How are we doing? Food Challenge Frequently Asked Questions.

Hello folks –  In celebration of completing a month+ of our eating challenge, we compiled some of the most commonly asked questions and answered them, sometime at great length (Laura is very verbose in all areas of her life).  This is a long post, read at your leisure.  Also, if you have any other questions, please feel free to ask, either in the comment section below (we love comments), or send us an note from the contact link above.  Have a great weekend!

How is your local food challenge going?

Laura: Pretty well.  We’ve actually found it pretty easy to follow.  Other than a few mistakes and mess ups, we were able to follow our guidelines fairly well, without any feelings of ‘oh my god, how will we get by?!’

Theresa:  I think it has been going well, a few road bumps aside.  We’ve only had one day that had an ‘oh, shit, what are we going to eat’ moment.  We had no cheese, and for some reason we felt stumped.  We are moving past that to see the value of all available foods.  However, I will add that we are running out of ‘grandfathered items’, and this may change things up soon.

How has your life changed?

Laura:  Well, we were already eating really locally before the challenge began.  Now, within the challenge we cannot rely upon simply going to the store, we actually have to spend a considerable amount of time developing our food network.  In a lot of ways this is great, since we have already learned of so many great places to find local principled food.  In other ways it is hard, we have to think thoroughly about how we will get our sustenance for the week.  I have to think… well I’m running out of whole wheat flour…. when will we pass by Upinngil in the near future to pick some up… or should I use a slot? Also, if we had a long hard day, we can’t just go out to eat.

Also it requires a lot of planning since now a lot of our food is homemade: bread, crackers, ice cream, etc.  So, if we want bread for a meal, I need to make some earlier that week.  These little inconveniences are there, but we are finding it also a lot easier to incorporate into our lifestyle than expected.

We also have vastly increased how much we do on the weekends- PYO’s visiting farms, checking out a new farmer’s market, canning, preserving.  Of course, we think of this as a means of combining food procurement and entertainment for ourselves.  We also have already met so many great people within the local food network; farmers, fellow locavores, activists it’s been great.  We also have realized how big this network is, and how many people are contributing to it.  In a lot of ways it has given us a very positive outlook on our Regional food network.

Theresa:  I think the biggest area of change has been the network and community.  I will admit we walked into this as ignorant as could be, totally unaware of all of the resources out there.  We joined because the food tasted better, and we like to cook.  We didn’t start this because of politics or ethics.  But, we are learning a lot, fast, and our opinions of food are developing quickly.  We are reading more, trying to become more aware, and making conscious decisions about what we put in our bodies.  Everyone has to start somewhere, and we are treating you to our growth as conscious locavores.

Eating wise, a lot has changed and a lot hasn’t.  We need to plan in more time to prepare for the week: make bread, thaw frozen items, make sure we don’t use up one thing for a meal when we planned to use it in another, etc.  Cooking is the same.  Meal planning is the same.  Laura’s spasticism about food hasn’t changed.  Grocery shopping has changed.  Food sources have changed.  Label reading has changed.  Change is good.

Are you spending more or less money on food?

Laura:  This is a hard one.  I would say yes and no.  Some of the food we buy is just going to be far more expensive than what you can buy at say, Costco.  Of course, we would argue that most of the products we get are superior in flavor and nutrition to what you could find in a normal store, and you could make the argument that for the quality of the products we’re getting (which might require importing from Europe for something comparable) are not so expensive if compared to the high end gourmet sources that you could get them from.

Also, this challenge has made us adopt a lifestyle in which we make a lot of our food ourselves – bread, crackers, jam.  In these instances, it is very clear that we are saving money.  What we have paid for in PYO fruits, pectin, startup costs, jars (which we reuse) we pay half the price for the jam we make, at least.  Of course this requires some qualifying.  Maybe not if we bought the cheapest conventional jam out there… but compared to the jams we would already buy – organic and tasty, and not full of sugar… we are paying at least half to make it ourselves.  Also, we could bake our own bread with really cheap flour, and so it would be really cheap, but we don’t.  Also, the CSA’s are pretty easily saving us money.  We have many times calculated the cost of sourcing the products that we get from our CSA’s from grocery stores that you could get the similar quality items, and you save considerably.

Overall, in the end I think I can conclude that we are not paying more for food on our challenge.  Nonetheless, depending on your perspective, we may be saving a reasonable amount of money, or just cutting even with previous food expenses. This is something I’ve been curious to pay attention to and calculate and so perhaps in the future, I will have a better answer in the future.

Theresa:  Laura seemed to cover most of this question, though I might disagree that canning ourselves really saves half the money we would spend on pre-prepared food.  So, a little set of calculations, based on our raspberry jamming endeavor:

A jar of local raspberry jam is about 6.00 for 8 oz.  I have seen higher prices, I have seen lower.  A jar of organic raspberry jam is about the same price.  We’ll say a jar of jam is then about $6.00 for 8 oz.  Including half a package of pectin ($1.50), and a good glug of honey (we’ll guess around $3.00), we came out to about $4.00 per jar, not including the price of the jar (we will reuse), and our own labor (call it love, and hours of endless entertainment).

I will agree with Laura that the CSA cuts our cost a lot.  We try not to waste any food, including stems and stalks, and eat everything.  It also helps that the food is of higher quality, so we eat less to feel satisfied.  It’s an amazing experience, but once you know your body a bit better, you can begin to tell what you need and when, and we need a little less food.  Also, we feel that we are putting money into our future health.  Some may think that it is rubbish to think that organic/local/hippie food really ‘prolongs’ your life, but we notice a difference.  Besides, we don’t need gym memberships when we have to harvest, clean, cook and preserve all of your own food.  There’s a savings!

Any changes in your health?

Laura:  I have to admit that the changes in health have not been huge, mostly because we are young and ate well before the challenge. However, we have noticed a reasonable difference in some respects.  Our digestion has been better, we feel like we have more energy.  One interesting note is that we have developed a reasonable aversion to conventional food’s flavor.  If we eat really processed food, we feel really ill afterwards.  We experienced this before the challenge, but it is heightened.  I have found my blood sugar levels to be a lot steadier.  Before, when my blood sugar dropped and was hungry – I became irritable.  Now, I find that if I am hungry I’m far more even keeled, and I think that both of our emotional states have actually leveled somewhat.

Theresa:  My tummy is happier.  My blood sugar has leveled.  I feel like I need less sleep (that might be summer talking).  Also, on a side note Marion the Quaker Parrot was overweight when we started.  She has lost a fair amount of weight with our new eating habits, and has taken to eating a great many new foods.  Her moods have evened out a bit (might be the season), and she seems better overall.

Do you think that by adopting this lifestyle you are really making a difference? Is what you’re doing really sustainable?

Laura:  Another hard question.  We obviously think that what we are doing is making a difference.  But, I would argue that just by supporting small local farmers that treat their land with respect is enough of a positive contribution in its own right.  In terms of sustainability, and better treatment of the land… yes, we are definitely supporting something that does these things.  Of course, you must ask, what if everyone did this?  Would that be sustainable?  The answer becomes murkier.  Obviously, we do not produce enough grain in New England to feed everyone who lives here right now.

Could the land even support all of us?  Hm… good question…. Let’s see if I can ballpark this to get some grasp: so I know that Red Fire Farm feeds over 1000 families in produce off of 50 or so acres of land.  Lets multiply that by 4 to take into consideration fruit, meat and grain.  That’s like .2 acres per family, lets just make it per person….. now just for Massachusetts alone, we have 6.6 million people, so we would need ~1.3 million acres of mostly farmable land to feed them….. MA has 6.7 million acres of land….. so maybe.  Could we handle having 1/5th our land being cultivated?  Maybe?  This is just a ballpark, and did not take into consideration many factors, but it seems reasonable.

In terms of energy usage and decreasing the amount of petroleum used in procuring our food.  This is difficult.  We are definitely eating food that required far less petroleum to be made – eliminating the energy needed to make pesticides, the equipment to harvest and run processing.  This is pretty easy to say, yes we are using less petroleum by virtue of the farming methods we are paying for.  As far as transportation of that food – our CSA’s are great and I would argue yes, they bring in a lot of food into the city on one truck, covering a small distance.  However, I will admit that our driving has increased in going and visiting farms and whatnot.  We drive a Prius, so it’s not so bad… but I think that as we continue on our challenge, we will want to buy more items in large quantities when we do go to farmstands, so that we can make sure that the petroleum used in getting us out there is better used. This is a minor increase in petroleum usage, compared to shipping something from Argentina.

In the home is a whole other interesting bit.  I will admit that I am running the dishwasher more often, since we are cooking more.  This may come out to using a little bit more water and energy for the overall increase in cooking capacity.  We also invested last year in an extra freezer, which is energy efficient, but probably contributes reasonably to energy usage.  However, we are composting even more than before, and interestingly, the amount of recycling and trash we generate has really decreased.  We always recycle and reuse if possible.  Interestingly the food challenge has really reduced the amount of recycling we generate and trash.  We figure this mostly has to do with eliminating the packaging that is included in most food products you can buy at the store.  When you go to the farmer’s market and grocery shop, the packaging is much much less than the packaging you have to deal with when you usually buy things from the normal grocery store, which has copious amounts of packing/advertising built-in to most products.  So, we feel pretty happy about this…. we maybe take the trash out once every two weeks, maybe less now, and recycling has gone down considerably (maybe more than 1/2)…. and our composter is starting to get cranking.  I think those are pretty good changes, and perhaps break even or even better with the relatively small added water and energy usage.

Theresa: I have little to add to the long rant above.  Except that we are making a difference in our own lives that will positively impact the lives of others.  Every time we educate ourselves about a new farm, a new organization, meet new people, develop a new opinion, we are starting a chain of events that might have great impact to someone somewhere.  I think we will be making a difference is we help one farm, or enlighten one person, or support one business.  I think small, small steps, small impact.  It makes life so much more do-able for me, and each small step is a part of a larger movement.  Better to move slowly in the right direction than not move at all because you aren’t going fast enough.  We all can’t be rock stars, because the stars need fans to succeed.

What negative impacts has the challenge had on your lives?

Laura:  Not too many.  At most, we’ve been busier in our free time, and we have to think about our food more often.  At first I was nervous about the whole challenge, but it already feels totally natural, and not nerve-wracking at all.

Theresa:  Coconut Ice Cream!  With chocolate sauce!  AGH!  I miss you sometimes.

Other than my occasional pining for pre-made sweets and pizza (my pitfall), there has been no really obvious negative impacts.  Going out to eat is tricky, and as that is the mainstay of a lot of American social interaction, we might suffer a little.  But, that is why we have JJ, and Cuisine en Locale to save the day!

What are the largest changes in your eating?

Laura: Other than the whole homemade food part, not too much.  We rely upon cow milk a lot more than on soy, rice or oat (though I’m thinking of trying to make some oatmilk soon – just you wait!) milks.  We already ate copious amounts of vegetables before this.  We also are including more animal fats in our diet to make up for using vegetable oils for cooking, and also to supplement our diets with more fat, since we are not getting a steady stream of saturated fats from processed foods.  So, with that said, we are probably eating less fat.  We don’t eat as much ice cream.  But we eat other types of dessert more often now – cake, crumbles, you know.. good stuff.  Not too much other than that.

Theresa:  Less coconut ice cream.  We eat more whole grains regularly, and even when we are eating (presumably) the same food item, we can tell the difference between the local stuff and the store-bought stuff.  Two examples.  The oatmeal we get from Wood Prairie Farm is so rich in soluble fiber that it turns into a congealed round in our bowls, as opposed to store-bought oatmeal which retained some individual grain, lumpy texture when served.  Same with Upinnigil Flour.  You can just see the extra fiber in there.  Our desserts are also becoming more a part of our nutritional diet each day.  I know, there are those who think you can’t eat dessert every day, you’ll gain weight.  I’ve calculated out our calorie intake for the day, and, given the way we eat, we actually need dessert to have a healthy, 1800 to 2000 calorie diet.  This may seem high to a lot of women, but I’ll tell you a secret.  I’m losing weight. While eating dessert.  Think about that for a while.

What will you do after the local year?

Laura:  After this year, we will have a really good idea of where to get really great local products, and the easiest way to procure them…. therefore this year’s ‘homework’ will probably make it a lot easier to eat locally after the challenge is done.  We will be a little more lax…. allow us to get some specialty items like almonds more often than not.  And maybe we’ll eat out a little more.  Other than that, I think we’ll be sticking to this lifestyle.  Like Barbara Kingsolver’s family in “Animal Vegetable Miracle” I doubt we’ll be celebrating the end of our challenge with moon-pies.

Theresa:  Celebrate with coconut ice cream.  Seriously, though, not much.  We’ll probably go back to eating 90-95% local, and indulge in some hippy-healthy treats like almonds, peanut butter and the occasional avocado.  However, ten months from now, we might not want them.  Ask us again later.

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7 Responses to How are we doing? Food Challenge Frequently Asked Questions.

  1. Lorraine says:

    In terms of making an impact, I think about the impact that Henry David Thoreau had when he went to Walden to live deliberately. We know he did it for himself, but because he shared it by writing he influenced others.

  2. Dad says:

    You guys are doing great. I’m sooooo very proud and happy for you both. I’m looking forward to Sept and being able to sample your extrodinary foods. I want you to know that your blog has become a highlight in my day. I am able to live vicariously through you and you certainly motivate me to eat better! Keep up the great stuff…love Dad

    • Hi Dad-
      Can’t wait to see you too! You’re going to be coming at a great time, you know. It will be the nearly the end of tomatoes, peaches, watermelon, etc. and the start of apples, winter squash and root vegetables. Its a great time of year! Thanks so so so much for the encouragement, it means a lot to us!

      If you have any other questions, throw them our way, we love to answer!

  3. Dad says:

    extraordinary …

  4. P Smith says:

    Could you explain the “slot” system or link to the post where you did that?

    • Hi Phillip (?)-

      Go up to “Our food challenge”, we explain it there in great detail. But, a food slot is one unit of “unprincipled food”. This means it doesn’t fit all three of our requirements for food, in brief: local/seasonal, sustainable/humane, local/small business. If a food fits two requirements, we get two units of food per ‘slot’. If it fits one requirement, we get one unit. If it fits none, we do without. A unit of food is one unit of sale: a bag of sugar, a pound of rice, a bottle of vinegar, etc. We have given ourselves four slots per week, with rollovers. That’s it!

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