Thursday, January 27, 2011

T-minus 5 days and counting!

You might have noticed that the Raven and I have mentioned projects and experiments when we made our intros. What's that all about?

Well, basically, we want to see how well we can live within various "constraints" - is it really possible to affordably live locally and sustainably? Can an average family really get by in today's world without going outside their local economy and foodshed?

We intend to find out. Starting on February 1st, and lasting until the end of February, the Raven and I are going to eat and live as locally as we can. Additionally, we're going to do it as INEXPENSIVELY as we can.

Here's the plan:

1) For the month of February, the Raven and I will be buying only foods grown and produced in Washington and Oregon. Preference will be given to companies within Oregon. When it's not possible to fulfill a food need from a local source, we've agreed that foods produced outside of this range, but by companies that fall under the area we've selected are acceptable substitutes.

2) Starting February 1st, we're packing away all non-local food items in our cabinets and starting with ONLY foods that fit within our guidelines

3) For the month of February, we're going to shop at locally owned stores and buy locally made goods. This isn't too much of an issue for us, as we've been practicing this one for a while, but it's good to get it down on paper.

4) We will do this all on $10.00 per day for the two of us (Yes, that's $5.00 per day per person). We chose this amount because it's what the Oregon Department of Human Services has determined is an appropriate SNAP benefit for two people. If that's what they think we can live on, by golly we're going to give it a try.

5) We're not into self-abuse, so we've allowed ourselves some exemptions from this list:
a) Tea
b) Coffee
c) Spices (including sugar)
d) Chocolate (a lot is MADE locally, but cacao is not GROWN locally)
e) Citrus

That's the basic gist of it. 28 days, $280 food budget. We plan to hit local co-ops, farmer's markets, and local stores that specialize in natural and local products.

Can we do it? We think so. I personally don't see it as being a huge challenge, but it'll be good to put that theory to the test.

We'll check in at various points along the way, and we look forward to seeing this all unfold.

Bob's Red Mill - An Amazing Local Food Resource

Bob's Red Mill is an example of all the best things that a local business can be. A while back, Bob Moore (the founder) announced that the company was initiating an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, effectively transferring ownership of the company to the employees. While this wasn't a gift to the employees, the Moores are doing something wonderful with some of the proceeds: they are donating five million dollars to Oregon State University to create a program focused on food issues and healthy eating.

Bob's Red Mill makes some really great products. I'm personally addicted to the veggie soup mix and their polenta.

If all businesses acted with the same amount of responsibility towards their employees and to the communities we live in, the world would be a far better place for all of us.

A shout out goes to Isaac Laquedem for posting this story.

Fun new cookbook!

The Raven and I go to a LOT of bookstores. If this surprises you, it really shouldn't. Our current favourite is the locally-owned, friendly and wonderful St. Johns Booksellers. Co-owner Nena got me addicted to the Allie Beckstrom series of novels from Portland-based author Devon Monk. I'm sure I'll forgive her once I've read them all...

But I didn't come here to tell you all about a fictional Portland fueled by magic, I wanted to share this incredible cookbook that I found there a few weeks back...

Pacific Feast: A cook's guide to West Coast foraging and cuisine
(by Jennifer Hahn, pix by Mac Smith)

Wow, this is a terrific cookbook.
Filled with mouth-watering pictures, this 209-page book isn't just a laundry list of recipes provided by some of the biggest names in Pacific Northwest cuisine. It's a guide to local foraging, with information on fruits, veggies, seaweed, mushrooms, and seafood/shellfish. There's even a recipe for dandelion wine!

The Raven and I have yet to explore its culinary depths, but I think that we're going to get a lot of mileage out of it. I can hardly wait!

I find it best to start at the beginning

Hello and welcome to our little project/experiment.

I'm Bear in "Bear and the Raven." The Raven and I have been talking a lot recently about sustainability, carbon footprints, nutrition and the economy of living locally.

Did you know that the average distance food travels from farm/ranch to table is in excess of 1500 miles? That number bothers me, especially since the Raven and I live in an area with a very prominent agricultural industry. We make a conscious effort to buy locally produced foodstuffs when we can.

Yes, that's right. We're budding locavores. I'm not ashamed to admit it!

The reasons are many, but not overly complex. Fresh food is better food. Locally produced foods typically are made using fewer undesirable chemicals, and less energy is expended getting it to our table. Moreover, by supporting local businesses at every step in the supply chain, we enrich our lives and communities, and keep money in the local economy that otherwise would flow out from our lives and enrich people who have no other connection to us.

This extends to how we spend our money on things that AREN'T food. We patronize locally owned shops, purchase things (when we can) that are made locally. I personally feel that it's important to support our local farmers, craftspeople, artisans and manufacturers. In an era of globalization, and race-to-the-bottom cost cutting measures, I choose not to reward those who have sacrificed quality or American jobs in order to increase profit-per-unit. It can be a long, exasperating process, but I think it's worth it. I'd much rather pay a few extra dollars for something made by a fellow American, than send my money to a large multinational corporation that implicitly supports labor practices in violation of the spirit of the US Constitution.

We have an interesting experiment coming up, and we're eager to share it with you. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Introductions are in Order

My New Year's resolution was to explore my relationship to food.

It seemed like a better resolution to make than the usual "I'm going to lose twenty pounds."

'Cause really, I need to lose something more like forty pounds.

I'm about to be 40. I was raised by parents who grew up during the depression, so food during my childhood was hearty, and I was encouraged to clean my plate. Children starving in China, you know. Sadly, I wasn't encouraged to exercise. I've spent my adulthood trying to figure out how to eat healthy and get exercise, coming at it from a variety of different angles.

It seems like the more I learn, the less I know.

There are so many interpretations and fads about eating that it's hard to know what's right and what's wrong: low-carb, low-fat, paleolithic, atkins, south beach, and on and on. I like Michael Pollan's food rules, because they're so simple. I still struggle, though.

So, this year I am going to read and read and study and come at this from a new angle. And my mantra is "Another day, another chance to be healthy." I'm armed with a membership to the local gym, and a stack of books about local, healthy food and food systems. I'll share what I find and figure out here.

My partner and I plan to have a series of experiments and adventures over the course of the year. We'll tell you more soon.