It may sound funny, but eating locally takes practice. The way you’re eating right now is probably made up of a lot of little habits, like grocery shopping on the fly, grabbing whatever looks good, and go-to meals and snacks, so that what you’re eating isn’t another thing you have to think about in this crazy world.
But eating locally is a mindful practice, particularly while you are discovering where all your local food is, and what’s available at different times of the year. Practicing develops new habits and thought patterns, whether you’re practicing a sport, a new language, a musical instrument, or a knitting stitch, and it will help you develop new habits and thought patterns about where you find your food.
If you have been giving this some thought, and are just waiting for the growing season to start where you live, why not go ahead and give some substitutions a trial run? For instance, do you usually have a green salad with dinner? During the winter, most of the ingredients in that salad will not be available locally unless you live in one of the warmer places in the Northern Hemisphere. One of the first switches I made was vegetable soup, instead of green salad, in the winter. It’s fairly simple to make a big pot of basic vegetable soup, using only root vegetables that would typically be available to you during the winter. Over the years, I have broadened my salad horizons as well, to include root vegetable salads and slaws. But keep it simple and direct while you’re getting started.
Find out what vegetables would typically be available to you now, either in season, or in storage (think root cellars), and start cooking with those. Try cooking with them exclusively. If you are not used to eating a wide variety of vegetables, this can seem challenging. The first place to look is your favorite cookbook. I’ll bet there are a number of recipes you glossed over at first glance because the vegetables were unfamiliar to you. See if there are a few new ones to try. Also, I never get tired of recommending The Joy of Cooking as a resource when you are learning about a new ingredient. Joy is a fine place to get to know vegetables you’re curious about.
Another great option is to use frozen vegetables instead of fresh. Frozen vegetables are picked, processed, and packaged when they are in season, just as they would be if you grew them yourself and had a surplus you wanted to preserve. They have been proven to be just as nutritious as fresh vegetables, and most of them would be just fine in a quick vegetable soup. Simply bring a pot of your favorite broth to a boil, add the frozen vegetables you like, bring back to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the vegetables are tender but not mushy, which probably won’t take more than 10 minutes.
If this all sounds a little unsophisticated to you, feel free to add some herbs and spices, a splash of soy sauce or worcestershire sauce, or start the soup by sautéing some garlic and onions in butter, stir in some tomato paste, then add the broth and frozen vegetables. Garlic and onions are two vegetables that are known as storage vegetables, and tomato paste is another example of a vegetable that was processed and preserved at its peak ripeness in season.
What vegetables are in season in your area right now? A quick online search can provide you with many links to that information, but so can a visit to a Farmers’ Market. Winter Farmers’ Markets have sprung up all over the place in the last 5 years or so, and you’ll find much more than vegetables there. An online search for Farmers’ Markets in your area may be helpful, but sometimes old school is better. Check your local newspaper for event listings, or check the bulletin boards at the library and grocery store.
Which vegetables in the grocery store are “storage vegetables”? Excellent question! Here’s a link to a chart showing what vegetables would typically be stored in a root cellar, how long they might keep, and what conditions are best to store them in. Even if you don’t get inspired enough to start planning storing your own vegetables, you can select them at the grocery store, instead of out-of-season items grown hundreds of miles away. If you do get inspired, check out the pages “Books I Love” and “My Inspiration” (at the top of the blog) for the books I found helpful.
Any new pursuit takes some extra practice and effort at the beginning, and switching to a more local diet is no different. Don’t let winter stop you. Let winter inspire you.