The article below, by Rona Roberts, appeared in the June, 2006 edition of Nougat Magazine, under the heading, 'Would you like crude with that?' Nougat's June issue addressed environmental opportunities and issues.
I barely remember my Magoffin County grandmother, but in early summer I make wilted salads the way I imagine she did:
Home Grown Wilted Salad: Gather several fresh eggs from wherever the hens are laying right now. Hard boil the eggs. Pick lettuce and a couple of green onions from the garden. Go to the smokehouse for home-grown, home-cured, home-smoked bacon. Slice and cook a generous amount. While the bacon cooks, wash the lettuce and tear the leaves into bite-size pieces in a large bowl. Wash and chop the white and green parts of the onions, and throw them on top of the lettuce. Peel the hardboiled eggs, put them in a bowl and use a fork to mash them into small bits. Remove the crisped bacon slices to a plate. Dump the hot bacon grease on the onions and lettuce. Stir. Add a tablespoon or so of cider vinegar. Stir. Crumble the bacon pieces onto the salad, and add the egg bits. Stir. Taste. Add salt if needed.
Aside from salt, every ingredient in this great dish came from within 300 feet of my grandmother's kitchen. She grew, harvested, or made each ingredient, including the cider vinegar. In 2006 terms, she grew her food sustainably.
Standard Wilted Salad: Replicating my grandmother's salad today with conventionally grown ingredients means using lettuce from California, green onions from Mexico, bacon from Iowa, eggs from Ohio, salt from New Mexico, and cider vinegar from Pennsylvania. Consider the crude oil burned to get these ingredients to Kentucky: Petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and irrigation pipes. Petroleum-fueled farm equipment, processing plants, package manufacturers, trucks, coolers, supermarket HVAC systems, lights, cash registers.
This is the opposite of sustainable food production. Without petroleum inputs, no part of the standard salad can reach my table.
Earlier this year in the San Francisco Chronicle, Chad Heeler calculated that his breakfast of Irish oatmeal, organic red raspberries, and fair trade coffee had consumed eight ounces of crude oil before he 'put spoon to cereal.' The Leopold Center on Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University estimates that conventionally grown produce travels about 1500 miles from the field to the plate.
We can do better.
'Leaning Local' Wilted Salad: Each year I grow my own salad greens and onions in a sunny area in my downtown side yard. At the Lexington Farmers Market I buy organic, free range eggs grown less than 30 miles away. Good Foods Market carries Kentucky-grown bacon. My salt and vinegar still travel many miles. It's not a perfectly sustainable meal, but it moves in that direction.
I asked Victoria Bhavsar, Ph.D., to name one high impact way to reduce fossil fuel consumption while eating great food. Dr. Bhavsar is a UK staff member who is working with others to launch a new undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture in August, 2006. Her advice: 'If you eat meat ' especially beef ' buy it locally. Calves grown in Kentucky travel to Denver to a feed lot. Their feed ' corn ' travels a long way to get to them. There's the waste problem. And then the cattle are shipped all the way back here.'
In addition to growing your own food and buying from local growers, here are other ways to 'lean local:'
> Join with neighbors to grow community gardens.
> Plan now to join a 'CSA' in 2007. 'Community Supported Agriculture' involves 'subscribing' to one particular farm's produce for a full growing season. Two CSAs serving Lexington are Three Springs Farm in Carlisle and Elmwood Stock Farm in Georgetown.
> Patronize restaurants that buy ingredients from local growers. Dudley's, Hanna's on Lime, Café Jennifer, Holly Hill Inn, and Wallace Station all use some local foods.
> For special events, ask caterers to base their menus on local foods. Caterers willing to do this include Dupree, Annette's, South Van, and Selma's.
Local foods taste best, demand less of the environment, and boost our local economy. Still, Victoria Bhavsar says, go easy. 'Do what you can, not what you can't. Commit to things that are possible to carry out. Don't do what's not sustainable, and don't feel guilty about not doing more.'
Read more Nougat articles by Rona.