Youth Activism: Locavoracious for Localisciousness
Utah is a treasure chest for the locavore, abundant with farmer’s markets and CSAs offering up the emerald of dew-glistened spinach and lettuce, the rich ruby of beets and the dull gold of potatoes and corn. But busy schedules don’t always allow time for a treasure hunt—whether it involves squeezing in an extra trip to the farmer’s market (in season) or scrambling for a decent recipe that can incorporate unfamiliar or surprise CSA fare.
And even the most dedicatedly raw-foodist suffers the stressful days at work or school that call for ice cream-and-potato chip treatment. What’s a locavore to do?
Bianca Winward—now just 16 years old—has some ideas. Winward has been a member of the Girl Scouts since second grade. She is enthusiastic about the activities and opportunities it has provided her, citing the triple goal of building courage, character and confidence as a strong motivational force in her life. The importance of engaging with the local food landscape is already on many Girl Scouts’ radar: After a revamp last year that updated and added to their badge system, the Girl Scouts began offering a “locavore” badge, earned only after an exhaustive tour of the local foodscape that involves talking to food producers, looking for local sources, and using those sources to prepare several meals of increasing complexity. For Winward, who feels lucky to have grown up on her mother’s home-cooked meals, eating locally is second nature, but she recognizes the challenges it presents.
The confirmed foodie saw an opportunity to tackle some of the issues arising from a local-focused diet when it came time to earn her Gold Award two years ago. The Gold Award is the highest award offered by the Girl Scouts of the USA, requiring 80 hours spent identifying an issue and then creating and executing a plan that will have a lasting and sustainable impact on the local community. Trips to the farmer’s market are frequent occurrences for the family, and Winward remembers that some of the other shoppers seemed bewildered: “You would see people who had no idea what to do [with some of the produce], and sometimes you would even ask the farmers, ‘What should I do with beets? What should I do with bok choy?’ and they had no idea,” she says.
When thinking about this in the context of the Gold Award, Winward decided that starting a blog with local-focused recipes would be the best way to provide a resource to a local community interested in making the most of locally grown foods. The recipes she offers at her site, Be Localicious Utah, are adapted from cookbooks, online resources, the kitchens of friends and family, and collected from local farmers at the market that she’s developed relationships with—who know her in turn as “the Girl Scout.” Each recipe posted to the site is given a test run by Bianca and her mother Doreen, who tweak it as needed to fit the local landscape. In a post from October, you’ll find a risotto with eggplant and tomatoes, adjusted to use barley from West Mountain Wheat rather than the traditional (and not so arid-friendly) arborio rice. Winward also notes that the 13-plus-ingredients dish can be prepared with only one regionally outlying ingredient—the olive oil. In fact, many of the recipes offer shout-outs to the local producers from whom the young foodie has sourced her ingredients—and those ingredients, for those worried that making a fuller commitment local eating would be time-consuming or impossible, go way beyond produce.
Winward notes that farmer’s markets and CSAs aren’t the only places to get your hands on local food: “If you open your eyes, grocery stores will provide that for you.” But not much eye-opening will be needed, as Winward has already done much of the work. The Be Localicious Utah site features a “What’s Local in Our Supermarkets” page, with listings for the Sprouts (formerly Sunflower) Market, Fresh Market, Smith’s, Whole Foods, Walmart, Dan’s and Harmon’s, providing a rundown of the various products with local provenances that can be conveniently found at your grocer.
Compiling the list required Winward to spend hours in each store, systematically combing the shelves, followed by some work at home on the internet, checking to make sure some of the more dubious items were in fact within the 250-mile radius she’s chosen as the cut-off for “local.” The list is surprising, yielding not only staples like breads and cheeses, but salad dressings, tamales and potato chips. (Clover Club potato chips are Winward’s favorite pick from the list, although she is hard pressed to choose among the chips, honey and raspberries—when they come in season, of course.)
The distribution of local foods found in the different stores is sometimes surprising. “Dan’s and Harmon’s had a lot, and Whole Foods hardly had anything,” says Winward. And while some of the stores like Dan’s have aisles dedicated to local foods, other stores make you work for your meal—but Winward assures me that one quickly develops a keen hunter-gather’s eye for the local products: “The things with the simplest wrappings are usually local,” she says. The listings on her site, which could easily be printed and folded into a wallet, provide an excellent starting point for the ethical eater who’d like to buy fresh from the farm, but may not always be able to for practical reasons.
Of course, the site won’t simplify all of Salt Lakers’ ethical eating dilemmas. Purists may note that food processed locally may still include ingredients from who-knows-where. And not all of the items will satisfy those who are looking for, say, certified organic. But local foods are good for the economy—and in general they have a smaller carbon footprint. One must decide on tradeoffs.
For now, Winward is pleased with the response to the blog: “We got to 6,000 page views; to me, that’s huge!”
And she is pursuing other venues to share her recipes. Last year, she handed out recipes at the farmer’s markets, focusing on meals that used available produce from the market; she also made the recipes available to the farmers themselves, to pass along to their customers. She and her mother are also staunch supporters of Slow Food Utah, helping out this year by sending daily emails with recipes and tips for the Eat Local Challenge participants. Slow Food Utah Chair Gwen Crist is herself a fan herself of Winward’s efforts: “Her blog is amazing, especially considering that she is just 16… [she and her mother] really strive to live the ‘local’ life and spread the word.”
But for the dynamic high school junior with a broad range of interests—she plays both soccer and the viola, as well as volunteering for Operation Smile after school— it’s not clear if she’ll go the professional route with her interest in food; when she heads to college, she thinks she might focus on neuroscience and psychology: “I love to cook, but I don’t think I’ll be a chef.”
But the local food movement is made up of those who fall on the candlestick-maker end of the spectrum as well as the butcher-baker (and farmer, chef and organizer) end—and while the farmer’s markets and CSAs are the purest venue for meeting and supporting the local producers of fresh, organic and raw food, Bianca Winward’s Be Localicious Utah provides a resource equally important: a treasure map to the local food in your own neighborhood grocer.
Check out Bianca Winward’s food-related adventures at http://belocaliciousutah.blogspot.com and satisfy your locavoraciousness.