For the month of June, I will be chronicling my participation in the Third Annual New Orleans Eat Local Challenge. Every day, I will post about all the meals I had the day before and the ups and downs of trying to eat only locally-sourced or grown food. Because this is my first foray into being a "locavore", I will be doing the second-strictest level of the challenge.
Total meals eaten today: 5
Non-local items eaten: 3
Vices: Beer, coffee, bread
"The first few days are the hardest."
Those words - uttered to me by Eat Local Challenge founder Lee Stafford at the kickoff party at Rouses on Friday - echoed in my head all day yesterday. When I signed up for the eat local challenge, I didn't think my life would change too drastically. After all, I'm always on the hunt at Rouses for local products and I've always wanted to do more shopping at the Hollygrove Market. Aside from some preliminary concerns - what will I use to substitute for olive oil? what fruit juices are sourced locally? where can I find local butter? - I didn't think the challenge would be all that hard.
I was wrong.
As soon as I woke up I realized that, despite having stocked my fridge with local goods the day before, I had not really planned out my meals for the first day of the challenge, and thus, I was at a loss for what to make for breakfast. I couldn't eat cereal and, aside from strawberries and blueberries, I didn't have much fruit to choose from. So I began with a "smoothie" of strawberries, blueberries, creole tomatoes, cucumbers and Kleinpeter milk.
I know what you're thinking, "tomato smoothie? Gross." I'll admit I had my doubts at first and I'm not entirely sure why I threw the creole tomato and cucumbers in the blender other than it was the only produce that looked like it would blend nicely, but the final concoction was actually pretty good (that is, if you like tomatoes, which I do) if not all that filling.
See the problem is that I had a pretty active day ahead of me. I was filming the Original Big 7 second line and, as I usually do, was riding my bike from my house in the Lower Garden District to Elysian Fields and N. Claiborne. By the time I arrived, my stomach was already grumbling. This introduced me to the first real "challenge" to the Challenge: having to forgo all the food vendors at the second line.
The "Bienville Level" of strictness I'm following allows for three "vices" and three "off the wagon" meals I can eat a week. My vices (which I can change from week to week) are currently beer, bread and coffee. I was immediately glad to have chose beer because it was pretty much all I could drink at the second line. When you challenge yourself to eat locally, you become conscious of everything you eat and you start to realize how few items you take for granted are local. Bottled water? Nope. Gatorade? Fat chance. Roadside smoked sausage? There's really no telling. Suddenly, being sustained only by beer, I was getting tipsy and was really hungry.
Thank goodness for local festivals. After I finished my filming at the second line, I rode my bike to Woldenberg Park for the New Orleans Oyster Festival. Surely, I thought, I would find a locally sourced meal there. Once again, I was foiled. Though vendors had a slew of great-looking food (oyster tacos! fried shrimp po-boys! cochon de lait quesadillas!) I once again ran into the problem of realizing I had no idea where these vendors got their products. Chances are, the tortillas for the tacos and quesadillas aren't locally sourced, as are many secondary ingredients found at the booths. I had to settle on raw oysters from ACME Oyster House, but even that choice wasn't perfect (the crackers and lemon that accompanied my half-dozen oysters were not local).
Hungry and a baked by the sun, I biked home and made myself a sandwich with boudin sausage made at Cleaver & Co., Rouses french bread and creole tomatoes. It wasn't until I was halfway done that I realized I had slapped some swiss cheese on the sandwich without even realizing it. The cheese, from Wisconsin, made me realize that I was running into the second "challenge" of the Challenge: old habits.
It's so easy for people to go to the supermarket and just buy whatever food is convenient or cheap. This, one could argue, is one of the great advancements of modern society (at least in fully developed countries, I realize there are still places where readily available food is a rarity). But there is certainly a cost to all this cheap, abundant food. A cursory Google search will lead you to a slew of sites that show the horrors of cheap meat, but this chart sums it all up quite nicely. Really, eating local is all about weighing risk against reward.
This led me to remember something else Stafford had said to me: "Hopefully you'll learn a little about yourself and you'll start to think about where your food comes from."
Well, mission accomplished. I was thinking about where every bit of food that I ate came from and, much to my dismay, I was learning that, more often than not, this led me to being hungry for most of the day. By the time dinner came around, I was so hungry I completely forgot to take a picture of my meal. This is something I regret because it was the best meal I had all day. I sautéed Louisiana Gulf shrimp in Old New Orleans Rum's Gingeroo, with some locally grown red onions, green beans and baby portabella mushrooms. I used pecan oil to cook the vegetables and roasted some locally grown red potatoes with rosemary I got from Hollygrove. Overall, it was a great meal and by far the most satisfying.
Yes, the day didn't go perfectly — I had succumbed to low blood sugar at the second line and had to buy a Powerade, I was hungry most of the day, my girlfriend got sick of all my talk about food and said "you're a girl on a diet" and I had to use up one of my "off the wagon" meals on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich I ate as a midnight snack — but seeing as how the broader goal of the Eat Local Challenge is to get people to think about their food and where it comes from, it was a successful start to my month.
Just 29 more days to go.