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!

Friday, May 7, 2010

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.

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