We're an ordinary family, complete with picky eaters, budget concerns, and time management issues. But to prove that "eating local" works - even for busy families in cooler climates - we're trading Chick-Fil-A and goldfish crackers for grassfed meat and local produce. Join our adventure in learning to eat (sort of) sustainably for the summer!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Gotta take a break for a week

Going out of town - will return Monday, full of stories and pictures and ready to EAT LOCAL!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

So long, farewell

The height of the pile of research books by my bed has descended to ankle-level, there are actual vegetables for sale at the farmers' market, my CSA deliveries have started, my vegetable garden is mostly planted, and I've found sources for local cheese and beer.  I have to face facts - the time has come to say goodbye to my family's resource-wasting diet and begin our (sort of) sustainable summer.

The transition isn't happening overnight.  I actually started easing into it a few weeks ago as I was researching sources for various local and organic products.  As we ran out of things - milk, eggs, cheese - I replaced them with the most sustainable versions I could locate at the time.  So we now have free-range organic eggs that were grown in the Cuyahoga Valley, milk from grass-fed Ohio cows, and hand-made breads from local bakeries. They're sitting right next to the individually-wrapped hot dogs, American cheese slices, and Quaker chewy granola bars that we already had in the house.  I keep picturing the new kids on the block talking trash to the old guard whenever the fridge door closes, but that's probably just my imagination.

When sustainable versions haven't been available, I've been trying to skip the purchases.  My kid doesn't really need granola bars or cheese-flavored crackers, not to mention whipped yogurt that costs an arm and a leg for something that's mostly air and artificial flavoring.  And while orange juice tastes good and isn't the worst thing we could be drinking, even the organic stuff is trucked in from points that are waaaaay outside our loose definition of "local," and we're able to get local organic apple cider that's cheaper in both monetary and environmental costs.

I've been weaning us off of fast-food, too, making a point to have lunch fixings in the house all the time and scheduling errands so that we don't have to eat on the run.  We've been sitting down to dinner every night - in a dining room, not a car - and for the most part all of us have been eating the same thing.  I wouldn't say the troops are ecstatic about that last part - asparagus has not gone over well with Liza, and we've had a lot to use up - but I must say the routine is getting easier.

Our final preparatory step is going on today and tomorrow.  We still have a stock of "forbidden" foods that need to disappear out of temptation's reach before we officially begin the experiment.  I've been trying to use them up and/or throw out the ones that we shouldn't be eating anyway, but there's still quite a bit left.  The nonperishables - dried pasta, cans of tomato sauce, a few tins of mandarin oranges - will get packed up in a box in the basement, where we'll be able to get them if we absolutely have to, but they won't be staring us in the face every time we open the cabinets.  Perishables are going to get farmed out to friends and neighbors, who might be gullible enough to take some of those Stouffer's frozen dinners off of our hands.  I sure hope so, because I could really use the space in my fridge for "real" food ...

And so tonight we had our final family meal of forbidden foods - not things that we love, but things that we needed to finish up and get out of here.  An early dinner of chicken nuggets, frozen curly fries, and still more asparagus was followed by a late-evening snack of microwave popcorn.  After dinner we went on a refrigerator purge, pitching jars of ancient teriyaki sauce, pickled peppers that expired last year, and some tahini that I honestly believe was from 2007, judging from the flora inside the can.  I kept some salad dressings that were made outside of our area (and contain - gasp! - HFCS) because Jason was starting to get grumpy at that point, and it wasn't worth the fight.  I'll have plenty of time to research awesome homemade dressing recipes without having to shove the idea down his throat the first day.

Full disclosure:  As I type this, I'm making a big dent in the jar of cheese goop and bag of chips we had left.

So that's it.  This next week, our family will be going in different directions, visiting family and going to a grown-up version of summer camp.  The next time we're all together, we'll be officially starting to eat local.  Wish us luck!

Scored at the Farmers' Market:

- the season's first broccoli! ($4)
- organic, locally raised and milled, whole-wheat flour! ($2)
- organic, locally raised whole chicken! ($9)
- organic, local raw-milk cheese from grass-fed cows! (2 for $10)
- naturally raised local pork chops! (4 for about $6)
- locally made pickles! ($2.75)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Starting the CSA

My CSA got off to a bit of a rocky start, with the truck running late and a long line forming in the hot sun of the parking lot.  We were all relatively cheerful about it, though, so it really wasn't bad.

Liza had been playing all day and was too tired to whine about the hour wait - plus she found some other kids who were tolerant enough to play "let's throw rocks down the sewer grate" with her.
(why yes, I did forget to wipe the schmutz off the phone camera lens - thanks for noticing!)

But even with the long wait, it was worth it - look at this bounty!

I've got all of the greens washed and bagged to use for a Big Salad later in the week.  I wasn't sure the pea shoots would hold up to being damp for a couple of days, so I left them in their original packaging.  The sausages and buns are going into the freezer for now, and the radishes are going with us to a radish-loving friend's Memorial Day barbecue.  I'm trying not to snarf down all of the apples in one sitting - we've been without local fruit for a couple of weeks, and it will be nice to not have to suffer a guilty conscience just to get something sweet on my plate.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Taza Chocolate

A few months ago I made a trade with an online acquaintance - I sent her a cloak my mother had made me back in college, and she sent me whatever she thought it was worth in trade.  She loved the cloak, and she was extremely generous when she selected things for my return package.

It has taken me a while to find projects worthy of the hand-dyed cashmere yarn she sent, but the Taza Chocolate got used right away.  She sent a couple of the single-source bars, as well as packages of the cinnamon and chile flavored discs.  I loved them all - the grainy texture from the stone grinding is interesting, sort of like cornmeal or something - and the chile version was hands-down my favorite.  But it's expensive, and I'm the only one here who liked it, so I thought it was going to be a one-shot deal ...

But Taza Chocolate is organic. Raised and manufactured sustainably.  Sourced from Latin and South America, so the food miles are actually reasonable (Cleveland-Belize is about 1700 miles; Cleveland-Honolulu (the only domestic cacao growing location) is more than 4500 miles).  That's close enough to "local" for me, especially where chocolate is concerned.

Guess who's placing an order for her guilty luxury as soon as I'm sure I'll be here to accept the shipment?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bundles of joy

We finally found local asparagus ... and I was so excited that I went a little overboard.
The bundles aren't that big around, but when you factor in the idea that each spear is more than a foot long, you begin to realize that things are going to be more than a little bit fragrant around here this week.

Also from the farm market - The world's largest local lettuce:
That thing is so big we're going to split it with the neighbors so it doesn't go all slimy before it gets used up.

The other big news is that we got the list of what we're getting in our first CSA basket!  Here's what I have to find a use for by the time I pick up my "small" bag on Friday:

-          Spinach on the stem, 1 bunch (approx 8 oz)
-          Radishes, 1 bunch
-          Cilantro, 1 bunch
-          Leaf Lettuce (various varieties),  1 head
-          Pea Shoots, 4 oz.
-          Grass Grazed Milk (skim, 2%, or whole), ½ gallon
-          Free Range Brown eggs, 1 dozen
-          Grassfed Blue Gouda, 8 oz
-          Trevor’s recipe mild Italian sausage from Berkshire pork, 1 lb (4 weiners) uncooked
-          Large hearty sausage buns
-          ¼ peck Jonagold apples (approx 4-5 apples)

I'm really excited about what we're getting.  The only way it could be better is if I hadn't just spent this afternoon buying cilantro, and lettuce, and local milk, and free range eggs.  Guess I'd better try to use up the stuff I bought today before Friday, huh?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cheese straws

Have I mentioned that we like our cheese around here?  Liza eats virtually nothing but string cheese some days, and Jason and I have to be careful to avoid doing the same with more "adult" flavors of cheese.  If Jason was going to get a tattoo, "Everything is better with cheddar" would probably figure prominently in it somewhere.  And cheese-flavored crackers are a big deal around here, often opened and finished in the same day.

So figuring out sources for local cheese has been a priority for me.  I'm still working out the details - it shouldn't be hard, as Amish country isn't too far south of us, so there's a whole tribe of bearded cheesemongers not far away.  And cheese crackers - how hard can they be to make?

Not terribly difficult, as it turns out.  I followed the recipe for cheese straws from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which is basically the same as this one, only with 1 lb of cheddar cheese in place of the blend in the online recipe.  Once I coerced our food processor into shredding the cheese, the rest was a piece of cake.  Five to eight minutes later, I had a whole stack of these babies:

Beautiful cheese straws, even if they do look exactly like french toast sticks.  And the best part?  Liza won't eat them, so Jason and I have them all to ourselves!  Of course, after a few weeks of the "no goldfish, no Cheese-Its" diet, she may get desperate enough to try them again, but until then, all the salty, cheesy goodness is just for us grown-ups.  Bwahahahahahaha!

First harvest

There were already strawberries on the plants when we bought them for her garden, and she was super-excited to pick her first berries this week.  Too bad that excitement didn't extend to actually eating more than one bite of one of them before declaring them "too sweet" and handing the rest of them to me.  Shucks, guess I'll have to eat the rest.  Mmmmmmmmmm

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dennis, there's some lovely filth down here!

Every time I go out to fluff up my beloved compost pile I find some new treasure - the grapefruit rinds have finally started to rot, the straw and grass are making a lovely black slime - and I feel like the woman in the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the two peasants are confronted by their king ...

If only I lived in an anarcho-syndicalist commune, I'd be fine. After all, Jason IS 37 ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Baby's first dinner party

Every parent knows that having kids help plan the week's menu is supposed to get them invested in the process, which in turn will make them more likely to eat what shows up at dinnertime.  Great in theory, a little less so in practice.  But with the countdown for eating local looming in the near future, and a whole lot of Liza's favorite foods about to hit the trash because they're packed full of chemicals and/or come from Tajikistan, I figured we'd better buckle down and start training her to at least try to eat what's put in front of her.

Operation "Less Whine, More Cheese" began yesterday, when I had her plan an entire meal for the family based on foods that she would actually eat.  She picked it, I edited the menu so it actually contained all major food groups, and we all had it for dinner.  As an added incentive to make this a special treat for her, she was allowed to invite a neighborhood friend over to share the dinner.

Liza helped make the pizza dough, washed all the fruit for the fruit salad, and even sliced up some of the softer fruits herself.  And while I was working on the rest, she helped unload the dishwasher and clear the junk off the table - with no nagging, no whining, and no threatening.  Witness the wonder of a child volunteering to set the table:

She played nicely with the friend while the pizzas were cooking, and she sat - in her chair - at the table for the whole meal and didn't run right off when she was done with her last bite.  We had a conversation.  And chocolate ice cream, since she did, indeed, eat everything on her plate.

Her only regret was that we forgot to light the candles to make it an "extra special dinner party for our guest." I told her we can try to remember to do that next week when she gets to plan another meal, which she thought was the best idea ever.  I'm pretty sure she's already working on the menu ...

... let's just hope next week's menu doesn't involve organic strawberries from Mexico, an organic pear from Argentina, grapes from Chile, and Mandarin oranges from wherever Costco found them growing before they put them in a can.  Because I felt pretty hypocritical buying the United Nations of fruit salads in order to work towards getting the kid to "eat local."  Ohio's strawberry season can't come soon enough for either of us ...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ramp-a-riffic? Ramp-tastic?

So,  ramps.

I don't remember where I first heard about them, but up there with fiddlehead ferns, ramps seem to be one of those vegetables that only food snobs and redneck locavores seem to know about.  Personally, I'd never seen one (a ramp, not a redneck locavore - I'd seen plenty of those at farmers' markets when we lived in Kentucky).

But yesterday a guy at the farmers' market at Crocker Park had them for sale.  I think I paid $4 for a bunch of them (scandalous for something he probably ripped out of the woods behind his house the night before*), then I scurried home and did some research to figure out what the heck I was going to do with these things.

The consensus seemed to be that I should fry them in bacon grease along with some combination of potatoes, eggs, and cheese, which is what I ended up doing.  While I was getting every pan in the house dirty and creating a cloud of rampy bacon grease in the bedroom (we have weird ventilation in our house), Jason browsed through the recipe I had left open on the laptop, commenting that it was nice that they didn't specify if the "streaked meat" was supposed to be bacon, beef, or that pesky McCoy kid from the next holler over.  Ha, ha - your SW Virginia relatives will really appreciate that joke, dear.

Anyhow, the fried potatoes with ramps and cheese were a moderate success.  I'm not a big fan of fried sliced potatoes, and the flavor of the ramps wasn't really noticeable - until an hour later, when it made regular recurrences in my throat for the rest of the morning.  Urp.

I still had a mess of them left over, so I cooked what had to be the biggest travesty of expensive organic ingredients ever - tacos made with ramps and the first organic ground beef I've ever bought.  I know, I know - such a waste to use the ingredients where I couldn't actually taste them, sort of like using $4/half gallon organic milk to make instant pudding or something.  But the tacos were good, and I could honestly tell Jason that they came from happy cows - or at least from cows that had been happy right up until they were slaughtered.  And the ramps and ground beef were both from Ohio, something I definitely couldn't have said if I'd bought onions and a pack of ground beef at the grocery store instead of the farmers' market.

* Now that I know what they look like, I'm fairly certain that we actually have one or two of these things growing in our front yard.  Mixed in with the crocus are a few plants that I always thought were tulips that were too old to bloom anymore - we get the foliage and nothing else.  Well, the foliage on ramps is virtually identical to that of tulips - so maybe next year I'll pull one up and fry it up in some rendered Shirtless Redneck Neighbor, just for fun.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Remember when I tried that bite of green pepper?"

I'll be honest with you - my family is not entirely on board with the whole idea of eating sustainably for the summer.  I'm fairly sure my husband is only tolerating the idea because it means more cooking at home and less eating out, which appeals to his stingy side.  And my daughter started a vocal rebellion when I pointed out to her that goldfish crackers aren't exactly made down the street from stuff she can pronounce.  I believe her howl of "I DON'T WANT DO TO THE PROJECT THIS SUMMER!!!!!!!" could probably be heard wherever it is that they actually do manufacture those yummy little aquatic snacks.

In an effort to drag Liza on board the bandwagon, I've been trying to share some of what I'm learning with her, toned down a bit to appeal to the sensibilities of a five-year-old.  She loves talking about methane and global warming ... she just doesn't know that's what it's called.  Composting is good, for example, because it helps make a nice home for worms and bugs while they help our garden, and keeps stuff out of the landfills (which produce the same gas as cow burps, which is helping heat up the planet and hurting the polar bears). Thank you, Planet Earth

I'm also trying to come up with some homemade versions of some of her favorite snack foods, things we can make when we just can't face another bag of carrot sticks as playground fuel.  Our first attempt was granola bars, which Liza was very enthusiastic about making.  She was particularly in favor once she read the recipe and saw the part about how it's best to mix the ingredients together with your hands.  If there's anything the kid loves more than worms and cow burps, it's messy hands ...

As you may be able to tell from the picture, these are not strictly locavore-approved.  But it was a convenient way to use up a whole bunch of the leftover Easter candy - did you know that if you chop up hollow chocolate bunnies, nobody will notice that you were running short on chocolate chips?  And I figured that for a first try, the more familiar stuff we could cram in there (Reese's Pieces, anyone?) and the more control I gave her over the recipe, the more likely she would be to eat them.  

And I was right.  I think if I could manage to package these individually (rather than in one ever-congealing lump in a Tupperware bowl) they'd be perfect grab-and-go snacks.  A little bit of sweet, a little bit of stealthy fiber, and she didn't even complain when I threw in some sunflower seeds for protein.  I think I'll go for dried fruit instead of chocolate in the next batch - maybe with a chocolate drizzle over the top to keep Liza happy ... I think we still have a hollow bunny haunch up in the cabinet somewhere.

In the meantime, Liza has been very excited about the fact that the strawberry plants she bought already have strawberries on them, and she's ready to start grazing right. this. minute.  She asked me this morning if we could go strawberry picking today at Fitch's, which gave me the perfect opportunity to talk with her about fruits and vegetables being "in season."

I've been listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver as I do my training walks, and one recent chapter was the perfect introduction to the rough order in which you can expect to harvest various types of foods.  So this morning we sat down and read "Stalking the Vegetannual," and we talked about what kinds of foods are leaves vs. fruits vs. roots.  In a fit of creative genius, I grabbed a sheet of poster board and the estimated harvest schedule for Fitch's, and we made a calendar of when we should look for various veggies for the rest of the summer.  Veggies and fruits were drawn with gusto if not skill, and we even ended up with a bunch of smiling summer squash holding hands with some very pale zucchini, not to mention the Largest Potato Ever.  

I knew I was on the right track when she looked at the finished poster, sighed, and told me, "It's going to be a long time before I get to try another green pepper, isn't it?  Oh, well - at least the peas start soon!"

Yep, that poster's going to be in the place of honor (otherwise known as "taped to the end of one kitchen cabinet") for the rest of the summer.  After all, we still need to research and add drawings for when the raspberries and blueberries will be ready for picking, not to mention when that guy up in Avon is likely to have those funky Concord grapes with the eminently spittable seeds ...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

First run to Fitch's

I had seen a sign for lettuce and asparagus at Fitch's farm market as I drove past this weekend, so when the opportunity presented itself to drive up there yesterday, I jumped at the chance.  If you're going to eat seasonally, you have to grab life (and asparagus) by the horns.

Unfortunately, the weather has been so cool and wet recently that the farmers haven't had a chance to harvest any asparagus since last weekend, so all they had on offer were some hoop-house tomatoes and a whole lot of bedding plants.  You can tell my little gardener was heartbroken ...
note the windbreaker and rain boots - it was u-g-l-y out yesterday

While we were there we picked up a few more plants for our garden.  Liza is now the proud parent of two sunflower plants, each of which should grow to be about 24" tall, which means "they'll be easy for me to water."  I didn't bother to point out that the water goes on the ground, even for the 10' tall ones, because frankly I don't have any 10' tall stakes.

I bought some tomato plants - pink heirloom Brandywines, some deeply lobed (which I mis-typed as "loved" three times before I got it right - paging Dr. Freud!) Conestogas, and something called a Tomatoberry.  That last one is probably some sort of weird GMO cross between a halibut and a Better Boy, but the pics of the fruits were just too cute to pass up.  After all, I've got to have something to put on top of all those greens, right?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Go Go Gadget Garden!

Yesterday was the official start of our gardening season.  We trekked to the first garden store, jackets zipped firmly against the chilly breeze, and purchased a few essentials to get us going.  These include:

  • two types of basil (regular and bush, which I'm trying for the first time)
  • rosemary
  • lemon balm
  • citronella-scented geranium
Liza decided to use part of her garden space for the common good, planting half a dozen strawberry plants and a catmint.  We had already started a few seeds in her garden, some decorative gourds and a few edible pumpkins that will start making their bid for world domination ... just as soon as they germinate.  And I had gotten a small head start in our garden last week, planting a row of mixed salad greens just before a torrential rainstorm hit.  I was pretty sure they'd all been washed away, but yesterday as I was planting the rest I found a whole row of identically adorable seedlings, 1/16" tall and looking for the world like I managed to do something right in the garden.  

Add all that to the few survivors we have from previous years - lavender, thyme, oregano, bee balm - and we're off to a good start.  This year we'll be forced to focus on quality over quantity, as we've moved all of our good soil around to the front of the yard, where we'll be growing our tomatoes and beans right next to the sidewalk that leads to our front door.  

Very convenient for weeding purposes, as long as I can manage to disguise some of the less attractive veggies.  I think we'll be skipping the brussels sprouts this year, as much as I love them - they take up too much room, and they're quite frankly odd-looking.

But tasty, oh, so tasty.  Good thing the sell them at Fitch's  in the fall ...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Now I've gone and done it

I made my first foray into the world of organic and/or local foods, courtesy of a trip to Heinen's.  In case you haven't heard of it, Heinen's is a small Cleveland grocery chain - fewer than 20 stores scattered around the Cleveland suburbs - that caters to shoppers who are looking for high-end foods.  If you want fair trade chocolate, or a ridiculous selection of imported cheeses, or locally produced prepared foods, it's the place to go.  I don't usually make the 20-minute trek up to the closest location unless I've got a compelling need for something I can only buy there, but I have a feeling I'm going to become a much more regular customer in the coming months.

That's because Heinen's does a pretty good job of labeling the sources of their foods, and a fine job of stocking foods from Cleveland and Ohio sources.  Today I found Asiago Pepperoni bread from the Stone Oven Bakery in Cleveland Heights, chevre from Mackenzie Creamery in Hiram, fettuccine from Ohio City Pasta downtown, and milk from Snowville Creamery in Pomeroy.  My best find of the day?  Sort-of local sugar from Pioneer Sugar in Michigan.  Who would have thought I'd find locally grown sugar??

It's only Day 1 of my preparations for the summer and already I've run into the "local vs. organic" question.  Is it better to choose locally produced, non-organic items, or organic items that have been shipped from far away?  It's not exactly cut-and-dried, especially once you get past the "dirty dozen" foods that you really should try to buy organic.  For right now, I'm going with organic stuff that's as close to local as I can.  After all, I'm sure the pasture-fed organic beef is great, but what they sell at Heinen's is shipped from Australia, for goodness sake.  That's a ridiculous distance, especially for something I'm sure I can buy locally once I know where to find it.

And today I decided to start trying a few of the foods that I predict will show up in our CSA basket when that starts next month.  Today's new food:  Swiss chard.  It sure looked pretty in the store, and sliced up, ready to hit the frying pan.

I used a simple recipe to make sure we could actually taste the vegetable, not just the preparation.  The verdict was mixed - Liza took one bite and wouldn't finish the rest of the leaf, Jason was diplomatic but not impressed.  It's definitely a different taste - sort of tasted like dirt, to be honest with you, but it sort of grew on me.

It's not something I would want to eat this way every day of the week, but it was pretty and inoffensive and I think I can work with that.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Pollans

One of the first things I did when I decided to look into eating locally was order a some books from the library.  Somebody there has been buying up a storm in the "sustainablility" section of the catalog, because I ended up with a thigh-high stack of books on eating locally, cooking seasonally, and shopping consciously.  I've been chipping away at the stack for several weeks now, and it occurred to me today that there are pretty much two reasons why people choose to eat locally - one that's all soft and fuzzy and cuddly, and one that's all cold hard numbers and dire warnings.  The funny thing is, you can illustrate these two different points of view pretty handily with books by the same author.

Second Nature by Michael Pollan was published almost a decade ago, and it chronicles the author's experiences as a home gardener both as a child and an adult. It's a humorous approach to the subject, complete with woodchucks that end up being firebombed and "natural" gardens that end up as weed-infested as you would expect.  I listened to the audiobook of this while I was walking, so I'm sure I missed some of the details and nuances of it.  But it was, to my ears, quite bucolic and picturesque and attractive - gardening as a hobby, a vocation, an interest.  Readers are invited to laugh along with the author at his early attempts at gardening, maybe learning a bit about the subject and its history along the way.  It's not designed to convince you of anything, except perhaps that it would have been nice if I'd gotten some photographs to go along with the audio, because I'd really like to see Pollan's gardens after hearing about them for 8 or 10 hours.

This is the book that probably typifies the "fuzzy" reason for eating locally - subtly supporting a general desire to do the least harm for the environment while supporting local businesses and eating really, really well.  People in this camp are liable to speak of the benefits of local produce - how it can be raised for taste rather than transportability; how it is picked at the peak of freshness rather than chemically ripened; how you can trust its safety because you can talk to the farmer who grew it, and maybe even stop in to visit the farm where it was grown.  They like supporting small farmers, enjoy the atmosphere of a farmers' market, and enjoy trying new varieties of foods.

The other reason people may choose to eat locally is their overall disgust with how the current food system is run.  Dirty, unhealthy meat raised in inhumane conditions; vegetables robbed of their nutrients by the long, pollution-producing trip from field to table; small farmers run out of business by evil agribusiness conglomerates.  The world is going to hell on a road paved with government-subsidized corn and soybeans.

Nothing typifies this more than another of Pollan's books, The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I was greatly relieved to find had no photographs to illustrate the text.  The author does extensive research into what, exactly, it takes to grow food "conventionally;" that is, on factory farms using all the wonders that chemistry has to offer.  Manure-filled feedlots, pesticide-laced groundwater, organic produce that is shipped across the country in pollution-spewing trucks - it's all there in lurid detail.  He visits farms where grain is raised for feedlots, and he spends time on farms that are set up using more sustainable modes of farming.  He's not squeamish about shoveling manure, or gutting organic chickens, or hunting wild pigs.  He hits conventional farming pretty hard, with a seemingly endless parade of appalling facts and figures about the amount of energy it takes to raise our food like commodities.  But he doesn't hold back on the "greener" farms, either, discussing the drawbacks to their approaches, and the difficulties involved in running them on a larger scale.  It's a book that's filled with facts and figures and persuasion, even though the author doesn't pretend to have all the answers.

The two books might as well be a cuddly blogger and a strident vegan, one calmly reassuring you of why eating local is the right thing to do while the other yells about all the reasons the current system is the worst thing we could possibly be doing.  In reality, both are probably right - it is fun to shop at farmers' markets, supporting local farmers and getting the tastiest tomatoes.  And conventional farming is anything but sustainable, with negative consequences that are downright frightening when you think about them.  If you think about them.

And that's the point, really, to both of the books - most of us don't think about the consequences of the choices we make at the grocery store, butcher shop, or farmers' market.  When was the last time you contemplated the ecological ramifications of corn-fed beef before you pulled into a drive-thru and ordered a burger?  Do you really know which is better for the planet, conventionally-grown tomatoes from the farm down the street or organic tomatoes trucked in from California?  Were the workers who picked your grapes exposed to pesticides that will hurt their health, and is there any of that residue showing up in your fruit salad?  Do you even care?

I didn't, or at least not enough to change my habits, but I'm starting to come around.  I agree with the older book - gardening is fun and rewarding, and is something that almost anyone can do and enjoy.  And I agree with many of Pollan's points in Dilemma, although I wish he'd found a less dry way and more concise way to present them.  Conventional farming can be disgusting and brutal and unnecessary.  There are other, gentler ways to raise animals and produce, ways that can be expanded to serve a much larger portion of the population.  Whether these practices are sufficient to produce enough food for the entire country - or the entire world - remains to be seen, but there certainly is no harm in trying.

Welcome to my world

Greetings from the land of the (Sort of) Ordinary Cleveland Family.  It seems only fitting to start this whole project off with a bit of an introduction into what our life is like now, so that everyone can tell that yes, we began as relatively normal people.

I'm Gretchen, the mom/wife/blogger-in-chief of the family.  I used to work as a chemist, then in public radio, before I left the paid workforce to raise our daughter, Liza.  She's five now, and she's just as stubborn and opinionated as I was am.  My husband Jason works full time as a manager in a manufacturing company.

In a typical day, Liza and I will usually run errands in the morning, sometimes eat at a fast-food restaurant for lunch, and then she's got preschool three afternoons a week.  Assuming I had time to buy groceries this week - and that Liza hasn't decided to monopolize every second of my time once she gets home from school - I cook dinner at home. Because we're a small family, we usually have enough leftovers to pack some for Jason to take as lunches at work, and some to freeze to use as "emergency rations" for the weeks when a full grocery trip never gets done.  We don't usually eat out at a sit-down restaurant for dinner more than once a month or so, but we do pick up fast food for dinners sometimes, especially on the weekends or when one of us has something scheduled in the evening.

We don't have any strong beliefs that prohibit any foods (like trying to keep kosher or being vegans), and Jason and I eat a pretty wide range of stuff.  Liza, on the other hand, has decided to avoid anything more exotic than chicken nuggets, cheese pizza, plain pasta, and raw broccoli, so it's usually pretty hard to get her to try whatever I've cooked.  Between her insane love of V Fusion and occasional pieces of fruit, we manage to keep scurvy at bay.

I currently do most of my shopping at chain grocery stores like Marc's or Giant Eagle, and I regularly spend about $100 - $150 on groceries a week.  Well, that's not quite true, since I might get by for five or six weeks while only buying three or four "weeks" of groceries, thanks to the leftovers and eating out more often than we should.  In the spring and summer I shop at U-Pick farms and farmers' markets for fun, not because I have some deeply held belief that it's my duty to do so to protect the environment or something.

I raise a few vegetables and herbs in a small garden for the same reason - because it's fun, and because I want my daughter to grow up gardening, not because I intend to save the planet with my Thai basil and stunty little carrots.

But I read a lot online, and many of the blogs I follow are written by people who are significantly "crunchier" than I am.  Several have raised chickens for eggs and/or meat; more have extensive gardens and preserve a lot of their harvest to use in the colder months.  There's lots of discussion of farmers' market trips and CSA shares, 'organic this' and 'bio-dynamic that.'  I admire the conviction and perserverance these women bring to their kitchens, I've often wished that my own life was a little more like theirs.

From the point of view of a reader, their efforts to support local agriculture and minimize their impact on the environment are interesting, quaint, and entirely without downsides.  I don't have to hear the kids complain about weeding the garden (again), wake up in the middle of the night to defend my chickens from predators, find a place to store the dozens of jars of salsa I stayed up all night canning, or ration my Fair Trade chocolate.  The only reason I have to pine for Doritos is because I forgot to buy them, and I'm fairly sure the only place I've seen a chicken up close was at the county fair ... ten years ago.

Besides, it's not like "eating local" is even feasible for a "normal" family in Cleveland, right?  Our gardening season doesn't start until the last frost occurs in mid-May, and we've pretty much always had snow by Halloween.  I live in the outer suburbs and can drive to several farm stands within 15 or 20 minutes of my house - same for larger farmers' markets during the summer - but most carry the same dozen or so vegetables and fruits.  I don't know where I'd even go to get local meat or dairy - even the stuff at the West Side Market is probably trucked in from farther away than a true locavore would like.

But ... there are CSAs here.  We're not New York City, but we do have a fair number of hip organic foodie types in town, and I know they're not existing solely on air.  Amish country is home to a fair number of meat and cheese producers that, while possibly not organic, are at least pretty close by and are definitely not factory farmed.  There's even a restaurant or two that specialize in seasonal, local ingredients.  Would it be possible to eat locally in Cleveland without giving up too much variety in our diet?

That's what I'm going to be finding out.  From June until August, my family and I will be trying our best to eat locally whenever possible, avoiding foods that carry with them a lot of food-miles and other baggage.  We're not promising to be perfect, but I can guarantee we'll be learning a lot about our town and ourselves along the way.  And I hope you'll join us on our journey, even if you do it with a Big Mac in one hand.