Food…We hear a lot these days about buy local. Yet, 15 years ago, it was all about buying Organic. How thinking changes. Today, as the Corona virus crisis unfolds and depends, eating local may be the only option available in the coming months.
A month ago (before we were even thinking about the current situation) i decided to test the theory of buy local. Most people when they talk about buy local, mean support your local shops, boost the local economy. They are not thinking seasonal, or what is actually produced locally.
This diet is something i have thought about for over a year, but when i started vocalising my idea to my friends it had to become a reality. So after a lovely whole food lunch with friends, followed by tasty tea and cake, I woke up the next morning and said today is the day.
Sat 22nd Feb I woke up and was on a mission to see what food was available and how local it could be. I wanted to start with what was available to eat within 2 miles, then spread out to 10 & 20 miles, Wales & then UK.
I am vegetarian and have been for over 30 years, although in recent years I eat local fish, road kill and our own home grown chickens and pork on feast occasions. I was keen to start this diet veggie, but was well aware that February is the start of the hungry gap, with the last of the winter crops, whilst the new season crops only just going in the ground.
So what did i have…
Winter veg in store… A few crates of potatoes, onions, garlic, chilli & some squash
In the field… A dozen parsnips, beetroot, a couple of swede and celeriac, herbs.
In the polytunnel…Salad, kale, chard, parsley (not much growth happening in February)
Dry store…Hazel nuts, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, beans
Drinks…herb teas, apple & pear juice.
In the freezer…Pork, chickens, tomato & soft fruit (pork was primarily slow fattened on grass, but the chicken was grain fed, so i wanted to avoid eating the chicken).
We have our own bees but don’t get honey. My neighbour within 2 miles has honey that i used to sweeten the frozen currents.
I wanted to be really strict, so no added extra ingredient. My store cupboards are full of chutneys , jams, pickles, wine, & beer. But all of these have added ingredient not locally produced. Although i could make local vinegar, I didn’t. I could have used honey, instead of sugar. Also locally there is no salt, black pepper, spices, soya sauce or vegetable oil.
So I started day 1. I have been skipping breakfast for quite a while now, sticking to the 8/16 diet of eating for only 8 hours a day and fasting for 16. So skipping breakfast wasn’t a problem. Skipping the 2 cups of tea before leaving the house was a routine i greatly missed. By 6pm i had a massive headache due to lack of caffeine and had to go to bed, this continued for several days. I have since found out there is a Welsh teas grower near Cardiff, Peterston Tea. Amazing, i will be trying some soon.
Day 2 was my first test. I was out teaching and not quite in the swing of being prepared. Having skipped breakfast, and not eaten much the day before, I was feeling quite hungry. I had with me a couple of bits of boiled parsnip and some nuts. I was invited to join XR for their lunch feast. I reluctantly declined. When i stated what i was doing, someone offered me the lovely fruit salad, obviously they had heard the word DIET, rather than LOCAL. As i looked at the fruit salad full of orange, banana, grapes etc, I thought how hypocritical all these people are preaching to everyone else about how they should live their lives. With there well travelled food, plastic wrapped and supermarket purchased.
Meals were a bit random. I just ate twice a day, one meal of soft fruit with a little honey & nuts, and one meal cooked. With no cooking oil and with only sparse indigence, cooking a meal didn’t work. So boiled potatoes, steamed kale, salad, occasionally a parsnip to change it a bit. Rather boring, and left me quite hungry most the time. Squashes were great, so tasty, so large. One lasted me days. Roasted, then made into soup. Although eating it day after day was too much. I would have loved a curry, but we don’t grow the spices. I missed black pepper. I had in the cupboard some Schezwan pepper that i had collected fresh from the tree, whilst visiting Devon, I have a tree on my land but it is not old enough to produce yet, it can also be purchased from Welsh trees. So i allowed myself this treat.
After a while i needed a little extra. Eggs…Since we stopped keeping our own chickens, we normally get our eggs from a free range farm 10 miles away. In summer lots of our neighbours sell eggs, but hens don’t lay much at this time of year. I like poached eggs, nothing extra needed, cooked soft gave a nice bit of liquid to my dry, bland meals.
I got into eating pork quicker than i had planned. This gave me lard to cook with, and put some flavour into everything else. Then i could enjoy Spanish omelette, great for my lunch box. I did try stir frying Kale and onions without oil, and found a little water and keep stirring worked well (is that called saute, i’m not sure). But much nicer with a bit of fat. I really got into using dried tomatoes, lots of flavour, great in steamed or stir fry veg.
I wasn’t short of protein… We have lots of hazel/ cob nuts, which we had spent every evening during January and February shelling, so they were ready to eat. I had plenty of died beans, also grown on our land, I soaked beans and made stews and bean burgers. I also have a large chest freezer full of our home grown happy pigs.
However, I was struggling with enough carbs to keep me feeling full. The 3 crates of potatoes i had stored at the field had been found by rats and were inedible. This left me short, and potatoes were on ration. I was fine without the carbs when i was doing office work or teaching, but 5 days a week i am doing hard physical graft in the field, and i get hungry.
After two and half weeks i had learnt to ignore the hunger and hoped i might even loss some weight, but i was craving a normal meal. I wanted some bread to go with my squash soup. In Machynlleth, 19 miles away, and where i work every Wednesday, there is an Artisan bakery, Rye & Roses, Tom & Jane grow their own grain in the Dyfi valley. I had been looking forward to it for days. But, they had run out of grain, just when i needed it. So i gave in and bought a loaf from Felin Ganol a Welsh mill and grain grower in Ceredigion. 35 miles from me, but further as it had travelled to Mach to be made into a loaf of bread.
I have to say the loaf was a bit disappointing, after waiting so long for it. It wasn’t the loaf that was the problem, it was the lack of butter to go with it.
I hadn’t missed dairy at all, until I had bread. Apart from butter, I normally only had a little milk in tea and some nice Welsh cheese from time to time. I could get local dairy if i wanted it from our friends, when available (8 miles) not for public sale. Dyfi Dairy in Machynlleth (19 miles), they sell cow and goats milk and goats cheese, no butter yet. Racheals Dairy is based in Aberystwyth (27 miles) sourcing their milk from Organic British farms, and selling a wide range of products. But i felt i could do without the dairy for now, especially as i was off the tea.
So I stuck to my very basic diet for a month, sticking as close to home as i could. The further i went from home the more interesting my diet could become. Our local wholefood store, Natural Foods, sells many UK products, I could get Hogmedod’s British pulses and grains, such as beans & quinoa. She also sells UK vegetable oil.
Apparently there is Welsh rape seed oil, but it is not organic, so I wouldn’t buy that. Rape growers use a lot of herbicides.
Apart from the 1 loaf of bread, i stuck to a diet within 10 miles for the whole month. I was able to do this, because i have grown a lot of the produce myself. If i had planned in advance i could have had more to eat. I could have stored apples, carrots and more.
As time takes us past spring equinox and the sun comes out at last, nature rewards us with a bounty of new exciting food to forage. I have had nettles daily, i am about to tap the silver birch to give a sweet treat. The tree leaves will be out soon to add to salads. My crops at the field are coming on too. All the polytunnel crops are growing rapidly now. I have tender seedlings filling ever window sill in the house and the first field crops are going in. Exciting times. I look forward to my seasonal local food plate become fuller and fuller.
To summarise my experience, I feel that if we were to truly eat local, we would be eating seasonally and eating what grows well in in our soil and with our climate. Here in wet Mid Wales with our short growing season, we struggle to grow a lot of crops, but grow good grass. Eating a heavy meat diet (grass fed of course) in winter and more veg in summer is what our ancestors would have eaten. Thank goodness we do have inter-connectivity and global trade, to spice up our plate.
However, it times like this we remember that we also need local food for food security. So support your local farmers, growers and producers not just in crisis, but all year round.