When people ask me why I eat locally, at the top of my long-winded answer is that I believe local food can taste better. Locally grown produce is more likely to be fresher and small farmers generally focus on quality over quantity. Though I will be done with my 100-mile experiment at the end of this month, I will continue to buy some local produce for its far superior taste.
As most would expect, the biggest taste differences are in fruits and vegetables. My family has not purchased fresh apricots in years because they are so sour, yet the apricots from my friend’s garden and farmers markets have a deep and complex flavor.
Though the apricots are so noteworthy because of the huge flavor difference, most of the produce is remarkably better. I have eaten lean-over-the-sink-with-the-juice-dripping-down-your-chin peaches, nectarines, strawberries and cherries, something that is hard to find in most supermarkets.
Also, carrots, tomatoes and red bell peppers have been much sweeter. I previously saw them as place-holder vegetables; I would throw them into dishes for extra color and texture, but I now eat them raw for lunch.
It’s not just produce that is better. Isabell’s Honey and Soledad Goats’ goat cheese are wonderful. I have never really enjoyed the taste of honey, but Isabell’s makes me want to eat it out of the jar. It is a little pricier, $14 for a 1.15-pound jar, but I think it is worth it for this not-too-sweet treat. The goat cheese is pure, creamy deliciousness — if you don’t believe me, check out their Yelp reviews — and it is only $6 for a 8-ounce container. My new favorite breakfast is a big bowl of strawberries, apricots and nectarines topped with goat cheese and drizzled with honey.
Another great part about eating locally is that you can find great foods that are unavailable in grocery stores. Fresh mulberries and fava beans are delicious yet they are rather unknown, as it is nearly impossible to find them at chain supermarkets. I heartily encourage everyone to eat a basketful of Persian mulberries; you won’t want to share.
Although most of the food has been noticeably better, in some cases there is not a big difference. The apples have been good, but not outstanding, and I can’t tell the difference between local lettuce, potatoes, and onions and their conventionally grown counterparts. I feel under-qualified to discuss meat with any authority as I don’t eat it regularly, but I thought the grass-fed steak was tough and my chicken was dry (though the latter is probably because I skipped Russ Parson’s dry brine, which I use on all poultry).
I still think it is important to shop locally for economic and ecological reasons, but, at the end of June, I will be going back to some old, supermarket habits. Still, I don’t think I will ever be able to enjoy a mealy, industrially grown peach or apricot again. The hassle of eating locally may not be worth it in some cases, but eating good fruit can be a life-changing experience. Don’t believe me? Find a farmers market near you and try it for yourself.