Preparing Sunday evening’s quasi-locavore menu reminded me that although if it’s awfully difficult to go one hundred percent locavore in our part of the country, it’s always fun to try.
Even Barbara Kingsolver, who brought the concept of a locavore diet to the attention of millions of American readers (including me) in her 2006 memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, allowed each family member one exception, one non-local ingredient that they could sneak in to the yearlong scheme of eating local. Kingsolver herself chose coffee; her daughter chose chocolate. Those would probably be my top two choices as well; I’m not sure which way I’d go if I had to pick just one or the other.
For Sunday’s dinner, to which we’d invited my parents, I started with vegetables I’d bought at Carlisle’s Farmers Market the day before: new potatoes and tomatoes. On Sunday morning, I dropped Holly off to play with her friend Bella, and Bella’s mother handed me a zucchini just picked from their garden.
And the other local cache I had, in addition to these vegetables, was herbs grown in my garden. Some were from cuttings grown in a town close by and others were from my friend Jane’s Carlisle garden, so all the herbs passed the test.
For an appetizer, I made a goat cheese tart topped with herbs and olives. Another year, I would have been able to buy goat cheese right here in town, but unfortunately, our prize-winning goat cheese makers moved out of town earlier this summer. So the cheese wasn’t local, and neither were the olives (which a truly locavore plan would require me to eliminate from our diet altogether, unless we happened to be traveling in Greece), but the herbs scattered over the cheese were. Then I sliced the tomatoes and zucchini, layered them in a baking pan, and made pesto to spread over them. The basil for the pesto came from my garden; the other ingredients – the Parmesan, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil -- were not local, however.
With the potatoes I made potato salad. The local ingredients were the potatoes, of course, and garlic chives from my garden. I theoretically could have made mayonnaise using eggs from local chickens – local eggs are ubiquitously available in our community – but I didn’t, so that was a supermarket item, as was the vinegar, the salt and the pepper.
Since I’m the only vegetarian in my family, I bought sausages to put on the grill: not local at all. I could have increased our locavore score if I’d instead grilled steaks from my parents’ farm. But somehow it never seems right to serve guests food they themselves produced.
For dessert, I made chocolate custard. It would be very difficult to grow cocoa beans in New England or most other parts of the U.S.; chocolate is something many American locavores have to compromise on or give up altogether. The milk and eggs in the custard could have been locally produced if I’d gone to a little more trouble to find those items. Not the sugar, though.
I topped the chocolate custard with raspberry sauce. One of the vendors at Farmers Market had fresh raspberries, and that’s what I should have used, but we’d eaten the entire pint of raspberries we bought before we even left Farmers Market. So that ingredient was grown elsewhere.
All in all, I think my locavore score for this meal was only about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10, but at other times of year it would be a 0 or a 1, so it’s a start. Locavore eating isn’t easy, as Kingsolver admits in her book about it, especially in New England, where there are abundant choices two or three months a year but very little in the way of fruits and vegetables at other times (although I realize a lot can be done with canning, preserving and freezing).
Moreover, shopping at Farmers Market carries its own inherent conflict. Carlisle’s market includes a few local farms but mostly backyard gardening hobbyists; buying from those gardeners who cultivate plots at our town’s community gardens doesn’t do anything for the goal of supporting local agricultural businesses.
But it’s fun to experiment with locavore cooking and see how far you can get with it. I’m really enjoying my herb garden so far this year, and I’m grateful so many of my neighbors grow vegetables. Later in the summer we’ll go blueberry picking and peach picking and count those into our options as well. In the winter, I’ll probably cave altogether and buy all kinds of distantly grown items. The intent is strong, but during those long winters, it’s hard to resist the occasional fresh strawberry on the supermarket shelf.