Eating ONLY Local Foods in the Eurobodalla – in Winter
As part of a winter experiment in sustainability, I thought I’d try to eat only local foods, without exception, for one week.
That meant it had to be grown, raised, or gathered within my two local shires, the Eurobodalla and the Bega Valley. I live in the Eurobodalla, and the reason I added the Bega Valley was not out of necessity, but because I travel through it most weeks and often pick up fresh veggies from stalls on the side of the road, as well as visiting a couple of friendly market gardeners down that way every now and then. Admittedly, I could have picked a much easier time of year to try this out, but this was my opportunity (I was alone for the week, so no-one else had to suffer through it!).
SAGE Farmers Market, Moruya
My reasoning for this experiment in being a strict “locavore”, as people are known who eat only locally sourced foods, was to see how it would be if I had to rely on my local area for all of my food and drink. There are several ecological advantages to this, obviously; first of all, it cuts down enormously on carbon miles, because food doesn’t have to travel far to get to my plate (no tinned tomatoes from Italy or wine from Chile, for instance). Secondly, in economic terms, I get to support my local communities, by making sure I am buying from them exclusively. Thirdly, I get to find out how it tastes to live on local foods alone; although that means I will be limiting my palate, I will also be constantly reminding my body what it is like to live bioregionally, as we evolved, rather than supported by the modern convenience of international trade.
I never meant this to become a permanent practice, I just wanted to see how it would actually go if I really stuck to my guns. Which I did. Mostly … so, I might as well be upfront about it, I failed on one count and it was COFFEE. Although I only had two coffees all week, I did weaken for them. I don’t add sugar to anything anyway, so that wasn’t a challenge, but on those couple of occasions at work, I needed the pep up a bit more than I needed the feeling of complete satisfaction that I could have gleaned from 100% victory. So, there you go, my admission of weakness up front.
Now, down to what did work … which was everything else!
What follows isn’t a blow by blow account of every meal every day, but a summary of the experiment, how it played out and what were my conclusions at the end of the week.
I don’t rely on a big breakfast generally, so it wasn’t hard for me to top some local yoghurt with some of the few fruits available around here in winter: passionfruit and citrus (mainly orange but also grapefruit). This is a big area for dairy farming, so it is easy to eat well in terms of dairy foods. And we are blessed with the beautiful products from the Tilba Dairy, who source their products from local farmers with herds of Jersey cows. This means my milk, yoghurt and cheeses are very rich and creamy.
As I will relate further on, an experiment like this is enhanced by mindful eating and I noticed that really good food was an intense delight to the senses. Erica who runs the Tilba Dairy is also big on fermenting (although that didn’t form part of this experiment).
I noticed breakfast has never tasted so good. I think this was partly because I was concentrating so much on food, by thinking through how I would eat each day, so that I naturally ate more mindfully and gratefully, knowing that if the land and waterways around here weren’t healthy, neither would I be. It really gave me a very real sense of belonging to a place. There was also the fact that the food was all so fresh; and maybe it even carried some of the ‘spirit of place’ around here.
Aside from yoghurt and fruit, another thing I could enjoy for breakfast was a boiled egg. There are plenty of genuinely free range chicken farms around here; not just letting chooks see a bit of daylight and get some fresh air and room to scratch, but wandering about in the paddocks all day before being put away in their sheds at night (so that they don’t get beheaded by the always watchful foxes!).
I didn’t get around to evaporating some salt water for the most popular condiment in the world, to top my eggs with, even though my mate Start Whitelaw of SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture and Gardening Eurobodalla) fame told me where I could find some if I needed it. Next time.
Lunches and Dinners
My main meals were all pretty similar, with the only real difference being that lunch would often be leftovers from dinner the night before, eaten at work (usually heated up in a microwave, which would then beg the question of local power if we wanted to go that far … which I will, another time!).
Here are some examples of main meals, with notes on getting around the usual habits of ease and convenience which were not available to me:
Lamb sausages, cooked in their own fat, from Hugh the organic meat farmer (SAGE Farmer’s Market), with steamed broccoli, from my old mate Thea at Fishbone Farm in Cobargo, and brussel sprouts from Old Mill BioFarm, run by Fraser Bayley and Kirsti Wilkinson. As with all meat, I would pour any leftover fat from the cooking into a pan, so that I had it ready for the next meal.
Saving fat from one meal for the next:
Grilled pork chops with roast vegetables – purple carrots, orange carrots, garlic and pumpkin – and cabbage fried in the pork oil, which I dripped from the grill tray into a pan.
And the leftovers for lunch the next day:
Fried calamari, with squeezed lemon from that tree in yours or your neighbour’s backyard 😊, with roasted sweet potato chips and salad greens from my garden (some really nice bitters come up here in winter, including endive and watercress). We are blessed here on the south coast of NSW, where squid can be caught easily in many places. This was bought from local fishermen at the SAGE Farmers Market in Moruya.
It’s not all about meat … boiled eggs tossed with cherry tomatoes and Lebanese cucumber, or roast veggies with a simple white sauce, of milk and cheese (I couldn’t use cornflour, salt or pepper) were all great too. Fetta is a very welcome addition! Locally sourced from Tilba Dairy.
Similarly, a crayfish and an abalone, plucked from the sea near my home in Mossy Point; the cray (or lobster) simply boiled and cooled, the abalone sliced thinly and fried quickly on a high heat in whatever fat I have saved from the previous meal. The cray meat is second to none when it comes to seafood, but aside from eating the tail, legs and antennae, don’t forget to get a long spoon up inside and eat the brains out of it too. I learnt this from a Japanese friend; in his culture, this is considered a delicacy and the favoured part of the animal. So many traditional cultures similarly enjoy other parts of the animal aside from the muscles. After getting over my initial squeamishness about this, I came to love eating the cray brains.
Aside from pulling some wild oysters out of the Tomaga River and catching crayfish and abalone from the ocean, I was also able to pick some Warragul Greens from nearby spots along the coast. They were nowhere near as lush as they can be at other times of the year, but still supplemented my need for fresh greens.
There are also plentiful supplies of Salt Bush nearby, a savoury delight that can be rubbed into meat or cut into small pieces and added to any salad or veggie dish. Finally, there are nippers in the river here, which can be caught with a yabby pump; although most people consider them strictly bait only, I have eaten them fried in oil as another experiment in finding local and sustainable protein sources (although they didn’t form part of this week’s diet).
The cheeses from Tilba Dairy formed a big part of my eating outside of main meals. Raw carrots often did the trick too (I love carrots, although for this week I had to forego my favourite way of eating them, dipped into hommus). A boiled egg easily filled a hole if I felt I needed something extra before the next main meal. Roasted pumpkin seeds likewise saved me from hunger pangs at times.
Running this experiment in winter meant lots of root vegetables and the need for heat. Although I weakened a couple of times for coffee, I enjoyed some local herbal tea alternatives. One is obvious; mint grows easily and my plant was healthy and vigorous. There’s nothing like the clean feeling and the sharpening of focus you can get from a cup of mint leaves seeped in hot water. The other was a little less common but equally as satisfying. This was clover flowers, which can be found almost anywhere there is grass (that’s European grass, another non-native species like us …. A handful of these make a surprisingly meaty cuppa.
Local honey abounds. My favourite is Bliss Honey, which can be bought at the SAGE Farmers Market. Your jar can also be refilled at the Moruya Coop, the Rustic Pantry.
The Final Countdown
Generally, I focussed on my eating a lot, as I had to, and this had a pleasing side effect of eating more mindfully. I felt I really ‘sucked the marrow’ out of a meal, tasting every morsel fully and being thankful for the nourishment. Funnily enough, this ended up being close to a paleo diet, with lots of meat and veggies. I also noticed that, without the loads of carbs we get used to eating in a conventional western diet, I often felt slightly hungry after dinner. I would allow this feeling of not being completely full to sit for a bit and it would usually fade, as the satisfaction from the fats and fibre settled in. Because I had almost no carbs available to me (there are great local bakers but the wheat would come from elsewhere), I couldn’t eat bread, rice, pasta or anything like that. Likewise, the range of desserts available to me was close to zero, aside from yoghurt with honey or fruit (but I was often having this for breakfast and besides, this seemed like a good time to practice eating less). I didn’t mind feeling slightly hungry going to sleep, although ironically by the time I went to bed, I would often find I felt satisfied again anyway. It’s strange, how the body works when you practice being mindful of it.
Either way, I usually found myself waking up full of beans, not really hungry, and wanting to head out for some exercise in nature before eating again in the morning. Undertaking this experiment meant that I got to meet more local producers and extend my network in the community. I felt more connected to the natural world, where all this food comes from, and more in touch with the limits and wealth of the lands and seas all around me. I also got to loosen the hold on me of the international trade in food and drink, which is so ubiquitous in everyday life that we hardly even think of how many carbon miles are involved in simple things like buying a loaf of bread. If you can’t try it out for yourself, I recommend looking out for everything you can possibly eat, drink and buy in your local bioregion. It’s part of the spirit of the place you live and getting more deeply in touch with this can only be beneficial (unless you’re addicted to caffeine 😊).
Tilba Real Dairy, 37 Bate St, Central Tilba NSW. http://tilbarealdairy.com/
SAGE Farmers Market, Riverside Park, Moruya. Tuesdays from 3pm. http://sagefarmersmarket.org.au/
Rustic Pantry Food Coop, 61 Vulcan St, Moruya http://therusticpantry.com.au/