Part of my homework this past week was to spend three days following a locavore diet. Strictly speaking, locavores emphasizeÂ the consumption of foods that are locally produced, in some cases requiring that it travel no further than 100 miles from farm to table.
As you might imagine, this was no easy task for a Colorado resident in mid-March. In fact, this might be the hardest time of year to eat locally here because it is the very end of the winter seasonâ€”when you have likely eaten up any foods preserved from the previous yearâ€™s growing season, but it is a few weeks too early yet for fresh local produce or cream-rich springtime pastured milk. The weather was so gorgeous on Thursday when I started the diet that I went out in the herb garden and poked around hopefully, but so far all I can see greening up are tiny sprigs of parsley and chamomile… no asparagus yet!
My locavore journey started in my own pantry and freezer, where we had a few usable items preserved. Fruits included frozen peach puree, dried apple rings and pear slices, and home-canned jams, jellies, sauces, juice, and whole fruit. Vegetables were limited to dried zucchini, canned tomatoes, and a few ferments like sauerkraut. Meats in the freezer included pastured beef liver and some venison bones intended for stock. We also have raw milk from our herd share, locally produced honey from our postman/beekeeper, and a few other miscellany like container herbs and homemade apple cider vinegar.
Next, I did a little research on potential local food sources, and took a trip to Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage to try and plug some of the gaping holes in my locavore menu. These included ground elk and a bone-in Berkshire pork roast, a few fresh vegetables (potatoes, mushrooms, parsnips, lettuce, tomatoes, and pea shoots), whole wheat pastry flour and millet, pastured eggs and butter, and raw goat cheese. As you can see, pretty much everything I purchased was very high quality food, organic and/or pastured and mostly from small independent farms, which drove up prices despite proximity.
I had to do some additional preparation at home to provide myself with a number of foundational items. Knowing I would be having tomato soup on the second day, I used the venison bones mentioned above to make stock; after an internal debate, I do admit to adding non-local veggies to the stockpot for this, because they add flavor and nutrients, and most of this stock will be used at some point after this locavore assignment is completed. I also used a quart or so of raw milk to make fresh ricotta cheese for one of my breakfasts.
Â Finally, I baked a batch of soaked biscuits by mixing together whole wheat pastry flour, pastured butter, Â raw milk, and apple cider vinegar, and letting this basic dough sour on my countertop overnight. The next morning, I added salt and leavening, and baked up a dozen gorgeous, fluffy, tender biscuits that constituted my “bread” for the duration of the trial. That first morning, with biscuits rising in the oven and millet porridge bubbling on the range, I had a few blissful moments of feeling almost like an industrious pioneer mama… at least until I realized I had less than half an hour to eat, dress, get Nolan up and ready to go to hippotherapy, as well as packing his backpack for preschool. Well, it was a nice feeling while it lasted!
Three-Day Colorado Locavore Menu
Non-local ingredients indicated in bold.
Lunch: Pastured egg (basted with filtered water and pastured butter, RealSalt); Pastured egg baked in a portabella mushroom with raw semi-firm goat cheese, fresh rosemary, RealSalt; 2 homemade soaked biscuits (whole wheat pastry flour, pastured butter, raw milk, apple cider vinegar, baking soda and powder, RealSalt) with pastured butter and local wildflower honey
Dinner: Sliced beef liver (soaked in raw milk, dredged in ww pastry flour) fried in pastured butter with onions, parsnip puree (parsnip, raw milk, pastured butter), butter lettuce salad with dried apple and zucchini slices, apple cider vinegar/honey/fresh rosemary
Breakfast: Peach pie smoothie–Frozen peach puree (homemade with skins on) blended with raw milk, pastured raw egg, leftover millet porridge, leftover parsnip puree, vanilla whey powder
Lunch: Roasted tomato basil bisque (hydroponicÂ tomatoes roasted with RealSalt, homemade venison stock, onions, garlic, carrot) garnished with a hard-boiled pastured egg and fresh basil, 2 biscuits with local honey and pastured butter
Dinner: Sage-infused bone-in pork roast glazed with honeyed sage butter, garnished withÂ sautÃ©edÂ portabella mushroom and sunflower seeds; roasted red potatoes (with sesame oil); pea shoots dressed with ACV, honey, melted butter, fresh sage
Snack: Glass of raw milk
Breakfast: Fried eggs and biscuits with pastured butter, fresh ricotta cream (ricotta pureed with liquid from plums) with homemade canned plums (plums, honey, allspice), sunflower seeds, and a drizzle of honey
Lunch: Leftovers–roast pork and tomato bisque
Dinner: Elk patty with melted goat cheese and butter-sautÃ©ed mushrooms, pea shoots
Snack: Warm milk with local honey and cinnamon
So what did I think of my locavore experience? From a nutritional standpoint, there were definitely some holes, moreso because I’m pregnant and have increased needs in most areas. For instance, my overall caloric intake was lower than it probably should have been, even though the proportions of macronutrients (fat, carbs, and protein) worked out similarly to my typical diet. I Â fell short on some specific nutrients, most notably vitamin E and essential fatty acids, which I generally get from non-local seeds and nuts like flax, chia, sesame and almonds; several major minerals also fell short of where I need them to be. Finally, the limitations on fresh produce put a big dent in my daily fiber intake, which caused me some discomfort at the end of the trial period.
I initially had concerns about the lack of variety that a locavore diet would impose, particularly given the season, as I had always been under the impression that greater variety equals better overall nutrition. However, reading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration allayed some of these concerns, considering that many traditional diets comprised a very narrow range of local, seasonal foods without detriment to the peoples that maintained them.
On the plus side, practically everything I bought was organically grown, which improves nutrient density, protects soil quality and limits toxic exposures; some of the greenhouse produce was even grown hydroponically, which conserves water in our arid climate and reduces issues like pesticide run-off. All the animal products I purchased were organic and pastured as well, which not only improves the nutritional quality of the food but also the health and overall life quality of the animals; in the case of the pork, it was also a heritage breed, which prolongs biological diversity and uniqueness. And of course, this diet is also good for the local economy.
Making everything from scratch with whole foods is absolutely my preference, and I love the challenges of looking around in my pantry for specific items and figuring out how I can put them together in ways that are both appealing (visually, texturally, etc.) and nutritionally balanced. Since I had to do this on short notice rather than as a full-time lifestyle, I found myself working within extreme limitations, and my mind was constantly reeling with the options I could have had if I had been more efficient with gardening and preservation last summer. For instance, we had a stevia plant in the backyard that I sometimes used fresh, but I never got around to harvesting the rest of it before our first frost; if I had, I would have been able to use homemade stevia extract this week. Also, considering the degradation of vitamin C that occurs from freezing or canning fruits, I should have planned ahead and done some sprouting for this week; I was fortunate to able to find local broccoli and pea shoots at Vitamin Cottage.
In the context of being a picky eater, I really appreciated the opportunity this diet provided for me to try some foods I might avoid otherwise–the beef liver, elk, portabella mushrooms, artisanal goat cheese, and pea shoots were all new to me, and even theÂ millet porridge andÂ ricotta cream for breakfasts. I didn’t care for all of them, but it still really forced me to stretch my gustatory boundaries with quality foods.
The biggest problem was just the amount of strain all of this put on my schedule, which is already so limited these days. I managed it in the short term, but considering I am almost 8 months pregnant, it was pretty draining. In just those three days, there were at least two occasions when my life would have been so much easier (and my empty stomach happier) if I could have eaten at a restaurant with my family between appointments. Of course, preparation of many staple foods is not too time-consuming if you make a regular habit of it, but it does require advance planning which is not always my strong suit.
It was a very interesting experience overall, but I have to admit, I was relieved to get back to eating foods like coconut oil, chocolate, bananas, almond butter, tea, molasses, and Sicilian pistachio gelato. After all of this, however, I will definitely be paying more attention to the source of my foods!