Friday, May 23, 2008

Good, Not Perfect

Guys, I have to admit that by most metrics, the local food challenge has been something of a failure. I mean, I haven't gone to McDonalds, but I've done everything but. Oh, I know, I know, I just detailed that amazing local meal we had on Sunday. Yeah, here's the thing. Those days? When I eat fabulous local meals and am all warm and fuzzy? They're few and far between.

Most days, I've been a total disaster. You see, because of my job, and because I'm still taking public transit several days a week, I am outside of the house from about 8:00 am to 9:00 pm. Breakfast and lunch are always eaten at work and sometimes dinner. So I'd gotten in the habit of making 3-4 small grocery runs every week at lunch. I'd get some bread for sandwiches, or I'd pick up some vegetables and a bottle of dressing for a small salad I could toss together in our kitchen at work. If I was in the mood to cook, I'd do the grocery shopping at lunch so that I wouldn't have to do it at 9:00 pm at night.  And if all else failed, I regularly bought pasta and a jar of Trader Joe's organic tomato sauce so I could just have spaghetti. 

But if I want to be eating local, all that goes out the window. The grocery stores that are walking distance from my work don't sell too much that's grown within 150 miles, and even if they do, they don't really label anything. Occasionally I see something marked, "California Grown," but California is a ginormous state. I have no way of knowing if this was grown in San Diego, or if it was grown in Eureka. Oh, I know, buying from California is still better than buying from New Zealand, but like ... everything is already all grown in California. I've probably unwittingly eaten "California local" a zillion times because really, if you live in California, how can you not? So to just accept all California produce as local seems like it's cheating, somehow. 

Plus, I think part of the reason people advocate for local food is because buying local often means buying from local family farms. In other words, industrial organic, even Californian industrial organic, is missing half the point. So instead of doing my 3-4 shopping runs a week, I've been pretty much limiting myself to a once a week shopping trip at the farmers' market.

It's been a mess. Because I'm only able to shop once a week, I over buy. I haven't had this much food waste since I did Crunchy's No Waste challenge. But produce, as Barbara Kingsolver reminds us, is not meant to be eaten days and days after it is picked. And if you wait a week, or hell, with some of these veggies, even a few days, they end up going bad. But if I omit buying tomatoes for example, and then I have a craving for rajma on Tuesday, well, I'm screwed. I have to wait until the next farmers' market on Sunday. 

Unfortunately, my good intentions have left me ill-prepared to deal with the matter of feeding myself. I went without bread for a week because the grocery stores near my work doesn't sell local bread. There is a store near my house that does sell local bread, but by the time I got home from work, I never feel like going to the damn store. I finished up the tomato sauce, and have been reluctant to buy more because, well, shouldn't I buy some local tomatoes and make my own sauce? But when the hell do I have time to make tomato sauce? Oh yeah. Last Saturday. The day BEFORE the farmers' market. So, finally, the other night, I came home late, starving, with no (non-rotting) food in the house. I thought I was going to cry. Instead, I picked up the phone and I ordered a pizza. For delivery. (Yes, I picked a local business, not Dominoes, but still.) I started to wonder, have I made the perfect the enemy of the good?

Tonight, as I walked home from the subway, I ran the dinner options in my head. I had some asparagus I'd bought on Sunday that miraculously hadn't gone bad yet, that I really had to deal with tonight or it would definitely be bad. And I had some corn that I had chosen specifically because I suspected corn lasts a reasonable length of time. But ... asparagus and corn isn't much of a dinner. So I decided I HAD to stop by the grocery store to pick up a lemon for the corn (I had used all my local lemons to make lemonade) and some bread for peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. And I thought, maybe they'll have some Winchester gouda or brie and I can eat that too.

First, I headed for the cheese. No Winchester. Okay fine, I thought, I'll just get the bread. I headed to the bread aisle, where, because it was now 9:00pm, the stock of locally baked daily bread was vastly depleted. In fact, the only kinds of bread I could find were rye, sourdough and rosemary olive. None of which go very well with peanut butter and jelly. Okay, it's okay, I told myself. I'll just get a lemon. So I headed to produce, picked up a "California grown!" lemon, and then I saw my beautiful Mexican mangoes. I picked up one, fondled it, put it back down, and almost threw a temper tantrum in the store. Instead, I angrily walked back to the dairy aisle, grabbed a goat cheese made in Sonoma. 500 miles is good enough! Then I stalked back to the bread, and grabbed a loaf of the sourdough.

I headed home and within twenty minutes, I had a meal of roasted asparagus, corn on the cob, and sourdough bread with goat cheese. It wasn't perfect, but I'm done making the perfect the enemy of the good. Tomorrow I will have peanut butter on sourdough, and you know what? Maybe it'll taste just fine.


Green Bean said...

Don't beat yourself up, Arduous! Doing the public transit and working long hours makes it tough. Do you have a CSA option? Then at least the food would be delivered to your door?

Also, you might try making and freezing stuff when you have the time. For instance, make a ton of pasta sauce one afternoon - in all your spare time - and freeze it.

We can only do so much. I've failed Crunchy's plastic challenge but just haven't gotten around to boasting about it yet. It's a start.

Urban (r)Evolutionary said...

Good not perfect. Perfect!
I struggle too. I want to be good, but I can only do that within the constraints of reality, of my life.
Sometimes it's frustrating.
But accepting not-perfect is better then giving up, which sometimes feels tempting.

Anonymous said...

Arduous, you are making the effort. I'm with beans & urban, you are doing what you can with the time you have, that's all anyone can be expected to do.

Prepping & freezing is a great idea, make enough to last you for a month if you have to, refill when you get the odd spare moments.

Soups, sauces, breads, cooked meats all freeze well, when you get the time you can do it, when you don' are doing what you can


EcoBurban said...

Hey, Arduous?? Weren't you the one who told ME not to be too hard on myself in this local challenge? Just being aware and choosing foods closer to home (read: no strawberries from Peru, please!) is "perfectly good"!!

I found a local food buying club that supplies me weekly with local eggs, butter, pancake mix, milk, cheese, coffee, beef, bacon and bread. The bread is frozen, so I buy a couple loaves and throw them in the freezer. Worse case scenario - we eat pancakes and eggs and toast for dinner and the kids are THRILLED. Check around, if we have a food buying club in suburban detroit, there has got to be one TONS Cali! Best part of the food club?? Each week my order is delivered to my house packed in coolers! No shopping (which I hate) and no stress. You are doing great, I admire all that you do!

Anonymous said...

In my fancy-free single days, I hardly ever cooked. Virtually every meal was a take out from some deli or cafe. Farmer's market? That'd entail processing the raw material (i.e., cooking) for myself.

You are like light years ahead! Kudos to what you are doing.

Donna said...

You're doing great! You're shopping at the farmers market every week. Every one of those purchaes helps the local economy. So you supplement in between, who cares!

By the way, one of my favorite sandwiches is PBJ on fresh sourdough. Hopefully, today at lunch you'll become a convert! My other favorite is toasted cheese on sourdough. Or pizza sauce and grated cheese on sourdough. Can you tell I grew up in California?

Anonymous said...

Listen...I count local as the entire Northeast! I'll even take a little Canadian action if no one is looking. (Okay...I am a horrible example, but you get the point.) Instead of stressing about perfection, make a list of things you eat EVERY week and start by finding the closest GOOD sources for those items. Don't skimp on nutrition. After you have tackle the biggies make it a goal to locate a few new sources a week. Perfection is an evil little monkey...don't play with him!

Anonymous said...

I think a PB&J is great on sourdough. Maybe I'm weird. That sounds good right now, actually. Mmmmmm....

Katy said...

I wondered over here from NIM, and I'm glad I did. You have described my worst fear. I also work long hours and getting to the farmers market is not easy with my scheduale, so I have been avoiding "going local." I think you have given me the courage to try it though. Even if its not perfect for a while, at least I will be better!

Theresa said...

I hear you Arduous. I work full time too, leaving at 7:15 am and not home again until 5:30. It's all I can do some days to make supper at all, never mind having it be all local. I've got a gardening happening and have joined a CSA, but there's just no way I'm going to be able to eat completely locally unless I quit my job. If I did that, husband would have to go back to the job he hates and we couldn't afford to live somewhere with land to grow some of our own food. It's such a nasty cycle, and I'm not quite sure how to get off of it. So I do what I can, and learn to do other things in the meantime, hoping that one day I can get out of the loop entirely.

hmd said...

How boring would we all be if we were perfect? Screw perfect. It's about doing what you can.

I always end up overbuying at the farmers market too, but at the end of the week, I throw everything that's leftover in a big pot and make lots of soup. Once it all cooled down, I put in in containers and freeze it for days when I don't have time or to take with me for lunches during the week. Works great and soup isn't a labor intensive deal (ok. my soup isn't labor intensive - I just chop it all up, plop it in the pot and simmer the hell out of it. Always tastes great!)

I'm with the others, PBJ is good on anything. I think the rye sounds good.

And one more thing. You guys have CSAs that deliver? I'd join it in a sec if I didn't have to drive out in the country to get it. I already have to pick up my dairy supplies and I whine about that. Some day...

Leila Abu-Saba said...

Arduous - anybody using public transit in L.A. gets double points for effort. Working full-time? triple. Then you want to eat within 150 miles on top of that? Something would have to go - the transit, the job, or the 150 mile radius. I mean, No-Impact-Man was writing and taking care of his kid for his job - no 8-7 work hours in an office for him.

You are trying it out to see what you can do. Right now the layout of the city, the access to food, and the structure of work in this society are all against what you're trying to do. Good for you for working with the edges anyway.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Exactly. And a lot of the time my schedule is 8am-12am. I have been working myself up to a local food challenge for over a year and just haven't been able to get there.

I had to modify the no-restaurant-food rule for Fix because of near-tears scenes like the one you describe, splitting headaches, and frankly my social life was sucking. I decided that my health and good cheer were worth more than sticking hard and fast to the rule. I could direct more energy to the remainder of the experiment if I gave myself some leeway on that one. (Colin gave me some nice encouragement early on that helped me keep going.)

Something I really like about your blog and I was trying to communicate in mine: there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to any of these things. So so so many people will preach one big shop but that just. doesn't. work. for little single me for food waste and whims. Making changes solo for the environment (or anything else for that matter) is rewarding in so many ways but takes a totally different shape from having a conventional family, pets, and a garden. You know how to get things done: if it were at the top of your priority list to be making elaborate meals every night and having lots of at-home time you would be doing it already. So you make choices elsewhere, like taking PT. (I think this acronym is hilarious, BTW. Here in the big city we call it the bus. the subway.)

Going Crunchy said...

You are doing so awesome!!!! I'm not a locavore yet as I don't see how I can here in the Midwest.
We are meat lite, eat lots of veggies, are growing our own so much more this year and bake lots. We do good just to eat real homemade food, but haven't done local yet.

You are a great lesson in how we should be thinking!

ruchi said...

GB, I've thought about the CSA, but the problem is more that I need a daily farmers' market. Next to my work. I actually like my once a week trip to the farmers' market. Plus you don't get to choose what veggies you get in a CSA box and while that might be okay for some more adventurous cooking types, I barely know how to cook.

Urban Rev, You make a good point. Accepting not-perfect is way better than giving up. And frankly, even though I feel like a failure, I am doing better than I was doing before the challenge.

Molly, yeah, I have to get better at prepping and freezing. I used to keep a couple of homemade "microwave meals" in my freezer for those near-tears moments. I've gotten out of the habit.

Eco Burb, you're right, you're right, you're right. I should follow my own advice. Your local food buying club sounds awesome. All the ones I've seen here are produce clubs, but your club is actually what I need. Hmmm... something to look into.

Cindy W, I still eat out WAY too much. But it's my social life, and if I didn't I'd be pretty miserable. :)

Donna, pizza sauce on sourdough sounds AMAZING. I like sourdough, I just thought PB&J on sourdough was incongrous.

ruchi said...

Orgie, you're right. Perfection IS an evil little monkey. No more trying to be perfect!

Jessica, you're not weird. Maybe I'm weird. ;)

Katy, I'm with you. Let's aim for better!

Theresa, YES. Sometimes it's all I can do just to make myself dinner. Sometimes, I uh choose sleep instead of supper. Let's not talk about that.

Heather, that sounds good. I need to be more adventurous and just dump food in a crock pot more often. I think it will make life easier.

Leila, thanks. That made me feel better.

Megan, you're right. There isn't a one-size fits all strategy. What works for one, won't work for another. Good reminder.

Shannon, sounds like you guys are doing pretty well too! Again let's all remember we're aiming for better, not perfect. :)

Natalie said...

We were trying to "go local" this month too. We settled on "going regional" for now. With kids you really don't have the option of not having food in the house.

I think it's more important to know where your food is coming from, than it is to be strict about the exact mileage that food has traveled. And the more you pay attention to it, the more you'll be able find local sources that meet all of your needs. I'm already much better at it than I was just a few weeks ago.

Meal planning helps too. It's a one-time (per week) investment in thinking about what you'll eat for each meal and all the ingredients you'll need. It's a little trickier when you throw the variables of a farmer's market into it. Still totally doable. The more jammed my schedule is, the more I rely on planning ahead.

BTW, peanut butter on toasted rye (light rye, not the dark pumpernickel stuff) is amazing!

EcoBurban said...

Arduous - I found my local food buying club on Local Harvest's website. It didn't really read like a club, at first I thought it was a store until I went to her site. Check it out, I am tellin' ya, from one working woman to another, food delivery is the BEST!

Tina Cardone said...

I just read your entire archive and am frankly shocked that I haven't popped in before now. You're awesome! I was directed by NIM and CC. This blog is my new replacement for Green as a Thistle. I've been feeling a void, which I realized is because I was lacking the compatriatism of another person living alone. Its very different living by yourself, a lot of adjustments have to be made, especially in the food arena. I love asparagus, but I get tired after eating it with dinner every night for a week. I try to believe Greenpa that I don't need to refrigerate everything, but the peppers just last longer, and sometimes I don't want them in the first two days. Don't despair, there are tons of us dealing with the same issues and its awesome to see you confronting them so bravely!

ruchi said...

Natalie, I used to do the meal planning and you're right. It is a good idea. Maybe I'll go back to it.

EBM, only think I'm concerned about is how they'll deliver it. I don't really want a box of veggies sitting outside of my apartment for hours. Hmmm ... maybe I can find someone to deliver to my office.

Crstn85, thank you. I'm honored to fill Vanessa's shoes. :) I agree with you, it is very different if you are living alone to be doing all of this. See Megan or "Fix's" comment above.

Anonymous said...

When I lived on my own I tried to shop Saturday morning at the market and then cook Saturday afternoon. Basically if anyone tried to organise anything social I told them they were welcome to come over and drink tea and watch me cook. I didn't work such long hours (and I live pretty close to where I work) but I was visiting a sick relative a lot. Time and energy were definitely hard to muster.

I also shared dinners with the man who lived upstairs, because cooking for one sucks a bit, and now we live together. And we had a baby. So cooking for one isn't my problem any more. Cooking with a toddler hanging off my leg is an issue.

Good luck finding your solutions!

ruchi said...

That's a sweet story innercity, thanks for sharing it!!

Sam said...

I could really relate to this post. I was in your shoes about a year ago. Although my work day now is 12 hours/4 days a week its a helluva lot better when I was working and going to school and biking everywhere and carrying everything on my back in glass containers (which is HEAVY) because I had become so paranoid about plastic and its effects. So I had several breakdowns. I am very unforgiving when it comes to myself...but I'm learning to be nicer.

Here are something things I rely on when it gets really difficult for me.
1. premade food. There are many vendors at the farmers' markets (and in buying clubs) here that sell premade stuff that can be microwaved and/or baked. So you can eat local without stressing out.
2. Eating at restaurants. I think you already do this, but my friends are very adventurous eaters so I had to pitch restaurants that were organic/local food friendly by describing how much more varied the meals would be and how much more unusual.
3. I've never done this...but its an idea: hiring a local restaurant school student for pay. It was actually a business idea I was playing around with but the responses were all from pervy sounding guys who wanted me to cook at their place. My idea was to deliver home cooked meals. I might try it after our move.
4. Depending on how your weekends are, do most of your cooking on the weekend and make meals like heather suggested i.e. freezable. It took a while for me to get into the cycle of spending most of one weekend day cooking, but now its easy.

ruchi said...

I've actually been eating at restaurants a lot and trying to patronize ones that served local food. Here I was thinking that was cheating! :)