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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My Week of Eating Locally -- and What I Learned

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 7:00 AM

Page 2 of 4

Eggs from Live Springs Farm in Carrollton, Illinois. - PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL
  • Photo by Steve Truesdell
  • Eggs from Live Springs Farm in Carrollton, Illinois.

If I'm honest, my extremism is a way to atone for some self-righteous behavior. It began with an article I posted on Facebook in January. Mother Jones had published an exposé on the horrifying conditions endured by laborers in northwestern Mexico, all in the name of unblemished fruits and vegetables for U.S. dinner tables. Horrified, I shared the story with a sanctimonious "this is why we eat local" tagline.

Feeling satisfied with having done my part, I continued to scroll through my newsfeed until I was notified of a comment. An old high school friend had read the article and, looking to me as a food expert, earnestly asked how she could begin to make the shift toward local consumption. I had no idea how to answer her.

Her question, and the resulting realization that I was quite possibly a fraud, prompted me to reach out to DeSmet and his colleague Tom Flood, Schlafly's properties and sustainability manager.

"So, how does one eat local?" I ask, notebook in hand as if prepared to jot down a few bullet points.

DeSmet and Flood smile in the way I imagine Albert Einstein might have done upon being asked, "So, tell me about this gravity thing." Their answer is probably as complicated.

"What do you mean by 'local'?" Flood asks. "Are you talking about within Missouri or 150 miles? Or 300 miles? Is organic important to you? Sustainability? Antibiotic-free and humanely raised meat? If you want local, are you OK that it's not necessarily organic?" Head spinning, I leave our lengthy conversation more muddled than when we began.

Brian DeSmet, Schlafly's farmers' market and garden manager. - PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL
  • Photo by Steve Truesdell
  • Brian DeSmet, Schlafly's farmers' market and garden manager.

That two pillars of the St. Louis slow-food scene cannot clearly define what is meant by "local eating" should have tipped me off that I'd be in for a rough week if I stay the extreme course I've charted.

Still, I refuse to concede defeat this early. Even if it is well past lunchtime and nothing in my house adheres to my self-imposed rules, save for more eggs.

I bitterly make my daughter a grilled cheese sandwich, the scent of Irish butter and California sourdough almost too much to bear. "I'll get to Local Harvest after her nap," I assure myself and guzzle a large glass of water.

Then the caffeine headache sets in.

Anyone who has experienced withdrawal knows exactly what I mean. Irritability is Stage I, where it's the end of the world that you can't find the remote control. For me, this hits sometime around noon.

Stage II begins around 3 p.m. as a generalized fog, like someone has wrapped my head in a pillow. By the time I reach the icepick-in-eyeball headache that defines Stage III, I have two choices: coffee or medication.

"This is asinine. Why am I doing this? I'm just going to grab a cup and not tell anyone," I grumble.

I resign myself to be true to my craft until my toddler has a 90-minute nap-fighting meltdown. It's more than I can bear. Starving, fiending like a junkie and completely at my wits' end, I strap her into the car seat and drive straight to Starbucks.

Minutes later, flakes of buttery pastry still on my lips, I look at myself in the rearview mirror with intense shame. I can't bear to go into Local Harvest at this point. They'll smell the corporate coffee on me.

I have another egg for dinner.

With a belly full of — surprise — scrambled eggs, I head to Local Harvest the next morning to pick up provisions. Clearly, people who post photos on Instagram of Missouri's rainbow cornucopia of fruits and vegetables do so in August, not May. My choices are greens, greens, meat, dairy and greens. Oh, and mushrooms — basically the low-sodium Atkins diet.

"Yeah, you get into February, and it's pretty scarce," Maddie Earnest concedes. "You're just standing there depressed, looking at a bunch of old sweet potatoes and onions."

A social worker by trade, Earnest opened Local Harvest eight years ago (with partner Horine) to be St. Louis' source of local, sustainable and humanely raised produce, vegetables and staples. Quite the locavore cheerleader, Earnest walks me through the store, pointing out all of the surprising foodstuffs I can eat during my challenge.

"Look at this milk," she says, pointing out one of the store's new products: a yellow-hued jug of local, hormone and antibiotic-free raw cow's milk. "I just scoop the cream off of the top and eat it. My son wonders how anyone can eat that much cream. I can." She gives me some Missouri pecans and walks me around to the St. Charles honey and sorghum.

Next: Contemplating the locavore dream in a global economy.

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