As a Graham Sustainability Scholar at the University of Michigan, 20-year-old Sam Schiebold was expected to make a personal sustainability goal, and she made it her goal to eat only locally sourced foods for the year.
Since she set her goal in September, Sam shops almost exclusively at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, cooks every meal for herself, and blogs about her experience. She makes a few exceptions for bulk items like rice and flour from the People’s Food Co-op, but always searches for an easy substitute when locally-sourced staples are not available (like wheat berries for grains). She also does her best to eat foods that are as unpackaged as possible, but will make some exceptions if she gets excited about a new cool food from a small, local business (like Pilar’s Tamales).
When she is buying from a local business that sells processed foods, she will call or email them to find out where they get their ingredients from to check that it is from a nearby source. For example, she found that the Ann Arbor Tortilla Company gets their corn from 150 miles away. Right now she is really in to squash, sweet potatoes, and winter greens, so the reduction in available produce has not yet posed a problem for her. She hopes the huge hoop house movement will help her get through later winter months, and has also been canning and freezing a lot of produce. “We have lost track of the things that our grandparents used to do, like canning, because of the ease of modern society. We have lost the skills that used to be essential for survival, and now people forget there are even seasons for food,” she says.
The experience has taught her a lot about both patience and planning. “I know I’m not going to have melon until the summer, but I can have strawberries because I planned in advance and remembered to freeze them.” Over the past few months, she has grown much more appreciative of food. She prepares every meal for herself and has learned what she can eat and how to prepare it. She tries to make every meal exciting with strong aesthetic appeal because, in her mind, “the first step to a good meal is what you see.” Sam believes that food tastes better when it is fresh and local, although she admits she has no scientific evidence. “It’s just a feeling I have, but I really think that the second produce is harvested, it starts to lose nutrients and taste.”
She describes her endeavor as an “easy challenge” and says that all it really takes is making the time and the choice. “A lot of people just don’t think about it… It’s so normal not to think about it.” She doesn’t want people to feel threatened or judged for not thinking about it, and says her favorite way to show her friends that eating locally is possible is to cook for them. “I want to show people that what I’m doing is easy and tastes good.” She feels it is very important to put only positive emotions behind what she is doing. “It should not be a negative thing,” she says. “There should only be a positive connection to something that will make change, or it won’t happen.” Eating locally has become a lifestyle for Sam, and now that she knows how easy it is to eat well while doing so, she sees no reason to ever stop.