Eat Local Challenge Days 9-11: Going on a three-day bender



The milkfish from Milkfish was my last off-the-wagon meal from my three-day binge


Days: 9, 10, 11
Total meals eaten today: 10
Non-local items eaten: 10+
Vices: Beer, coffee, bread

There are times during the Eat Local Challenge where it's hard to tell if the challenge is about being able to eat local or going out of your way to do so. For over a week, it had become routine to fall into a habit of shopping and eating locally. I've found that meant drinking more water, repeating a lot of the same dishes and snacking less. In a personal sense, it's probably a good thing I'm eating healthy, fresh meals and I can pat myself on the back for helping out the local economy.

In a more social and practical sense, however, things can get complicated. Not to sound like a trailer for a bad romantic comedy, but when you're a hard-core locavore, life sometimes can get in the way. In my case, it meant going from a being a stable locavore and flying off the rails on a three day bender that included breakfast at a deli, two dinners out to asian restaurants and a two-day road trip to a friend's lake house near Bay St. Louis.

OK, so not exactly a re-lapsing rock star in a hotel suite full of illicit drugs and questionable people kind of "off-the-rails", but certainly failing the core principles of what it means to be a locavore, right?

Of course, it's a little more complicated than that.

So to preface it should be noted that many of the reasons that I was so unable to eat more local foods was because of poor planning on my part. Not realizing that Hollygrove was closed on Fridays led to a shortage of breakfast food and wasn't helped by me forgetting to buy eggs at the Crescent City Farmer's Market on Saturday. The lake house trip only complicated things further, leaving my shopping in a limbo for fear that anything would spoil while I was gone.

That being said, not all was lost. I did get my hands on a good half pound of black drum which I coated in my creole tomato wine sauce and basically stewed in the oven, but I completely spaced on taking a picture so you'll just have to believe me. I was also able to make some blueberry fruit leather by just blending blueberries with raw sugar and taking the ensuing liquidy paste and putting in my toaster oven on a low heat. It took longer than expected but the fruit leather I ended up with was absolutely delicious.

Blueberries, raw sugar and a toaster oven is all you need to make fruit leather

It's possible that in most cities and towns across the country, failing to prepare for a three-day weekend and not stocking up on local ingredients can mean settling for a trip to the drive-through or a chain restaurant. Thankfully, I live in New Orleans and instead of P.F. Chang's, I get to try out the Lucky Rooster on Baronne Street in the CBD. In terms of ingredients, I can't argue this was a local meal. I can point out that it's part-owned by one of the owners of Slice and Juan's Flying Burrito and run by a local chef putting a local spin on Asian dishes. But because the ingredients to my dinner (which was pretty great) wasn't local, I had to chalk this up as an "off-the-wagon" meal. And this is where the definition of locavore, to me at least, starts to get muddled.

Surely it would have been better if I had just gone to one of the 30 restaurants participating in the Eat Local Challenge — and, to be fair, I can't offer much of an excuse as to why I didn't — but I don't feel too guilty about it. New Orleanians are blessed to have a rich culinary culture where local proprietors can establish relationships with customers even as they expand into new territory. I'm a big fan of Juan's Flying Burrito (hell, it was even my Mardi Gras costume one year) and was excited to see what the people behind that would do with Asian food. In my mind, a locally-conscious consumer has just as many reasons to go to Lucky Rooster as a locavore has not too.

The same goes with Milkfish, in the Marigny. Ian McNulty wrote about the pop-up Filipino restaurant in last week's Gambit and it was on my mind after coming home from Mississippi and realizing, once again, that I hadn't bought anything to eat. This was another "no-regrets" meal because A) it was outstanding and B) it furthers the argument started by the Lucky Rooster. Here is locally-run restaurant within a locally-owned coffee shop with a locally-trained chef at the helm and a direct product of the local market (or rather, the lack of a local Filipino cuisine market) brought to my attention by a local publication.

Of course three off-the-wagon meals (I had a bacon, egg and cheese bagel from Stein's Market & Deli on Sunday) are well within the parameters of the Eat Local Challenge at my strictness level. But those include all the non-local cheese, crackers, mozeralla, tomatoes and Mediterranean salad I ate at the lake house. Or the coffee and pound cake I had in Bay St. Louis. But that's where the Eat Local Challenge went from fun exercise to tedious chore. Was I supposed to pack a bunch of locally sourced snacks for me to eat? Make my friends only buy locally sourced food for us to share?

It's clear that the locavore movement still has a ways to go before cheap and readily available local foods exist wherever you go. For now, one has to accept that living a locavore lifestyle also means cutting off certain activities from your plans. For now, that's not a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

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