I’ve believed in the importance of eating locally since first reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma a decade ago, but in recent years the issue has begun to seem a lot more complex than it did back then. In 2006, I was living in Athens, GA. It’s a town only an hour and a half from my current home in Milledgeville, but a very different sort of place. There was a well-stocked weekly farmer’s market, a sort of design-your-own CSA called Athens Locally Grown where I could order local meat, soap, and produce each week, and delicious restaurants with a farm-to-table approach. Back then, my only dietary restriction was self-imposed pescatarianism and I made a comfortable living as a hairdresser. I bought almost all of my produce and protein from local sources, walked almost everywhere I went, and I was proud of ecological savvy.
When I moved to New York a few years later, local eating began to mean something very different. The union Square farmer’s market stocked an impressive array of fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, and baked goods, but some were from as far away as Vermont, and all were exorbitantly expensive. On one of my first trips there I spent $35 on the ingredients for a 2-serving salad! In New York, eating anything was expensive, and eating locally substantially more so. I still frequented farmer’s markets and found a few restaurants that served sustainable regional fair and somewhat reasonable prices, but I also ordered a lot of delivery pitas and pizza, ate exotic fruits from the Chelsea Market, and bought sandwiches from the corner deli.
Now that I’m back in Georgia, I’m surrounded by farm land and yet, finding local food is difficult. My last rental had a back yard that my landlady allowed me to convert into a small garden, but Now I’m back to an apartment with a small communal yard and—aside from a few tomato plants and herbs growing on my front porch—unable to cultivate my own food. The farmers market here is the 1st and 3rd Saturday mornings of every month, which means that sometimes there’s a three-week gap. Its selection is unpredictable and limited, sweet potatoes will appear one week then not be available again until a month later. Eggs are $6 a carton and often sold out by 10 am. I find myself buying most of my food at the local Kroger. I purchase out of season berries, quinoa, gluten free pasta, squash grown in South America, spinach from California. And I usually feel pretty good about my choices. After all, I eat little processed food, lots of fruit and vegetables.
But even at the best of times, most of what I eat comes from somewhere far away. My oatmeal, yogurt, olive oil, parmesan, coffee, rice, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, and cinnamon are nowhere near local, and I’ve never troubled myself much with worrying about where they come from. I tell myself that even the strictest of locavores allow themselves a spice cabinet and a bag of imported coffee, but do I really need quinoa, millet, amaranth, and four different kinds of rice? Do I need flax seeds and chia? Do I need imported dried figs and freeze dried strawberries?
We, the growing subculture of the food-loving health-conscious carry our groceries in reusable bags to reduce waste, but we also consume imported cassava flour and goji berries en masse, without thinking about the ways our sudden demand changes the availability and affordability of these crops to the people for whom they are a local resource…
The thing is…chia seeds and psyllium husk are pretty much essential to managing my IBS-C; I’m not giving them up any time soon. Being intolerant to wheat, locally milled flour and even farmers’ maket baked goods are out of the question. But I am trying to expand my ideas about eating locally. This granola features Georgia grown sweet potatoes, local sorghum syrup, and pecans picked from my back yard. It’s not completely regional by any means, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Local Pecan and Sweet Potato Granola
1 large sweet potato1/2 cup amaranth
3 cups old fashioned oats (gluten free if desired)
1/2 cup pecans
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup sorghum syrup
1.Preheat oven to 400°. Cut sweet potato in half. Place one half, cut side down, on a foil-line baking sheet. Prick all over with a fork and roast for 1 hour, or until soft.
2.Meanwhile, peel and grate the other half of the sweet potato and place in large bowl.
3. Next, pop the amaranth. Heat a high-sided, heavy-bottomed, pot with a lid over medium-high heat. Place 1 tablespoon of amaranth in the pot and shimmy back and forth over burner about 10 seconds. Dump popped grain on top of shredded potatoes and repeat with remaining amaranth, popping 1 tablespoon at a time, reheating pot for 30 seconds between batches.
4. Add oats, pecans, cinnamon, salt and sugar to bowl and stir to combine.
5.When sweet potato is cooked, reduce oven temperature to 325°. Allow potato to cool slightly, then remove skin and place flesh in a small pot with coconut oil and sorghum syrup . Heat and stir over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, until warmed through, them remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender.
6. Pour sweet potato puree over dry ingredients and stir to combine. Spread onto 2 foil-lined baking sheets and bake for 45-55 minutes, until evenly browned and no longer stick, stirring ever 1-15 minutes. Allow to cool completely before storing or eating.
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