I do what I can to eat food grown locally.
During the summer, I shop at my neighborhood farmer's market. I buy locally raised meats when I can afford them. I make a feeble attempt at growing my own veggies. And the milk my son drinks gallons of per week comes from a Georgia dairy.
I do this for a few reasons – partly because it's better for the environment and my community, partly because local food is fresher and has more taste.
But for this year's Food Issue, I wanted to take the idea one step further. I wondered how difficult it would be to eat totally locally – to rely on Georgia and Georgia alone for all my sustenance. I wanted to highlight our state's producers, to celebrate the farmers and cheesemakers and others who live in our community and offer us alternatives to the packaged foods that travel thousands of miles to reach our kitchens. So I set aside a week in August, and restricted myself to foods grown and produced in Georgia.
I'm not the first to try such a thing. In 2004, a Vancouver couple decided to eat only local produce for a year – the story is told in the book The 100 Mile Diet. Barbara Kingsolver chronicled her family's yearlong local-eating experiment in the 2007 book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. But part of the point of locavorism is that each community is different, with its own riches and gaps in the food supply. I wanted to see how hard it would be, and to find out the obstacles to truly local Georgia eating.
I did allow myself a couple of cheats: salt, oil and yeast. But apart from that, I was strict, which meant no sugar, no beer (there's lots of beer produced in Georgia, but none that's made with all Georgia-grown ingredients) and no pepper.
I discovered that access, not bounty, created the greatest obstacles – even with the help of a Community Supported Agriculture group (which delivers a variety of local produce to consumers) and the many markets Atlanta has, there were times I found myself hungry, simply because local food can't be found in most of the places people shop. To eat this way all the time would take incredible planning.
The best part of my experiment was visiting producers on their farms and at their homes in rural and sometimes suburban Georgia. To become familiar with the family, the face, the human story behind what I was eating was a powerful motivator. I hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as I enjoyed my week on the Georgia diet.
Day One: Monday, August 18
Honestly, I could've been better prepared. I got home late last night from a trip to North Carolina and woke up this morning with nothing to eat, let alone a fully stocked Georgia-grown pantry. But I did have some local eggs, and I fried two of those for breakfast.
In other ways, I was extremely well-prepared. I've planned out a menu for the week, which I went over with Michael Schenck, a guy who's basically a local vegetable consultant for Atlanta chefs. He also does the Atlanta-area delivery and sales for the Moore Farms and Friends CSA. He assured me I could get almost everything I needed, plus some added goodies. A box was waiting for me at a local restaurant where Schenck had dropped it off on Saturday. At least, I figured, I'd have everything I needed to get through the next few days, until the farmer's markets started.
When I arrived later this morning to pick up my box, my heart sank. My trusty menu plan said I'd be having ratatouille with roasted chicken tonight. But my box contained no summer squash, and too few tomatoes for stew. I also realized that the promised oatmeal, which I'd hoped would save me in the breakfast department, was actually grown and milled just over the border in Alabama.
But the box also held some treats I wasn't expecting, including two containers of pristine raspberries from Flat Creek Lodge, a paper bag full of small round Asian pears, as well as apples, peaches, and a container of Flat Creek Lodge's crumbly blue cheese.
I'm realizing that, as much as the plan in my pocket makes me feel better, it's practically useless. I'm quickly learning the lesson chefs who cook with local ingredients have been trying to explain to me for years: This is a different way of thinking about cooking – you don't foresee dishes and fit the ingredients neatly into your plans. The ingredients come and you make what you can with them.
By midafternoon, I was half-starved, reaching into my box of produce and randomly stuffing things into my mouth. How's that for a plan? For dinner, I had heirloom tomatoes with a juicy, crispy roasted chicken, garnished with basil from my garden.
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