This is part 1 of what will be a three-part series on my views on eating ethically. This one focuses on why I try to eat locally (and the resources I use to do so), the second one will focus on why I’m not a vegetarian (even though I love veggies), and the third will be a mish-mash of everything left over, a discussion of any comments I recieve, and a little bit on organics. I may even try to throw in some seasonal vegetarian winter recipes while I’m at it, since winter tends to be the hardest. We’ll see.
I eat locally and seasonally as much as possible, for four reasons. In my opinion, it tastes better, it’s healthier, it’s more environmentally friendly, and it’s often cheaper. This makes intuitive sense to me: food grown closer to home has to travel less. This means that it can be picked when ripe (and flavor and nutrient levels are highest), and can be bred for taste rather than easy transport, attractiveness, and ability to adjust to adverse conditions (like fowl bred with giant tasteless breasts to increase their value and sawdusty red delicious apples). Since it has less of a distance to travel, it’s fresher when you get it.
Food grown locally tends to be less- or at least more carefully- processed, so it’s healthier. It’s certainly intuitive to me that milk that goes from cow to bottle– or at least cow to normal pasteurization to bottle to fridge without lying about for months under bright lights is healthier and tastier. Knowing your farmers. or at least knowing about them, means knowing that your food is carefully tended to and healthy pre-harvest. Frequently, local farmers, even those who are not certified organic, use far fewer chemicals and more sustainable practices, than larger farms will. “Common sense farming” is much healthier to sustain than large-scale organic farming, even.
Nature is great at protecting us, too– frequently in season foods have the ability to protect us from the ills associated with the season– citrus during cold season, starchy potatoes when we need more padding and warmth, and water-rich vegetables and fruits during dehydration season. Local honey helps with allergies, too- because it is made with pollen from the plants you’re likely to be allergic to, it allows your immune system to adjust more easily.
Of course, sometimes I make exceptions. I can’t find any local oil, spices, chocolate, coffee, tea, or sugar (though I try to at least go for domestic), some regional specialties just can’t be made here, and sometimes I’m just priced out. For example, I buy fresh, local butter for eating on bread and making special occasion desserts and butter-based sauces, but for most baking I buy commercial products. $5 for 8oz is too much for me to pay for everyday baking butter, as much as I’d love to be able to, and you can’t taste the difference in strongly flavored baked goods– so I substitute organic east-coast butter or butter from the Cabot Cooperative. I usually don’t feel bad about it, either. I also sometimes buy canned or frozen fruit and vegetables, because I don’t yet can, and I can’t freeze or store that much now (that, I do feel guilty about). I’d love to garden, but my apartment has no usable sun and I’m still on the community garden wait list. And the list goes on. I do what I can, though, and the list below includes my favorite sources.
All of these providers are available at the Sunday morning Dupont Circle Freshmarket (open year-round) unless otherwise noted; many of them sell other places as well. The list is *not* exhaustive, especially for fruit and vegetable producers, and I would love to hear of your favorites.
- South Mountain Creamery: South Mountain Creamery is… well, wonderful. It’s tremendously difficult in this area to source local milk and cream now that Blue Highland Dairy closed, but South Mountain creamery delivers to your doorstep in many areas of DC, MD, and VA- plus they’re only an hour away– and at very reasonable prices. They’re not officially organic, but use good common sense– and they also deliver tons of other amazing stuff.
- Blue Ridge Dairy: Blue Ridge Dairy makes amazing Italian style cheeses with vegetarian rennet. They’re naturally very low in lactose, and amaaaaaaazing. Especially the low-fat ricotta. They also make really yummy yogurt and butter.
- Highfield Dairy: The dairy for people who think they don’t like goat cheese. I love their goat cheese, especially the herbed variety, and doesn’t have the bitter taste I normally associate with goat cheese. They also sell really yummy giant pierogi and seasonally flavored ice cream, among other things.
- Keswick Creamery: Keswick Creamery almost always sells out of their yogurt well before close. They also have the widest selection of cheeses I’ve ever seen out of one producer. They leave out tons of samples so that you can get exactly what you want, and make great cheddar-styles and fetas.
- Cibola Farms: The place to go for buffalo and pork. Their products are nothing short of incredible; they have everything, including jerky, and are happy to tell you how to fix anything you’re unfamiliar with.
- Eco-Friendly Foods: The place to go for beef and poultry. Bev is a Joel Salatin protoge, and lectures quite a bit. Plus, they just built a processing plant so that they could process their own meat. As local as it gets.
Fruits and Vegetables:
- Endless Summer Harvest: Endless Summer Harvest has a really cool hydroponic greenhouse that allows them to produce lettuces and other green leafys (with the occasional tomato) all year. They’re your go-to girls if you want anything out of season that’s still going to tasted good. As a bonus, they’re probably the friendliest vendors at the Dupont Market (they are at a few others as well)– give them a half a chance and you’ll learn a lot about hydroponic farming. Fascinating. As a bonus, they frequently give you plants with the roots on, so you can extend their shelf life.
- Country Pleasures Farm: These guys have everything– fruit, vegetables, flowers, personal care products, and preserved produce, and they’re one of the most sustainable urban organic farms out there. Worth looking up just for their story even if you can’t buy from them, but they’re at Dupont every Sunday.
- Quaker Valley Orchards: This farm grows a huge variety of apples and knows everything there is to know about them– plus pears, berries, and preserves.
- Next Step Produce: Next Step Produce is very, very local and organic as well. They’re the most likely stop for “odd” fruits like persimmon and kiwi.
- Wade’s Mill Farm: Your local source for flours, whole grains, and mixes. Locally grown, locally milled, inexpensive, and mailed straight to your door.
- Jug Bay Market Garden: My CSA of choice. Scott and Tanya run the “Short, Jewish farm” (at 5’4″, I’m the tallest person on the farm when I go to visit, and my raised-Catholic friend who got an internship there is frequently mistaken for a Jersey Jew– funny.) It’s a lovely and friendly organic farm, and having worked there a day or two, I can vouch for everything being carefully tended (if occasionally cursed at.) CSA pickup is near Eastern Market, on Capitol Hill, and their distribution was plentiful even during last summer’s giant drought. They also sell periodically to Yes! Organic.