Eat Local Challenge Days 18, 19 & 20: Throwing in the towel



A new staple to my diet: beet lemonade from the Crescent City Farmers Market

For the month of June, I will be chronicling my participation in the Third Annual New Orleans Eat Local Challenge. Every day, I will post about all the meals I had the day before and the ups and downs of trying to eat only locally-sourced or grown food. Because this is my first foray into being a "locavore", I will be doing the second-strictest level of the challenge.

Days: 18. 19 & 20
Total meals eaten today: 9
Non-local items eaten: 5
Vices: Beer, coffee, bread

I've found that one of the main aspects of the Eat Local Challenge isn't so much the struggle to eat locally produced foods, but finding the will within oneself to stick to that diet on a day to day basis. Now, with just 10 days left in the challenge, I've found that will has left me.

My kitchen is an absolute mess. I woke up this morning and found that my options for breakfast were leftovers or nothing. I chose nothing if only because I couldn't imagine eating dirty rice as my first meal and not wanting to nap the rest of the day away. Also, my mother is in town for the weekend and I have to go accompany my girlfriend to a wedding tomorrow night, so the time I will be spending at home will be limited. Also, it wasn't until a few hours ago that I realized I hadn't written an entry on the challenge in the past three days.

In short, I'm quitting the challenge. Well, not really. And I'm certainly not quitting on eating local foods. As always, it's complicated.

Thankfully, the Eat Local Challenge offers several levels of strictness. I've been operating at the second-strictest level for 20 days and, unfortunately, I have to step down to the "Ignatius O'Reilly" level. It gives me six off-the-wagon meals a month as well as six non-locally produced substances, more than enough to satiate some of my cravings when time and ingredients aren't readily available or when I'm forced to eat out more than I'm eating at home.

But even without all the events this coming weekend, I've found myself struggling to stay motivated. As I said, my kitchen has never looked worse. Considering I've never spent more time cleaning it as I have this month, that's incredibly depressing. Also my diet has been awfully repetitive and deficient of the carbs and protein I'm used to. While, in health terms, the carbs and protein aspect is probably a good thing, I'm not so sure a drastic reduction all at once is something I can maintain.

As for the diet, the topic was on my mind in a conversation I had with Molly Kimball, a registered dietician with the Oschner Health System for a print story about the health benefits about eating local. Kimball, who is also doing the Eat Local Challenge on the second-strictest level, agreed that eating local in Louisiana meant seeing a lot of repetition in your foods and it meant cutting a lot of carbs. And, as Kimball noted, it's not like all the food available to eat locally is all that healthy, which creates a lot of problems when deciding between eating say, a fried oyster poboy or a turkey sandwich.

All in all, though, I can't say I have regrets. I ate eggplant, which I thought I hated until I actually was forced to eat it. I've cooked whole birds, made delicious dirty rice and have probably the healthiest diet I've ever had. But now that I've been exposed to Hollygrove, the Crescent City Farmer's Market and all of the local selections at Rouses, I'm over forcing myself to only eat from those choices.

One thing is clear though: when it comes to produce in June in Louisiana, you're much better off buying fresh and local. I've been happily drowning in blueberries the past three weeks and I've seriously never had better tasting produce from a grocery store than what I'm eating now. I look forward to trips to the Farmer's Market and expect to incorporate it and Hollygrove in my regular shopping routine. There's also no price you can put on all the cooking experience I've gained or the confidence that comes when you push your limits in a kitchen and see a tasty result on the other side.

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to Root and eating foie gras cotton candy and scallops.

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