Can I Commit to Eating Regionally?

As California’s historic drought continues and thousands of acres of farmland are laying fallow, I began to wonder what it would really be like to eat only what grows regionally… eating only what I would drive to purchase if I were buying it direct from the grower. Eating seasonally is on most peoples’ radar now, thanks to the decades since, say, Chez Panisse changed restaurants’ relationships with local farmers in 1971.

But, other factors, like drought and food miles (the distance food travels from where it’s grown to where it’s purchased or consumed) are rising to impact cost and availability of foodstuffs from California’s Central Valley. The food miles impact, also including the resultant environmental pollution and global warming, jumps significantly when imported foods are factored in. states ” Today, the typical American prepared meal contains, on average, ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States.”

IMG_6609Portland Farmers Market at PSU was a in full swing on Sat, and I purchased about 1/3# of fabulous morels at $28/# because I knew I could use them immediately. Mushroom hunters often follow morel sites throughout the state, and these likely came from southern Oregon. Through Jul when their availability ends, they could be picked in other geo-areas throughout Oregon. A very minor food miles impact.

Give some thought to what actually grows in your geographical area seasonally. If I chose to eat only Northwest regionally-grown food, what would I have to eliminate? Tree fruits, like citrus, almonds, walnuts, pecans and apricots grow beautifully in California, but are weak or not recommended in areas of Oregon other than the coastal region which has a longer, hotter growing season. Seafood, aplenty.

If I lived in the Midwest, I’d have summer heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn and beans that have no equal in flavor, though they’re grown in many other areas of the country. Blueberries and cherries do grow in the Midwest; however, the best-closest are in Michigan and Pennsylvania… mushrooms, too. Citrus certainly doesn’t grow that far north. Seafood? Food miles.

Taken one giant step farther, what about olives, olive oil, dates, figs, Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses? Air miles.IMG_6623

Today, pinot noir grapes thrive in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Twenty years from now the forecast is that a then-warmer region will be ideal for now-California chardonnay.

With big changes in water availability and fundamental shifts in what can be grown in a given region, the conversation is relevant.

Thinking through the idea of eating regionally is worth spending a few minutes on. What changes am I willing to make before change is imposed upon me?



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