The 100-Foot Diet
I started preparing a large pot of potato leek soup this morning. If all goes according to plan, the soup should be done simmering by late September.
No, there's no problem with my stovetop or my cooking skills. The problem, if there is one, is with my admittedly extreme definition of local ingredients.
Unless you managed to lock yourself in your kitchen pantry for the past year, you will have heard that road-weary foods are out and fresh, local ones are in. Yet, different people have different ways of defining local. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, has said that local foods are those sourced within a 200 mile radius of a store. Nutritionist and author Joan Dye Gussow has defined local more poetically as "within a day's leisurely drive of our homes".
In my case, local foods are those coming from my own backyard, literally. In order to have backyard-grown leeks by September, I'm planting seeds indoors now which will grow into pencil-necked seedlings that I'll move outdoors in May when Maine's winter officially ends and summer begins (for those who haven't been to Maine before, spring comes the second week of May, except for those years when it skips us completely). Once the seedlings are in the ground, they'll need a hundred days before they're ready for the soup pot.
There are certainly easier paths to delicious, local foods than the one that passes through the backyard garden, but none more direct or more satisfying. It is a path, however, that fewer and fewer Americans are willing to tread. According to latest data from US Department of Agriculture, home food production hit an all time low last year and was down a full 20% from the previous year. Meanwhile, despite recent trends, foods in the US have never traveled farther than they do now, over 1500 miles on average from field to fork, using up to 17 more fossil fuels than foods sourced locally.
With the gardening season and climate change both upon us, I am encouraging people who have a little bit of land - be it a vacant lot, a yard, or a well-tilled window box - to use it in the service of their planet and their gastronomy. Last year, a Vancouver couple made the international news by eating a '100-mile diet" for a year. In a globally-warmed world with a growing population, we'll need even more ambitious experiments in local eating in the future and slower interpretations of "slow food".
My goal this growing season is to meet one third of my family's annual vegetable needs through our modest suburban plot. That may not sound like much, but a lot of little kitchen gardens can add up to a small farm in urban and suburban areas where farmland is either not available or affordable.
Now that my leek soup is on the boil, so to speak, I'll soon turn my attention to making pasta with red sauce, starting with a tomato seed order later this week. I'm thinking of trying an heirloom variety called Amish Paste. It takes about 5 days longer to mature than the paste tomato I grew last year, but, heck, I'm in no hurry.
Roger Doiron is founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, a nonprofit network of 3200 gardeners and home-cooks from 80 countries who are working to shorten the distance between people and their food.