great beach, that day was the perfect start to my 180-mile ritual and a summer filled with local food.