I have to start with a confession. Up until very recently, I haven’t thought much about where my food came from. Over the last six years my fiancé and I have taken turns being students, with him finishing up a PhD and me completing a post-graduate diploma. My only thought about the food we ate was if it was relatively nutritious and if it fit into our very tight budget.
Now that we’re both working and can put a little more thought and income into our meals, I’ve been trying to put more effort into eating better quality and better sourced foods. But man, it’s hard sometimes. I found myself getting stuck in a routine where I visited the same big-name grocery store every weekend and never ventured out of its aisles. So I decided to force myself to only eat and shop local for a week to get out of my comfort zone and explore the amazing food and produce right on my doorstep.
Before starting out I had to set some ground rules. Firstly, I was not setting myself this challenge so I could be wasteful, so items that were already in my fridge or my pantry were fair game. But any new foods I bought or consumed this week would be from small, local businesses, and any produce would be locally grown – which means grown within my home province of British Columbia.
Also, coffee was still going to happen. I’m committed to going local but I need to survive the week.
Farmers’ market day!
Okay so here comes another confession. I’ve been to many farmers’ markets, but never to do actual grocery shopping. I thought of farmers’ markets as places you go to on lovely sunny weekend mornings, wandering aimlessly around while checking out crafts and maybe buying the odd baked good to snack on for lunch. I usually never bought more than a fancy cup of coffee and a trinket or two.
But this time, I was prepared. I came with a list and hit up the fruit and vegetable stall, not really knowing what to expect or how much of my list I’d be able to check off. Would I be able to find what I needed? Did all this stuff grow locally? Would I have to change up my whole grocery plan?
I was shocked and thrilled and how much local produce I found. I found almost everything on my list within the first 15 minutes, and not only was it all grown in B.C., it was mainly grown just down the highway from me in Abbotsford. How did I not know so much could be so local?
And the prices were reasonable! It was comparable to what you would find in a big grocery store, but the food looked more…real. The carrots still had dirt on them, the apples weren’t polished and didn’t have little stickers on each one, and the onions were teeny tiny. So, this is what actual food looks like!
My market haul. Not bad for a newbie.
My week of local – Day One
I started my first day with some lovely bread I picked up from the farmers’ market and homemade raspberry jam – a gift from a friend who came over the day before. There’s really nothing like fresh, homemade crusty bread is there? Yum!
Dinner was chock full of the wonderful vegetables we found at the market: a stir fry with kale, red pepper, carrots, and local beef. It was delicious! I couldn’t believe how good everything was and at such a decent price. Over dinner, I told my fiancé: “I think people are onto something with this whole eating local food thing! It’s like you get better quality for the same price or something…”
Day one meal! And mighty delicious it was too.
The next day I had some more of the fresh bread and topped it off by frying up one of the local eggs. It was so easy and delicious I ended up having this as breakfast for the next three days!
I picked up a lot of broccoli at the market, so I made a broccoli and carrot soup for dinner and we had juicy fresh blackberries for dessert. It was one of those meals that just makes you feel great afterwards. After only two days I was really enjoying having all these wonderful healthy meals without sacrificing taste at all.
Broccoli and carrot soup with homemade rye bread. Nom nom nom.
The following day was a bit of a cheat day. My uncle and his partner dropped into Vancouver for a surprise visit and wanted to go for Thai food, so I obliged. It was delicious, but I didn’t poke my head into the kitchen and I’m pretty sure those ingredients weren’t local. It wasn’t part of my plan but hey, some things you just do for family. The rest of my meals were leftovers or from my stock of local supplies though!
We were running low on a few things by this point so I decided to explore some of the local shops around my work that I’ve been curious about, but shamefully never stopped in to. It was a great test of my willpower as I had an appointment right next to my usual big-name grocery store and could have very easily stopped in there and picked up everything we needed. But no, I turned around and went on an adventure.
And as it turns out, all those places I’ve walked by so many times before are AMAZING. Wonderful fruit and vegetable stalls (with B.C.-grown produce!) and the delis. Oh, the delis. I went into one that was a veritable cornucopia of meats, cheeses, and antipasto. I was almost overwhelmed by the choices and how good everything looked! And feeling very silly about all the missed opportunities I had to discover it before. Think of all the cheese I could have been eating…
Pictured at right: a small sample of the deli deliciousness I’ve been missing all this time.
As we were getting close to the end of the week I also picked up some local beer and wine, which wasn’t hard at all because B.C. is very, very good at making beer and wine
It’s Friday! We wanted an end-of-the-week treat but we’re still sticking with local, so we made homemade pizzas! I used this recipe for focaccia pizza dough, which is one of my favourites. I set up the dough in the morning before I left for work and came back to this lovely, bubbling mess of pizza potential.
Some of the farmers’ market vegetables were on the verge of going off, so we thought using them up in pizza would be a good idea as they don’t have to be the freshest to still taste good. We had pizza with local kale, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, and wonderful olives, meats, and cheeses bought from a local deli. We paired it with very local Steamworks beer (which is about ten minutes from out house). So local. So yum.
The finished products! At left: zucchini, kale, and onions. On the right we have tomato, spinach, olives, and pancetta. Neither lasted long.
I noticed we were running low on local breakfast items, so I whipped up a batch of this gingersnap granola on Saturday morning. After our usual Saturday run around doing errands I put my fiancé in charge of making dinner.
We found a rogue chicken breast in the freezer so we decided to use that up by making chicken burgers, topped with local kale and Okanagan tomatoes. We also used the potatoes and green onions we bought last week at the market to make a very nice and simple potato salad. It wasn’t anything fancy, but the ingredients were so good and still tasted so fresh it was very delicious.
Still supporting that local brewery don’t you worry!
So it turns out my final day of eating local was also Thanksgiving! I accepted an invite from a family friend for dinner and wasn’t going to micro-manage her ingredients, so I think my week of eating local ended at about 8 p.m.
I enjoyed my lovely gingersnap granola for breakfast though, and finished off the broccoli soup from earlier in the week for lunch. It was great to have healthy food ready to go in the fridge as I knew a big hefty meal was coming that evening.
So all in all I made it (almost) a week of eating local!
What I learned:
Eating local is delicious
There was definitely an increase in the quality and flavour of the food we ate this week. That being said I chose a pretty great time to do this with so many things being in season, but I was still surprised at how much choice and variety there was and how much more flavourful the local produce was.
Eating local makes sense (and cents)
At the start of the week I thought this was going to be an expensive one. We buy middle-quality groceries and try to be as frugal as possible, so I thought we might have to suck it up and spend a little extra in order to complete this exercise. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong! The cost of local produce wasn’t any more than we usually find in big-box grocery stores, and the quality was much better. It’s like it makes fiscal sense and is logical to shop local, as well as being better for local famers and for the environment. I’m seeing a lot of win here.
Eating local is fun!
It was really fun to get out of our usual routine and explore new places to find food in our neighbourhood. I had a reason to discover new, local, amazing shops that I would never have gone into otherwise. It also gave me a reason to meet new people and local vendors, who are a great community of people who are passionate about what they do and are so very knowledgeable.
Markets are closing up for winter soon, but I’ll be searching around to try and find some winter markets and keep shopping local well into the snowy seasons. And I’ll definitely be buying more than just coffee.
About The Author: Caitlin Woods-Rotering is a writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her loves are reading, tea-drinking, and watching cute dog videos on the internet for far longer than she should.