Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Big Lie

It has been an enormously, ridiculously, embarrassingly long time since I have updated this blog, so let me catch you up to speed.  Our 100 mile dining experiment has been chugging along without a hitch - mostly.  Once we perfected our meals, there was not much to do but prepare them on high rotation ad nauseum, which made this diet quite easy, if boring.  “What would you like for breakfast, Dear, eggs, a smoothie, or rice?”  (We have prepared the rice like oatmeal with honey, milk, pecans, and dried fruit.)  The breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner choices have rarely changed in six weeks.  If you’ve ever wondered how much sweet potato souffle a person can eat, I’ll tell you that I tired of it after about four weeks.  Right now, I don’t care if I ever see another sweet potato again.

I will also tell you that there is nothing quite like the surprise of a new food choice on Saturday morning.  Most recently, one of our favorite farmers greeted us with this news, “I’ve got asparagus for you this week.”  Asparagus!  How wonderful!  I wouldn’t care if she had some local prunes.  Something different, anything different, is a delight.  But I actually like asparagus, so all the better.  Unlike my lifetime of grocery store experiences, which have occurred under harsh florescent lights and are marked by anonymous exchanges of plastic cards for unlimited “foods” wrapped in plastic bags, trips to the farmers markets each week are rewarding because of both the familiar faces and the unexpected surprises you are sure to find.  Our favorite market at Atherton Mills opens its large roll up doors in nice weather and welcomes dogs too.  There is even a vendor who makes local dog biscuits and dog care products.  Some of our most recent finds have included fresh apples (instead of dried apple rings) from Waxhaw, broccoli and asparagus from Unionville. and even some tulsi tea from Monroe - each more pleasing than the next.
While I would like to report to you that we have remained pure and true to our diet, I must confess that we did make one addition at the half way point - salt.  Now I’m not going to say that if I didn’t give in to her salt craving Joselle would have given me the boot, but she did really want some salt.  Further, she made a convincing argument that sodium is an important mineral and electrolyte, and that we were not getting enough of it. Though I believe we were not in imminent danger, there is a condition called hyponatremia, to which we might have been susceptible.  It’s hard to know, because it is impossible to find much information on hyponatremia as a result of limited salt in one’s diet.  Western diets present the opposite problem, so most cases of hyponatremia are connected to another diagnosis, like cirrhosis or congestive heart failure.  There were a couple of other factors that weighed into our decision.  In answer to our question about whether a 100 mile diet is possible in Charlotte, NC in the long-term, a resounding yes, but with the caveat that salt would have to be added and food would need to be stored to offer year-long variety.  So adding salt made our diet more realistic.  Finally, we got our hands on some greenhouse tomatoes from time to time, and what a difference a few shakes of salt made!

So about that big lie...  In late February, Joselle found some local pico de gallo at the farmers market.  The pico was actually the result of a lengthy conversation with the proprietor of a particular stand, during which they eliminated many of his other offerings.  But he assured her that his pico had no salt, sugar, or vinegar, and that the veggies were locally sourced, most from that very market.  By itself, the pico de gallo was not much to write home about, but it was a magnificent addition to our scrambled eggs.  Though we have enjoyed this combination for weeks, it has bothered me that this vendor does not list the ingredients on his containers.  (Isn’t that a no-no?)  This Saturday, to satisfy me, Joselle asked him again what was in the pico.  This time he recognized us but did not recall our quirky diet, so he told us about the lime juice.  Lime juice!!!  <Insert many, many expletives here.>  When he realized his error, he actually attempted to make light of the situation, making a joke about the local limes.  In addition to the blatant dishonesty, he denied us basic information about what we were putting in our own bodies.  Though the traditional industrial food system omits information regularly (think GMOs), we expected better of our neighbor.  Lesson: A huge limitation of our experiment is that we are relying on information from others, which, intentionally or not, is not always accurate.
“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.” Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Fine Print

When I wrote my research proposal last semester, I attempted to anticipate occasions when departing from the plan would be appropriate.  These exceptions, included in my proposal, are listed below:
  • If we were unable to find a reasonably balanced diet within 100 miles, we could expand our local range - first to 150 miles and then to 200 miles - to meet our basic dietary needs.
  • We could also extend our local range in the same manner to accommodate our preference for organic produce.
  • On Valentine's Day, we would treat ourselves to dinner at the Harvest Moon Grille, a restaurant that serves food grown within 100 miles of Charlotte.  We would not obsess over the details, such as whether the food was cooked in non-local oil or seasoned with non-local spices.
While our diet has lacked variety and expanding our mileage slightly would score us apples, peanuts, and peanut oil, we have opted to maintain the 100 mile radius.  However, on two occasions we have inadvertently strayed.  Both times we were shopping without a detailed map to show each and every small town within 100 miles, and we purchased food from vendors 115 miles away, even though we could have found the items (dairy and sweet potatoes) within the 100 mile range.  Oops!

The good news is that we have found eating within 100 miles to provide a reasonably balanced diet.  And, although we still prefer organic produce, we have been satisfied with the farming methods described to us by the farmers we have encountered.  Some are certified organic.  Many use organic methods without going through the hassle and expense of certification; others say they use low spray methods.

However, you can bet your sweet potato that we did enjoy a most scrumptious dinner at the Harvest Moon Grille for our Valentine's celebration.  We were only a few days into the 100 mile experiment, and it was just the boost our spirits needed.  Our charming waiter Pete took exquisite care of us, and owner and head chef Cassie Parsons was both interesting and interested in our experience.  As suspected, most of their food comes from a 100 mile radius, much of it from within 40 miles, but the restaurant does use oils, spices, coffee, and chocolate that are non-local.  We were forced to enjoy all of the above, as the three-course Valentine's meal included everything from soup through dessert.  My main course was rabbit ragout without the rabbit - pasta with a savory tomato and carrot based sauce.  I highly recommend it!

We have made one exception that I did not anticipate.  I was invited to attend's National Leadership Summit in Minneapolis February 24-27, which was an opportunity not to be missed.  I easily decided that packing a suitcase full of local North Carolina food was not going to work, nor would I have time to source and prepare local food from Minnesota.  This required us to suspend our 100 mile experiment for a few days, and the simplest solution was to extend our end date by a few days to make up the difference.

While in Minnesota, my menu options were limited to the food provided at the conference and available in the airports.  But I did consume ice cream, pizza, chocolate, and coffee during my trip.  I'm not going to lie, the ice cream was really good.  But, overall, I did not find any of the food particularly wonderful with two exceptions.  The caterer prepared a delicious eggplant dip that rocked my world.  Also, the group had dinner out at Gandhi Mahal, an Indian restaurant owned by a Bangladeshi man.  That is the meal I will fantasize about for the remainder of our 100 mile challenge.

While I was away, Joselle suspended her diet too.  She indulged in some of her favorite junk foods, like potato chips, ice cream, chocolate, Papa John's pizza and cinnapie, but found that they were just not as delicious as anticipated.  Bummer.  The oranges and apples did not disappoint, however, and she savored every bite.  She also attended a cooking class at Harvest Moon Grille.  The single most exciting thing that happened over the weekend was that she found dried peaches, more pecans, and, most importantly, fresh greenhouse grown strawberries at the farmers market.  Hello, Smoothies!