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For the fifth year, Edible Santa Barbara along with the Community Environmental Council, the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market and the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County sponsored the Eat Local Challenge, which encourages people to take a personal pledge to eat and drink local products for the month of October. The challenge is a great way to encourage people to think about where their food comes from and to perhaps change the way they shop and eat.

By Krista Harris – editor and publisher of Edible Santa Barbara

As the editor and publisher of Edible Santa Barbara I tried to participate in the challenge as fully as possible during the entire month. Parts of the challenge were easy for me—shopping at the farmers market, seeking out local food and asking questions at restaurants. But there were times, such as travel, plane rides, and hotels, when the “Challenge” really was a challenge. Often, the most thought provoking part of the experience was defining for myself what was local and how far I was willing to go, or to what extent I would make exceptions.

From the start, I knew I would make some exceptions. Rather than do without certain foods I was willing to find a somewhat local compromise, such as locally roasted coffee instead of locally grown and roasted coffee. I was also willing to overlook certain ingredients such as baking powder, spices and sugar in locally-made baked goods. But I was also eager to find local alternatives whenever possible. One of our writers, Nancy Oster, gave me salt that she made from local ocean water and I used pink peppercorns that were locally foraged in my pepper grinder.

I think that many people, when starting the Challenge, focus their energy on where to source their food. If you aren’t used to growing some of your own food, shopping at the farmers market, or looking for local products, that in itself is going to be the core of the challenge. And that’s precisely why we think doing this Challenge is a great exercise in flexing our “eat local” muscles.

But at the real heart of the Eat Local Challenge is a focus on cooking from scratch. Processed and mass-produced food is not local food. Typically, it’s only raw ingredients that are available locally. Much as we love our locally crafted jams, pickles and condiments, we are going to need other food to make a meal. We are going to buy or grow a lot of produce. We are going to have to pick up some fresh, raw seafood or meat. Frozen foods, canned foods and little individually packaged microwavable meals are not going to be part of eating locally.

Luckily I love cooking from scratch and already cook that way. So the past month didn’t see me change much about the way I cook or the meals I made. True, I did miss making some easy and delicious things like risotto and soba noodles, but there were plenty of other options to keep me satisfied for a month.

For me the real highs and lows of eating locally came when eating out. I can’t stop thinking about two extraordinary meals that I had during October. The first was the Wild Game Dinner at Zotovich Cellars in Lompoc. Winemaker Ryan Zotovich hunted and caught the seafood and game as well as cooked the multicourse meal that was served with his exquisite wines. We had spiny lobster, urchin, quail and venison. It was truly a showcase of what is available in Santa Barbara County.

The other dinner was our Edible Santa Barbara Supper Club at Sama Sama Kitchen. You wouldn’t expect a restaurant known for Indonesian to serve some of their more exotic dishes with entirely local ingredients, but that’s exactly what they did. Instead of rice they used wheat berries from Shepherd Farms. Naturally the produce was local, but so was the seafood and the beef. Even the coffee was locally roasted from Handlebar Coffee. It was all beautifully paired with Telegraph Brewing Co.’s beer and wines from Casa Dumetz.

The challenges of eating out came mostly when I took a short trip to Washington D.C. Although in a strange circular irony at a cocktail party here in Santa Barbara I wasn’t able to eat the crab cakes because the crab was from Maryland. While in Washington D.C. I was not able to order the crab from one restaurant because the crab was from Asia.

Even though I took some local snacks on the plane, none of the beverages available were local. And when you’re traveling there are those inevitable meals at hotels or museum cafés where there’s little to no information on where the food is from.
I didn’t get overly concerned about any of this, though. To me, the Eat Local Challenge was about awareness more than perfection. Thinking about what I eating was the interesting part. It’s also about appreciating what you find. At one point in Washington D.C. we found a local coffee roaster, and I had one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had there. Stepping into M.E. Swing’s Coffees (roasting since 1916) right across from the White House on a freezing cold morning was a heart-warming experience.

In that sense, the Eat Local Challenge was an utter and complete success. Appreciating what we have here in Santa Barbara and beyond is the rewarding part of the journey.

On November 1st, my pantry was much the same—filled with local ingredients. You’ll still find me picking lettuce and herbs from my Tower Garden, picking up my CSA share from Fairview Gardens, shopping at the farmers market and picking up local products all over town. I might, though, have a heightened sense of appreciation for all this. And I have to confess, I’m looking forward to making a nice porcini risotto and eating some fancy imported cheese.

Many thanks to all of you who participated or followed along with the Eat Local Challenge this October!

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