The weekend has arrived. This post will be the first in what I plan as a series of retrospectives on my purchasing habits and how I can localize them further. I am told (thanks, Wikipedia!) that the title idiom has come to “refer to upsides, downsides and the parts that could, or should have been done better, but were not.” Perfect.
The Good – items that I’ve grown/made/purchased as close to home as possible. Cases where I used to buy something non-local, and have now found or adopted an alternative. The Bad – items that don’t originate locally, for which I can’t see a path to an alternative. The Ugly – when I know I could do better, but for one reason or another (habit, laziness, poor planning) I didn’t. So, having set that context…
This week, I purchased a CSA share (actually, a half share) for first time. Although the ideal would be growing my own veggies In My Back Yard (IMBY), I know that I have a lot of other irons in the fire right now and this feels like a huge improvement over the alternatives. The farm (Spice of Life Farm in Alpine, NY) isn’t necessarily the closest, but the owner is a friend of one of my neighbors, and since several of us are getting shares from the same place, it allows us to combine trips into town to collect our produce.
In other food-related items, I had a Greco-Roman-era dinner this week: barley cakes (maza) 1 and beer. Although later in history barley was considered a grain for feeding animals, in early Rome it was a staple. Contrary to our images of vast Greek and Roman feasts, most common people in that era subsisted on unleavened bread (and not necessarily all that much of that) with an occasional veggie and, very rarely, meat.2 Barley cakes are about as simple as you can get: barley flour (1-3/4 cups), honey (3 tbsp), olive oil (2 tbsp), and enough water to make a good firm dough. (Flatten into rounds and bake at 400°F for 12-15min. There, now you have the whole recipe.) I’m not certain where the barley originated (though I know I bought it from the local food co-op) but I know where it was ground into flour: at my kitchen table. The honey is from a local farm, but the oil (alas) was not. Olive oil might have been a local product for the Greeks, but around here it should be sunflower oil. So that’s a tiny bit of ugly.
In addition to this, I also bought milk. Although the co-op has both Organic Valley northeast “local” milk and regular Organic Valley milk, I learned something interesting. According to the code printed on top of the “regular” milk, it is packaged just over an hour away in Syracuse. Meanwhile, for whatever, reason, it consistently has a 3-4 week longer shelf life (both rated, and per my own experiences) than the “local” ones. So I buy the one that doesn’t say local on the assurance that it actually is, and that I will not be pouring a quart down the drain because it has spoiled.
Now here’s something I bet you didn’t know you could get at home: a massage therapist house call! A friend of mine who recently finished massage school is working in the area (temporarily, alas) and doesn’t have a place to practice right now. When I asked if I could make an appointment, she said sure, but could it happen at my home? Of course! What self-respecting locality-buff with aching muscles would turn that down? (I will note here that there are presently no licensed massage therapists living here, but if any of you want to change that and move in a few doors down, you have a built-in clientele waiting…) In any case, she lives less than 9 miles away.
I suppose I should admit that I have a chocolate addiction. My wonderful excuse for buying chocolate this week was for a friend and neighbor’s birthday. Although there are local confectioners and chocolatiers, there really aren’t local chocolate makers. So far, at least, the ingredients don’t grow around here. So I bought chocolate as a gift… er, plus that bit that I got for myself.
Pizza. I love it, there is a great place right down the street, and it’s what’s for dinner. Unfortunately, I’m certain that much of what they make it from is sourced from places that fail the “local” test. There’s no question that I could make it myself, and make the crust from local oats, the cheese from local dairy, the tomatoes could even have been grown literally IMBY. There’s a vast difference between an hour-long cooking project and a five minute stop as I was going past anyway, but that’s a lousy excuse, and hopefully sometime soon I’ll get myself psyched up to do it right. The one redeeming virtue is that the shop is small and locally owned, so some of that $6 meal is staying in the community rather than going to a big national chain.