The Feast Nearby, by Robin Mather. On the front cover it says, "How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)."
Mather, a food journalist (and now senior associate editor at Mother Earth News), moves to her 650-square foot lakeside cottage in Michigan. Her book chronicles a year of change and eating local, with essays that not only tell her story, but cover food issues and offer some great recipes. (And hey, she spins and knits, too.)
I first became aware of the local food movement when I heard a radio interview with Barbara Kingsolver about her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I read it several years ago, and was impressed--eating local is not easy, and she did so for a full year.
We 21st century Americans are used to having access to any food we want, any time of the year. Bananas from South America don't exactly leave a small carbon footprint on the way to my door in Colorado. Eating only what's in season for your region, raised nearby, or has been canned from local produce the summer before is a huge challenge.
We try to buy local whenever we can, especially through the summer at the local farmer's market. Our small grocery store often has local produce and foods available. And we seek out opportunities to support local farmers.
Our Thanksgiving turkey was raised right up the road. He came from Long Shadow Farm, where we picked him up on the Sunday before the holiday from Kristen and Larry Ramey. They raise turkeys, chickens, and lambs, and sell produce and delicious canned goods. They have a booth at the farmer's market in the summer, and I relish the opportunity to pick up a few roasters or stew hens, and their locally grown produce.
And gracing our dinner table at Christmas we had home canned applesauce, pickles, and jams, and local wine from Blue Mountain Vineyards. (It was very nice wine. We'll look for it again.)
Not only are we supporting small, local businesses, and reducing our carbon footprint, but the food and wine was delicious, and a welcome addition to our meal. And I think that value is sometimes overlooked--that beyond the ecology and environmental benefits, eating local is richly satisfying.
Reading Mather's book, the simplicity of processes and the personal connection she has with her food is appealing. Our turkey was raised, handled, and processed by the people who sold him to us. The food we canned, the wine we drank, the honey on our table and the cream on our pumpkin pie seem more... personal, and somehow enriched, when we know its origins.
When Mather writes about buying meat from a local, small butcher, or cheese from a local dairy, or when I dip honey from a jar that was filled just down the street, there is a sense of community that surrounds the food and the meal. And community and food are a natural culinary pairing.