We’re starting the last month of the Dark Days Challenge tomorrow. Winter has come and gone so quickly. For this week of the challenge, all participants were encouraged to make a completely vegetarian meal–tricky for some of us who have relied heavily on local meats to make it through. I’ve had the vegetarian challenge date on my calendar since mid-January with the idea of trying a broccoli cheddar version of the Cream of Carrot Soup I made in week 7 of the challenge. We have bags and bags of frozen broccoli left from last fall and it’s time to start eating down the storage before the fresh veggies arrive. Fast forward to the end of February and although I happily made the broccoli cheddar soup outlined on my calendar, I totally spaced the vegetarian part.
I came home from work in anticipation of our brewing snowstorm, got the broccoli grooving in a stock pot and was suddenly hit with a grand idea: Bacon. How much better would broccoli cheese soup be topped with crunchy, salty bacon? Right? Of course I was right. Except when it came to meeting the Dark Days Challenge guidelines!Â I’ve long said that bacon is the reason I’m not a vegetarian. I’ve given up beef and poultry before at times and have some anecdotal evidence that my body likes it meat-free. But then I run into bacon. Imagine how Julia Child feels about butter and you can begin to understand how I feel about bacon. Actually I feel the same way about butter too, but I digress. Moral of the story. Even when I’m not supposed to eat bacon I still find a way to eat bacon.
Truth be told, I think the broccoli cheddar soup was better with crumbled bacon. (P.S. The bacon was local and sustainable, so it still fit the criteria of a SOLE Dark Days meal.) Just not a vegetarian one. But in thinking about this post today, I’m wondering more about what my failed vegetarian meal says about eating habits in general. Most of my meals focus on taste and flavor (i.e. gratification/satisfaction) than on principle (i.e. vegan/vegetarian/non-GMO). Although I like the economic and environmental impacts of a locavore diet, bottom line I eat local because to me the food just plain tastes better. The broccoli I grew in the garden will always win out with my taste buds over its California-grown cousin. When I’m cooking or choosing recipes, I almost always pick what is going to feed my cravings the best. Just like throwing bacon in a vegetarian meal, my brain said “instant gratification” and I went with it.
So what does this say about non-locavores? I think it’s fair to say that we Americans spend a lot of our lives in instant gratification land. We like to have what we like, when we like to have it. Â Some decisions are based on principal and altruism, but I would say it’s not in the majority. Bacon double-cheeseburgers and triple-chocolate brownies do not sell themselves on the possibility of improved character; we just eat it because it tastes good!Â Why then when we aim to convince someone else to eat locally, do we spout off 100 reasons why it is the principal/altruistic/”right thing” to do? Sure. It’s great to think that Americans make decisions that are good for the economy, the environment and the food system. That’s not reality. When it comes to physically putting fork to mouth, I’d be willing to bet 9 out of 10 times, instant gratification beats out the altruistic choice.
Instead of the moral high road, we should always be emphasizing how the taste and flavor of local and sustainable food sets it apart. Don’t believe me? Check out the list of Twin Cities James Beard Award semi-finalists doing fantastic things with local food. They’re winning big by first living up to the promise of great tastes and experiences. All of the other things that come in the package like connections to farmers, environmental benefits, roof top gardens, and sustainable sourcing are just an added perk. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a crazy cool added perk. But I would bet for most people that’s not what brought them in the door.Â Â If we want to start hammering away at a broken food system and ratcheting up a local food network, we need to start guaranteeing taste just as much as the principals behind it.
Think it’s a coincidence that fast-food commercials are packed with images of fresh vegetables and the promise of all-natural ingredients? Not likely. Americans have come to associate fresh and all-natural with better taste. We go for the gratification not the health or environmental perks actually behind a diet of fresh and natural foods. In the end, corporations see better profits. The local food movement needs to change its messaging if we’re going to move beyond CSA’s and backyard operations. When we start better connecting personal gratification with local food, major players will finally begin listening. We’ll see it on forefront of the agriculture policy and in the boardrooms of corporate America. The crazy cool perks locavores love like a sustainable food system, a stronger economy and healthier planet will start to really gain momentum.
Try it out on a friend. Have a discussion about going local and see what’s more compelling: the promise of the freshest, tastiest food they’ve ever had or some calculations about carbon footprint.
We’re all in it for the bacon.
Cream of Broccoli Soup with Cheddar and Bacon
Modified from my Cream of Carrot Soup recipe
4 cups vegetable stock
6 cups frozen broccoli
1 cup half-and-half
6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
cheddar cheese, shredded
1. Place stock and broccoli in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 7-10 minutes or until broccoli is tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool 10 minutes.
2. Using a stick blender, pulse until broccoli is broken apart and soup becomes a thick puree. If you like larger chunks of broccoli, blend less. Stir in half-and-half and return to low heat until hot. Do not boil.
3. Remove from heat and spoon into a bowl. Top each bowl with crumbled bacon and cheese. Serve immediately.