Globally, Eat Locally
100-mile challenge reminds us why it’s a good idea to look
for food raised closer to home
Could there be a more compelling reason to take the 100-Mile
Diet Challenge than the current e. coli spinach scare?
Forget about enjoying quiche Lorraine this week—the green
stuff has been yanked off the shelves.
And this forces us to confront the fact that we don’t know
where our food originates, a situation that would have been
laughably unthinkable a few decades ago. By turning over food
production to a handful of corporate entities, we reap low
pricing and year-round availability of our favorite items.
But the quiet payback has been that the stuff isn’t necessarily
good for us.
The 100-Mile Diet Challenge asks you to source your food products
from within a radius of your home that, with Metroland’s
offices as the center, reaches west nearly to Binghamton and
Syracuse and east beyond Worcester, Mass., and is bounded
top and bottom by Elizabethtown and Bear Mountain. A pretty
hefty, not to say fertile, swath of real estate. We’re lucky
to be where we are.
Which is one of the reasons that I thought I’d like to try
this challenge. I live in farm country—co-opted, it’s true,
by mammoth dairy operations—where rumbles of sustainability
are sounding more and more.
But I shared the first realization that hits most of Diet
Challenge takers: None of the area farms grows coffee. And
you won’t find a fresh banana in the bunch. This also means
no—what? Coconuts. Mangoes. Australian Shiraz.
So why bother doing this? The immediate reason is personal
health, which we’ll get back to. But how about the fight against
global warming? “Most Americans think the best thing they
can do,” writes Peter Singer, author of The Way We Eat:
Why Our Food Choices Matter, “is to swap their family
car for a fuel-efficient hybrid like the Toyota Prius.” Ouch.
We just did that. Quoting a University of Chicago study, Singer
continues, “Typical meat-eating Americans would reduce their
emissions even more if they switched to a vegan diet. Factory
farming is not sustainable.”
a matter of peak oil,” says Cheryl Nechamen, who spearheaded
the local 100-Mile Diet initiative (www.100milechallenge.com).
As director of a group called Capital District Energy Action,
she’s spreading the word about the end of cheap oil, which
will occur once the world’s oil resources are fully tapped
and begin their slow decline—something that could happen as
soon as 10 years from now.
current agricultural system uses a tremendous amount of oil
to give us cheap, factory-farmed food,” she says, “and we
take those low prices for granted. But they won’t always stay
that low. So we decided to focus on food and bring this diet
initiative to the area.”
The initiative began in Vancouver in March 2005, when writers
Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon looked at the fact that most
of the food ingredients North Americans consume have traveled
at least 1,500 miles. As they note on their Web site (www.100milediet.org),
“We walked into the diet cold-turkey for a full year, and
it was hard. For example, we live on the West Coast, so it
took us seven months to find a rogue local farmer who actually
grows wheat. Meanwhile, we ate an unbelievable number of potatoes.”
They go on to suggest that a more realistic approach “is to
plan a single, totally 100-mile meal with friends or family,
and see where you want to go from there.” Although they’re
still pursuing the diet, they have relaxed enough to welcome
old favorites back into the larder. “Like olives. And chocolate.
There’s a parallel movement that began last year in San Francisco,
described at the Web site locavores.com, which intruded into
the public eye three months ago in a Time magazine
article. (Once you enter this cross-linked network of Web
sites, you will be inundated with info.)
The local website (100milechallenge.com) sports a long list
of local sources, many of which sell their products through
Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-op, which also is supporting
the 100-mile idea with a brochure that lists what’s suitably
can’t print enough of them,” says the co-op’s education coordinator,
Karisa Centanni. “There’s been a lot of buzz around here.
People are making it known that they’re using our store for
She’s also working on a program to reflect a product’s source
right on the store-affixed label. Some of it is wholly local;
some of it is processed locally. If you can’t give up your
beans, you’ll find a local supplier of long- distance legumes.
It’s a diet concept that survives being sliced and diced.
If nothing else, you’re already thinking about it. Chances
are you’re thinking of some of the fresh produce you enjoyed
recently and you’re contemplating making a bigger commitment
to that good stuff.
Now that my family has sampled grass-fed beef and pork and
naturally raised chickens, we won’t be buying meat from the
supermarkets again. We’ll eat meat far less often, but what
we do eat will taste spectacularly better.
Otherwise, we’re entrusting our health to corporations only
interested in profits, corporations that need to overcome
the fact that humans can eat only so much at a given time.
Michael Pollan’s recent, troubling study of this, a book titled
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, traces the rise of the corporate
reinvention of our food, an example of which is a company
called TreeTop, which developed a “low-moisture, naturally
sweetened apple piece infused with a red-wine extract” that
purports to provide cancer-fighting “flavonoid phenols.” This
news came from a Food Technology magazine piece titled
“Getting More Fruits and Vegetables Into Food.”
had thought,” writes Pollan, “that fruits and vegetables were
already foods, and so didn’t need to be gotten into
them, but I guess that just shows I’m stuck in the food past.”
He concludes, “The food industry had gazed upon nature and
found it wanting—and has gotten to work improving it.”
For a profit, of course. Since the corporate-besotted Reagan
era, health and safety regulations for factory farms have
been eviscerated, bringing with it the problems of e.coli-infected
beef (try to find a medium-rare burger in a chain restaurant)
and, lately, spinach.
Escherichia coli O157:H7 is the bug in question, which, according
to the Centers for Disease Control, “lives in the intestines
of healthy cattle,” a euphemism for the fact that most cattle
in the U.S. are crowded into shit-ridden pens on factory farms,
with excrement matted into their hides—excrement that easily
can infect the meat as it’s processed, despite the cornucopia
of hormones and antibiotics injected into our food. The latest
wacky, frightening FDA proposal is to spray a cocktail of
six viruses onto selected meatstuffs to kill the Listeria
Unless a truly radical shift takes place in Congress, there
will be no legislation to change this. Fortunately, we can
vote with our feet—and the trip need take us no more than
a hundred miles from home. More and more small farms are dotting
the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys and the Berkshires, and you
can arrange to receive a steady shipment of comestibles by
buying shares in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation.
For a regular fee, which might include some work hours, you’ll
receive produce right after it’s picked; some farms also include
meat in the package. Check out www.nal.usda.gov/ afsic/csa/
to find CSAs near you.
In addition to co-ops like Honest Weight and the Berkshire
Co-op Market in Great Barrington, independent markets like
Guido’s (Pittsfield and Great Barrington) and the shop at
Indian Ladder Farms emphasize locally sourced items. And there’s
the wide range of farmer’s markets (Troy’s being one of the
best) that continue for much if not all of the year. The Regional
Farm and Food Project maintains a list of them on its Web
site at www.farmandfood.org/directory/farmersmarkets.html.
With more consumers looking for local food, many of the area’s
hipper restaurants are emphasizing their product sources.
Saratoga’s Beekman Street Bistro develops its menu around
what’s available day by day, and you’ll find the local purveyors
listed on a separate menu page at Chez Sophie. Those of us
looking to eat locally may well prove to be in the forefront
of a movement that might well evolve into a phenomenon of
daily life—a radically new, yet very old-fashioned concept.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
André Begnaud, who served as executive sous chef
at two of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, will cater
the Ninth Annual Music Haven Community Gala
celebration in Schenectady’s Central Park
from 5:30 to 7:15 PM on Monday (Aug. 28). The
menu includes smoked brisket, barbecued chicken,
green beans with pecans, corn maque choux, Cajun/Creole
potato salad, Louisiana slaw, and dessert beignets.
The Gala marks the last concert of the summer
series, which features zydeco master Geno Delafose
and French Rockin’ Boogie on the Music Haven stage
at 7:30 PM. The Gala’s $55 ticket includes VIP
seating for the concert, the pre-show Louisiana
bayou-style barbecue with dinner entertainment
by the Ramblin’ Jug Stompers (Michael Eck &
Greg Haymes), and post-concert café du monde dessert.
The concert itself is free to the public as usual.
For more information, visit www.music havenstage.org
or call the Central Park office at 382-5152 or
the Chamber of Schenectady County at 372-5656.
. . . Chameleon on the Lake (251 Stafford
Bridge Rd., Saratoga) is hosting a SPAC Food and
Wine Fundraiser at 6:30 PM on Sept. 7 at the restaurant,
which perches picturesquely on the northern inlet
of Saratoga Lake. The event includes not only
creative food and wine pairings but also Latin
music and a complimentary dance lesson. The menu
includes mushrooms stuffed with gorgonzola and
sausage, paired with Sheldrake Chardonnay from
Australia; coconut-crusted halibut with a Thai
curry sauce, together with a Joseph Carr Sauvignon
Blanc from the Napa Valley; and coulat steak with
a morel cherry sauce paired with Joseph Carr 2002
Cabernet Sauvignon. The price is $110 per person,
inclusive, and you can reserve a seat by phoning
the restaurant at 581-3928. . . . Remember to
pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail:
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..