30-Day Eat Local Challenge: June 5

Spanish Rice 2Why I can’t quit now.

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I’ve often said that one can hear the same truth 499 times, 499 ways, and not get it—and sometimes understand it on the 500th.

So it’s not the most catchy saying! I’m workshopping it, okay?

My mother, with whom I’m taking this challenge, sent me a text last night while out searching for cornmeal. She discovered that her popcorn was not local.

I texted back, “Clearly, God does not exist.”

Popcorn is my mother’s only vice. When we did our first wave of shopping for local food, I found that blueberry pepper jelly and she found herself this popcorn. At that point, we each nodded and said, “I think I can get through this.” It was on that fateful Rouse’s run later in the week that I discovered that not all is as it seems. See, you can make a lot of things in New Orleans. Hell, you can make a lot of things in outer space, if you have the time, the raw materials, and the equipment. But you can’t always grow stuff there. And as you’ll recall, the point of the super-strict challenge is to eat food grown, caught, or raised within 200 miles…not made. Or, as the food companies like to put it, “assembled.”

When I got home, I was in a bit of a panic. I went straight to my jar of jelly. I had to know for sure!

Sure enough, right there on the label: MFG & DIST BY PEPPERLAND FARMS.

So far as I have come to understand it (and this may be incorrect), you cannot put a “manufactured in x” tag on your product if the products did not come from there. So, all of the materials on the ingredients list had to have been produced by that company. In other words, my jelly qualifies.

The larger point is this: how many of us really—and I mean really—know where our food comes from?

I know I asked this in the blog post at the beginning of this challenge. However, I didn’t really know! We’ve bought now two or three items, thinking they were local and saying, “Oh yes, easy mode, yay!” only to find out that no, no, no, that vinegar didn’t come here. That xantham gum didn’t come from here. Hell, that celery—part of the New Orleans “Holy Trinity”—didn’t come from here. What I meant when I said, “Clearly, there is no God” is that I’ve lost total faith in anything packaged. I’m now in this almost Portlandia-esque state of inquiry about all of the produce I buy, like, “Can I get a pamphlet about the farm this came from?”

So, last night, I was talking about the challenge, and I said, “Next year, if it’s just going to be all about, ‘Yay, New Orleans!’ I’m just going to do a version of the challenge that includes things assembled here.” That would let me include PJ’s (and CC’s) Coffee, roasted right down the street; several vendors who make everything from bread, roasted in ovens and made with herbs from their roof—however, with imported wheat, even vinaigrettes, dressings, and seasonings all made right here.

The response was, “Well, why don’t you that now?”

To put it simply: I still have something left to learn.

What it is, exactly, I can’t tell you, or I probably would have learned it. But consider that from day 1 to now, I’ve had it beaten into my head again that just because it says it’s local doesn’t mean it was grown there. In the 5 days from the start of the challenge, I’ve soaked my own beans, peeled tomatoes, dried my own herbs—a lot of prep work that most people don’t do anymore. Once, a few years back, I even remember deciding not to make some recipe or another because the tomatoes I had were fresh, not stewed. And while, sure, it can be a bit of a time sink, it’s not really difficult.

I think a lot of people confuse difficulty with inconvenience. Though, admittedly, if you would’ve said to that me a few years ago, “Oh, just stew those tomatoes,” I would’ve looked back with this look on my face like, “Wat do?”

At some point, you have to do something for the first time.

Most of us don’t remember our first steps, but walking is second nature. Yet, nobody teaches most of us how to walk. It’s part of a natural desire of the mind. No one wants to crawl their whole lives. That’s kind of what this. That’s why I won’t quit now. Because it’s like I’m just learning how to walk. Next year, sure, I’ll be all about “Yay, New Orleans!” This year, I’m using the artificial difficulty as a learning experience.

Dinner tonight is relatively familiar. It’s basically the same idea as the Spanish Rice from yesterday (I’m such a sucker for single-pan meals, you have no idea), only this time, we’re doing it right—with actual onions and green pepper! Furthermore, I got adventurous and ground up some homegrown chiles in the coffee mill!

What you see in the picture are the chiles that got ground up and these little purple jalapeños that I found at the French Market. The angle’s kind of poor, but they’re about 1/2 the size of a normal jalapeño. They’re the cutest little things and I couldn’t resist buying them. They had a really fragrant, almost floral odor when I opened them up for seeding. Chances are any flavor they have will be masked in the rest of the ingredients, but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?

I did decide to add some of the beans I cooked on day 1 to the dish just for protein, and I recognize that I haven’t had a leafy green in a couple days now. So tomorrow, I think, we’re going to make kale chips.

The dish is still lacking something. It’s a lot better, and the more I eat, the better it gets; I suspect it’s the slow burn of the peppers, which I really enjoy. However, there’s still a very samey note to the whole dish. It might be the rice-to-stuff ratio, and I also think I’d really just like to throw in some roasted red peppers. Spanish rice should be a cornucopia of colors, and this has some, but not as much as I’d like. I’m pretty sure red peppers aren’t in season right now (at least, I haven’t found any), but when I get a chance to, they’re going in.

Oh, and dinner tomorrow! I’m super excited about it, but I’m not going to tell you what the plan is just yet. However, we pretty much have everything we need, and if it turns out great, I’m going to start inviting friends over on the weekends saying, “See? You can eat great, local!” So, be excited for that!

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