Local Food: A Holiday Recipe That's Better for You, for Farmers, and for Homeland Security

Eat Here Washington, D.C.—Parents, chefs, environmentalists, food business executives, and concerned consumers everywhere are demanding locally grown fare, according to a new book by the Worldwatch Institute. No longer a fad, local food will feature on more holiday tables this year than ever before, as Americans prepare meals of vegetables, fruit, meat, and other ingredients grown and raised on nearby farms, rather than from distant agribusinesses.

In Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, Worldwatch senior researcher Brian Halweil explains that this simple shift in eating habits not only delivers superior taste, but is better for people’s health, the livelihoods of small farmers, and the global environment. It even makes the nation’s food supply safer by reducing the risk from accidental or intentional contamination.

“Eating local is the next frontier in the American diet,” says Halweil. “People everywhere are taking control of their food supply to protect themselves from mad cow disease, heavy pesticide use, agro-terrorism, and urban sprawl. They want to know who grows their food and where it comes from.”

There are many signs that this practice has gone mainstream. The number of farmers markets in the United States has doubled to more than 3,100 in the last decade. Approximately three million people visit these markets regularly and spend over $1 billion each year. At the global level, the largest organized movement to preserve the world’s distinctive food cultures, Slow Food (www.slowfood.com), is growing explosively and now counts over 80,000 members in 104 nations.

In Eat Here, Halweil argues that while this push for “food democracy” is surging, its long term success will depend on moving local food beyond farmers markets. “Farmers markets aren’t enough to secure ‘local’ a viable space in the food market,” says Halweil. “Local ingredients need to show up in school cafeterias, on restaurant menus, and on supermarket shelves.”

Fortunately, some large food companies are already embracing an allegiance to place. Officials at leading foodservice firms, like Bon Appetit (www.bamco.com/website/home.html) and Sodexho (www.sodexhousa.com/index.asp), have started offering regionally-sourced meals to their university and corporate clients. Kaiser-Permanente, the largest health care provider in the United States, is hosting farmers markets at some of its facilities, and the hospital chain is exploring the possibility of sourcing locally-grown produce for its salad bars and serving only antibiotic-free meat in its cafeterias.

Local food can even accommodate the fast food model. Burgerville (www.burgerville.com/bv.html), a chain of 39 fast food restaurants in America’s Pacific Northwest, features a menu nearly identical to that of McDonald’s, but buys the bulk of its ingredients from farmers in Oregon and Washington.

“There’s no reason that big companies can’t source local ingredients,” says Halweil. “When more and more customers demand it, companies will jump over each other to feature farmstead cheeses, heirloom tomatoes, and other products raised nearby.”

Few parents, chefs, and others preparing holiday meals realize how far many of their ingredients may have traveled to reach them. In the United States, food now travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table, as much as 25 percent farther than two decades ago.

Dependence on long-distance food is not limited to the United States. The tonnage of food shipped between countries has grown fourfold over the last four decades. In Norway, the amount of food being shuttled around the nation has nearly doubled just since 1993.

Long-distance travel requires more packaging, refrigeration, and fuel, and generates huge amounts of waste and pollution. “A basic meal—some meat, grain, fruits, and veggies—made from imported ingredients can easily require four times the energy as the same meal made from local sources,” says Halweil.

And there are economic advantages. When shoppers buy locally grown food, they help keep money and jobs in the local economy. In poor inner city areas that have been bypassed by supermarkets, produce raised nearby may be the best hope for fresh, nutritious food. Developing countries that emphasize greater food self-reliance can retain precious foreign exchange and avoid the whims of international markets.

Eating local might also provide the best protection against foodborne disease, genetically modified foods, and other hazards introduced intentionally or unintentionally into the food supply.

“Foods enduring long-distance transport and long-term storage encounter all sorts of opportunities for contamination on their journey from farm to plate,” says Halweil. “Security experts acknowledge that our sprawled-out and highly centralized food system is one of the most vulnerable links in our economy. Greater reliance on local food sources is our best defense against large-scale agro-terror.”

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Three Holiday Recipes Featuring Local Ingredients From Blue Hill at Stone Barns

A new book by Brian Halweil of the Worldwatch Institute, Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, describes how more and more people are purchasing their food from nearby farmers rather than long-distance sources. As the market for local food grows, finding it is becoming easier—the number of farmers markets in the United States has doubled to more than 3,100 in the last decade.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns (http://bluehillstonebarns.com/bhsb.html), a restaurant, working farm, and educational center in Pocantico Hills, New York, is part of this growing trend, offering seasonal ingredient-driven menus that connect its diners to the surrounding farmland. Blue Hill co-founder and lead chef Dan Barber shares three recipes below that transform readily available local ingredients into extraordinary, healthy, and fresh holiday fare worth remembering. Ingredients in these recipes that should be readily available at your local farmers market or at grocers carrying local product lines are marked with an (*).

Brined, Roasted, and Baked Turkey with Its Own ‘Gravy’

For the cure:
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1/2 cup + 3 T sugar
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme*
7 cloves

1/2 T whole allspice berries, cracked
1/2 t juniper berries
one 14 lbs turkey (humanely raised, organic, local)*
1/2 lbs butter, softened*
salt and pepper

In a large stockpot add two gallons of water and all the spices. Bring to a simmer and remove from the stove. Cool liquid completely. Add turkey, breast side down, and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Drain the next morning and let turkey come to room temperature. Carefully separate skin from the breast meat and rub softened butter on to breast. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Set the turkey, breast side up, on a rack of a large roasting pan. Tie the legs together with kitchen string. Roast for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cover turkey loosely with tin foil. Roast for about 3 1/2 hours, or until the thermometer inserted into the inner thigh registers 150 degrees. Transfer turkey to cutting board. Let stand for at least 45 minutes to cool down. Remove legs and thighs, careful to not take too much skin with you. Place thighs, skin side, on a roasting pan and continue cooking, 40-45 minutes or until juices run clear. Separately slice breast and thigh and plate while still warm.

Gratin of Sweet Potatoes

2 ounces butter*
1 lbs Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored and sliced 1/4 thick)*
1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes (cut into rounds)*
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

white pepper, several turns on a mill
grated nutmeg, a big pinch
1/2 cup cream*
1/2 cup milk*
1/2 cup Panko or fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a non-stick pan, melt butter and sauté apples until caramel colored. Put the potatoes in a bowl and season with salt, cinnamon, and pepper and nutmeg. Pour over the cream and milk and mix well. Butter a deep dish (10 inches or so) and alternate layers of potatoes and apples, starting at the bottom with potatoes. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Turn heat to 500 degrees. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and return gratin to oven until bread crumbs are brown.

Brussels Sprouts

4 cups brussels sprouts, cut in half*
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a cast iron pan. Glaze with half the oil and heat gently. Add half the brussels sprouts, cut side down, and gently brown. Place in oven and roast for 4 minutes. Turn sprouts over carefully in the pan and deglaze with 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. Coat the sprouts fully (there should be no excess vinegar in the pan) and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside on warm plate. Repeat with the other half of sprouts.

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