One of the most exciting pieces of food news this year is that "locavore" has been knighted "word of the year" by the Oxford University Press. However, I absorbed the concept of the Eat Local Challenge before I did "locavore," which, in all honesty, I thought had something to do with the phases of the moon and the lycanthrope society. (It's possible I've watched one too many Frasiers.)
The first time I heard about the Eat Local movement, it was over two years ago, and since I was still trying to ferret out where to buy my favorite French nut oil, Mexican ginger beer, and New England pumpkin ale, I felt totally overwhelmed.
Did I really need to think about each and every food product that came into my kitchen when I was just starting to find my cooking legs in San Francisco? Of course not. If you give the smallest crap about eating local, it's not necessary to ensure that every food product -- salt, coffee, flour, sugar, produce, meat, Diet Coke -- in your kitchen is from local purveyors. If you give the smallest crap about eating local, you just think about what you're buying and wonder if it's local. Because you care.
That's all you need to do to effect change: start thinking about it. Start caring about it. Then maybe, you'll start acting on it. Frankly, if it hadn't been for Jen Maiser, I'd still be just thinking about eating local and not actually doing anything about it. Not only does Jen blog about eating local at her own site, Life Begins at 30, she's also the editor of the Eat Local Challenge blog and has worked at various farmers' stands at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market.
After my failed first attempt at participating in an Eat Local Challenge, I started following Jen's efforts more and more. Her passionate, yet refreshingly frank and evenhanded writing style drew me in deeper and deeper, and before I knew it, not only was I examining every tag, sticker, and vittles visa at Andronico's, but I was delivering earnest, flushed-cheek diatribes to my Minneapolian parents and sister about why they should think to ask, "Where did this come from?" before they stuck anything in their mouths. It got to the point when my mom was collaring the hapless meat guy at Whole Foods and demanding to know why he was offering her lamb from New Zealand and not from Minnesota.
Jen shares her information widely, energetically, and -- most importantly -- nonjudgmentally. She embodies the sentiment that you don't have to harvest your own coffee beans, dry your own salt, or refine your own sugar to be a conscientious eater, you just need to wonder, "Where?"
In fact, "Where?" is the sentiment of the newest Eat Local Challenge. According to Jen, the next ELC -- set to be unveiled early next year -- is: "a challenge focused on where our everyday foods are sourced from. Instead of challenging participants to eat food from as close to home as possible, we will be asking them to take everyday items that their families eat -- processed foods like crackers and potato chips, mass-produced products, and fast food items -- and try to find out the source of the product ingredients. I think it will be interesting to learn what we can, and can't, find out about our food."
I'm thrilled that "locavore" is being recorded in the annals of history, but without the Eat Local Challenge spurring me to think, question, act, and eat, I have a feeling I'd still be assuming that locavores howled at the moon and stuffed pillows with their own hair.