Local food choices, dealing with diabetes, and more: Food blogger Sarah Scalet

'50 Voices of Local Food' series looks at the food system from every angle

Local food choices, dealing with diabetes, and more: Food blogger Sarah Scalet

(Illustration: "How the grocery store feels when you’re shopping for someone with diabetes" by Sarah Scalet)

 

Sarah Scalet is a professional writer and editor who blogs about food at www.eiei-oh.org. There you’ll find some great home-tested recipes for tasty dishes like Gypsy Soup, Ratatouille with Quinoa, Low-Carb Biscuits and more, along with strategies for cooking with a diabetic family member and lots of smart observations about food in general.

After growing up in the Midwest, Scalet now lives on the East coast. She represents local food truly at the grass roots level: she’s a gardener, co-op enthusiast, and vegetable lover who has to make practical decisions about food while juggling the demands of family and career.

 

MyFreshLocal: What’s your original connection to local food? How did you start thinking about these things?

Sarah Scalet: I grew up in South Dakota eating local foods without really thinking about it. My dad was a big hunter and fisher, so we ate a lot of venison, pheasant and fish. We also had a large vegetable garden and did a lot of canning.

When I moved away to college in Nebraska, I was dismayed by a lot of what I saw in the grocery store, especially how the meats were laid out on Styrofoam under clear plastic and bright lights. It was so different from the packaging at home, where everything was wrapped in freezer paper and labeled with a Sharpie. It was just reflexive to become vegetarian.

From there it wasn't much of a detour to the local organic food coop (Open Harvest in Lincoln, Nebraska), where I just fell in love with this whole exotic world of fresh vegetables and people who were passionate about eating good things. I'll date myself and say that this was back in the mid-90s, when being into kale and tofu made you sort of a 70s throwback.

 

Later you lived in a very crowded urban setting – Brooklyn. How did you find local/healthy food options?

We were really lucky to live near the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn. I don't know if there's a truer food coop in the country. Members literally have to work a shift every four weeks just to walk in the front door to shop. The produce aisle is one of the most amazing places I've ever been --just the colors and diversity of plants, things I still don't see to this day even with my CSA and farmer's market in New Jersey, where I live now. (I haven't laid eyes on a fiddlehead fern before or since.)

Even 10 years ago, the Park Slope coop was labeling which foods were grown within (I think it was) 500 miles. It was a matter of some controversy that they sold meat at all, so the selection of vegetarian proteins was really outstanding too. And you knew that whatever was on the shelf had gone through some sort of screening in terms of how it was raised or grown and distributed.

Shopping someplace like that makes it easier to put healthy foods in the cart, because the healthy foods are so appealing and interesting that the processed foods become less of a distraction.

 

There are a trillion food blogs already – why another?

I still ask myself that same question.

One reason is just the locality of the way we eat and the fact that there aren't national answers to the question of "what's for dinner this week?" I had some friends in north Jersey who were joining CSAs for the first time, and I wanted to help them figure out how to use up their shares based on what they would be receiving. A lot of people quit CSAs because they don't know how to prepare the food they're getting, and I wanted to help them through that first year, which can be a challenge. (Editor’s note: Scalet allowed us to republish her article How to keep the vegetables from your farm share from going to waste.)

I had also gone through something of a food crisis after my husband was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. We had relearn how to eat. The vegetarian meals we'd been making were too reliant on carbohydrates, and the "diabetic" cookbooks I was looking at were calling for maybe a can of tomatoes or an onion, but not a lot of serious vegetables. I started the blog after a year of sort of bumbling through things, reconciling his diabetes and our existing diet. It seems obvious in retrospect that the two things -- diabetes and loads of local produce -- are a natural fit, but it took a while for me to understand that.

I thought there must be a small audience of people who were into local foods and cooking for a diabetic, and that maybe we could help each other. I still think that audience must exist. Somewhere.

 

What food-related issues are really important to you at this moment?

On a personal level, we are still struggling with the healthiest and most environmentally friendly ways to get enough protein in a low-carb, low-fat diet. We eat beans at least twice a week, and we also go through a dozen farm eggs a week. Beyond that it gets more difficult. Even with fish, you get into questions of farming practices and over-fishing and mercury levels, and just that it can get really expensive, especially when compared to something like ground beef, which is crazy cheap in comparison.

On a larger level, I'm worried about how we tax and subsidize foods and non-foods. I would like the see the federal government doing less to support large agribusinesses and more to support smaller-scale operations that are actually growing food for people to eat. I worry that the organic "movement" is marginalizing the small farms I've been trying to support all along with my food choices. Don't get me wrong, I love that organics have become widely available at supermarkets, but I'd rather buy a conventionally grown vegetable straight from a farmer any day.

 

Do you talk about these issues at parties? Do people’s eyes glaze over? How can a local food lover engage in meaningful conversation about these things, without sounding like a blowhard?

Oh, I probably sound like a blowhard. But I hope it comes through that I really love the foods we eat and being part of the local foods movement in some small way.

 

How do you want your kids to think about food? How do you get them try new things?

I'm totally not above a guilt trip. During the CSA season, when we get something they're hesitant about, I'll tell them to try it because "Farmer John grew that for us." Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. I'm also one of those mean moms who insists that whatever we serve for dinner is what's for dinner.  They can't opt out and have toast or cereal instead. Some meals they don't eat much, but they get plenty to eat overall.

 

What’s a comfort food for you? What’s the item in a CSA share that makes your eyes light up?

Tomatoes. I can never get enough fresh tomatoes.

 

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ABOUT THE 50 VOICES OF LOCAL FOOD SERIES

Food is simple, but food systems issues get complex very quickly.

So while easy slogans have their place (“eat local food!”), it’s valuable to dig in and understand considerations of health, environment, regulation, economics, and more. Ultimately that’s how the smartest and best decisions can be made, both for individuals and for the food system at large.

That’s the thought behind 50 Voices of Local Food. In this series MyFreshLocal will talk to people engaged in local food in many different ways. Farmers, chefs and restaurant owners, lawyers, legislators, artisan producers – name a segment of the food system and you’ll find those folks in 50 Voices series.

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