Are you locally challenged?

Originally published in the Rutland County Express on Nov. 7, 2011.

In a recent edition of Kris Smith’s “Market Watch” column (appearing every Tuesday i n the Rutland Herald), Kris explained the accidental localvore phenomenon. That is, when your buying habits have become such that a given meal is locally sourced by circumstance rather than intent.

I’ve been there: reaching into the fridge, pulling out and preparing some veggies, meat or whatever and suddenly realizing halfway through the meal that it’s entirely local. It’s good feeling — not like a pat-yourself-on-the-back sort of thing, but more like, “Hey, isn’t it cool that I was able to buy all this stuff locally, from people I know and from farms I have been to?”

So maybe that feeling doesn’t resonate for everyone. I’m sure most people don’t put that much thought into what they eat. I would also, more provocatively, posit that this lack of connection to what we eat is why our food system is so broken, and why Americans are so unhealthy.

Often when we buy local, we are quick to point it out — a sort of pride that depending on the audience can be received as somewhat smug. I myself have been guilty of this from time to time.

A cheese plate is a political act. Potluck dinners become competitions to see who is more local. (FYI, don’t play this game in Shrewsbury; you will always lose. The folks up there are localvore Jedis — without any of the smugness, I might add.)

In these moments, I am also reminded of my mother’s nonplussed response the localvore movement. “We were all localvores before you had a word for it.” A lifelong Vermonter, she knew her farmers, her family always had garden that’s just how it was.

Over time, she watched that culture erode as modern convenience and American homogeneity took hold. Now, she embraces this return and is quick to explain the current zeitgeist as a rediscovery of something lost.

In Rutland, we are spoiled by a wealth of opportunities to eat locally. While our restaurants are slowly catching on — props to Roots for raising the bar and, hopefully, spurring on others — the year round farmers’ market, numerous CSAs and area co-ops make it easy. Even the big grocery stores like Hannaford and Price Chopper are increasingly offering more local products.

So with Thanksgiving right around the corner, Sustainable Rutland and the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link are once again holding their annual Localvore Challenge. For the last three years, Rutlanders have been asked to accept this challenge by choosing to source some or all of their Thanksgiving meal from within 100 miles of where they live.

Participants can take either a “Big Bite” (sourcing 100 percent of your meal locally) or a “Small Bite” (sourcing one or two local dishes for your meal or to bring to wherever you will be celebrating).

To help, RAFFL has set up a Localvore Challenge page on their Everyday Chef blog (www.everydaychef.org) where you can sign up and find out where you can receive a special localvore toolkit, which includes recipes and coupons to local restaurants and stores like Roots, Café Terra and the Rutland Area Food Co-op.

On the blog, you will also get all the rules and find out about the wildcard exceptions — don’t worry, spices are OK; as is locally roasted coffee.

One myth often associated with local food is that it costs more. But that’s not necessarily true. As RAFFL says on the Everyday Chef blog:

“ While local food is sometimes thought of as more expensive, in reality food bought directly from farm stands or farmers market is usually priced competitively with bigger grocery stores: sometimes it’s a bit cheaper, sometimes a bit more expensive. It depends on the year, the farm, and a million other factors. Don’t fall into the assumption that local food is too expensive for your budget.”

For proof, check out NOFA-VT’s price comparison study about farmers’ market prices vs. grocery stores at www.nofavt.org/pricestudy.

The Localvore Challenge may not be a challenge for those already living the ethic, but it is an opportunity for all us Saturday morning localvores to see how far we can take it — and how easy it is to get to 100 percent.

And, of course, there’s the added benefit that when you buy from local farms you’re supporting the local economy, local jobs and your neighbor.

Are you up for the challenge? Visit www.everydaychef.org to sign up now.

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