"Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles ... If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week." - Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
It's no secret, eating locally-sourced, in-season food is the best way to eat. It makes perfect and logical sense. Eat what is available where you live, when it is naturally available. Yet, for years, the American public has, more or less, waged a war against the food that is available in their own back yard. If we walk into Whole Foods on a Sunday in October and there aren't bananas, we go bananas. "How are they out of bananas," says a woman who looks a bit like Nancy Grace. The answer is, if they have them, you're lucky because they shouldn't. During that time of year you should be eating apples, pears, plums, and that outlier vegetable, tomatoes.
I'm sitting at a table in the new and improved Rook with Rob Gaston, executive director of DigIn, the foundation behind the beloved A Taste of Indiana event. Over our karaage chicken and Szechuan pork belly rice bowl we are discussing the importance of local food, sustainable food, in-season food. The setting is the perfect place to have this conversation since Ed Rudisell and Carlos Salazar are two figures in Indiana's quickly emerging food scene that care about and strive to keep their restaurants local.
Rob, a major advocate in the city for Slow Food (a group that promotes "good, clean and fair food) astutely points out, "Buying and eating locally just makes sense. Rather than sending [money] to a company that's based a thousand miles away, you are putting your dollar directly in the hands of a local owner, who is likely going to spend the same dollar with another local business."
Where you choose to spend your money can change the lives of those around you. When you buy that Gunthorp Farms chicken from Pogue's Run Grocer, you're supporting Hoosiers Greg and Lei Gunthorp. You're helping them send their three kids to school. You're helping the Gunthorps' 15 full-time and 15 part-time employees. You're helping a family farm stay in operation and continue to produce pasture-raised, antibiotic-free meat. When you buy Pilgrim's Pride? Your money goes into the pockets of multimillionaire CEO William Lovette, and if you want to know how your chicken got to your table, just type: "Pilgrim's Pride chicken treatment" into your Google search.
In the need for convenience in this era we have grown so detached from nature and the foods we should eat and it's detrimental to the enivronment, our communities, and our health. The late, and highly talented Homaro Cantu reminds us, "Previous generations used to eat locally out of necessity. Without options like flash-freezing and worldwide export services, communities had to rely on local farms for all of their meals. In many ways, this was beneficial. People ate fresh, seasonal foods that were naturally flavorful and nutritious, and farmers and communities prospered."
Luckily, Homaro's vision of the past is something we are seeing a resurgence of and here in Indianapolis it is becoming easier and easier to access fresh, local food. Farmers markets are popping up more and more often. There are markets, like Wildwood Market and Rail Epicurean Market, that source their fresh produce and meat from Indiana farmers. Not to mention the rise of small urban farms like those maintained by Growing Places Indy. There are also community gardens in different neighborhoods around the city. Good food is everywhere if you just take the time to find it, and for flavor alone it is worth it.
I remember the first time I tried an heirloom tomato, it was on my first trip to Locally Grown Gardens. Sitting at one of the long wooden benches, a plate of beautiful, vibrant tomatoes in a little oil and vinegar on the table next to my Cheerwine. They looked like a different species from the sickly pink tomatoes I had always known. The first bite was like nothing I'd ever had, the flavor was robust and the texture meaty. It changed the way I eat.
Not only is the flavor better, but it's also better for your health and the health of our home. "Small and local growers have less impact on the environment, and are more likely to use methods that enhance the health of their soil and animals naturally," says Rob, followed by, "In terms of personal health, local produce is nutrient dense and will better satisfy the needs of our bodies." In other words, the fresher a fruit or vegetable is, the more of its natural nutrients are retained within it. When you're purchasing strawberries in November they're being flown here from overseas, not only putting a major carbon footprint on the environment, but you end up paying a premium for lower quality fruit that is quickly losing its Vitamin C and the antioxidant flavonoids that make strawberries an incredible source of heart-healthy nutrition. But, when you walk in Georgetown Market in May, you're getting fresh Indiana strawberries at their peak in health benefits and flavor.
Even if you don't feel like cooking at home there are dozens of locally-sourced restaurants that pay attention to in-season ingredients to choose from. Popular, trendy restaurants like Milktooth, Black Market and Bluebeard all make a point to use local, Neal Brown and the group at Pizzology and Libertine are major advocates for sustainable and in-season. The new gem of the Eastside, Love Handle is sourcing from Indiana farms. At Goose the Market you can get sandwiches and charcuterie straight from the source.
The options are endless, and the more we make a conscious effort as a group to eat local, to eat what is available during this time of year, the quicker things will change. We have the ability to choose where we're spending our money and that is how we make change. I'm not saying every item in every dish has to be from and Indiana artisan, it will never be that way and, in a way, we're lucky to live in a time where we have the choice. But, be mindful. I'm reminded of a quote from the travel author Pico Iyer, "In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. In an age of distraction nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. In an age of constant movement nothing is so urgent as sitting still." I think if we slow down, pay attention, and still our minds and bodies, it's plain to see that this is the way food must go.
For a full list of Indiana establishments set on local and in-season go to: slowfoodindy.com/snail-of-approval-restaurants/
For a breakdown of in-season produce go to: eattheseasons.com