Eating Mostly Locally: Vegetarian Ramen for Lunch

I know that many of people approach eating locally with a mentality of deprivation. They discuss what they will give up while they endeavor to eat locally, usually for a set period of time, whether a week, a month or a day, They talk about having “exceptions” to their vow to eat locally, usually three, because as all Americans of a certain age, we know that three is a magic number. Yes it is, a magic number.

Exceptions of course, are non-local foods which the budding locavore cannot possibly do without. Most folks limit themselves to a handful of exceptions to their attempt to eat locally, and while that is fine, I just–well, I just think that this whole deprivation method of learning to eat locally is the wrong way to go about changing the way you shop, eat and look at food. I also think it is related to the rather Puritanical American view of food–we have this weird undercurrent in our culture that is anti-pleasure which extends to the pleasures of the table, which has led to us having a rather adversarial relationship with food that is less than healthy. Americans are all into dieting, especially if it involves strange combinations of foods or exclusions of entire food groups.

For all that Americans are known for wanting instant gratification all the time, a behavior which has led to super-sizing of meals (and of people), and richer and richer confections and desserts, we also seem to have the idea that if we deprive ourselves of something that gives pleasure, we are granted instant moral superiority.

But just because we -don’t- eat certain types of foods does not make us moral people.

And, frankly, I think that if we look at eating locally as a matter of -not- eating certain foods, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We are going about eating differently from a negative perspective, instead of a positive perspective. Instead of -adding- foods to our diets, we are taking foods away.

I just think that if we approach eating locally from the perspective of -adding- local foods to our diets instead of taking non-local foods away, then we are less likely to stick with eating local foods.

So, what is the point of this little post?

Well, the point is this–today for lunch I combined fresh local shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, green garlic and the chili garlic sauce I made last fall with some of my own frozen chicken broth and a package of ramen noodles, and it made a fast delicious, inexpensive meal for Kat and I to share.

And no, the ramen noodles didn’t come from Athens–they came from Korea. And yeah, that is a long way for a package of noodles to go before getting to my bowl.

And yeah, there are American brands of ramen, but they aren’t as tasty as the Korean sorts.

I guess I could have used a different kind of noodles, but every now and then, I would like a bowl of super-fast ramen for lunch. I suppose that as a chef, I should not admit to using such a blatant convenience food as a packet of ramen, but the fact is, I like the taste of it–or at least the more expensive Korean versions of it.

And I see no reason to deprive myself of it for ever and ever just because it is made in Korea.

I don’t feel guilty about it in the least.

And I don’t think that I should. When I buy more than 80 percent of my fresh fruits and vegetables in season from local farmers, when 100 percent of my fluid milk, butter, tofu meat and eggs come from local farms and food producers, and when at least 1/3 of my cheeses come from local dairies, and even 1/4 of my pasta is made locally, and I even freeze, can and otherwise preserve local foods for the winter, I don’t see how I should feel bad about eating a package of ramen from Korea now and again.

And I don’t think anyone else should feel bad about not eating completely locally, either.

The way I look at it is this way–I can help change more people’s eating habits for the better not by stressing facts like the “carbon footprint” of food, or how local foods support the local economy–which is valid and good and all. I can get more people to eat locally by talking about how great it tastes–and where to find it and by cooking and feeding local food to folks that tastes far superior than the stuff we get at the local grocery store.

It’s just a different way of looking at the issue of local food.

And hey, if some enterprising sort here in Athens decides to start making packets of local ramen, well, I’ll give the noodles a whirl and see what happens!


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  1. This is where I shamefully admit that revamped ramen is one of the boyfriend’s favorite meals. He is particularly fond of a shitake mushroom/shrimp version. But really whatever veggies or meats or whatnot I have that need to be used usually ends up getting thrown in.

    Oh thank goodness it’s just about lunch time.

    Comment by Christine — May 8, 2009 #

  2. I agree with you absolutely. Eating local is a positive experience.

    Not a hair shirt penance to be endured. Penances are experiences that most people do not want to repeat. In fact, that is the point of penances.

    Positive experiences make us want to repeat them. We, as a culture, want to encourage repetition of locavorism, so we must make it enjoyable, so people want to do it again.

    And there is nothing wrong obtaining those items you enjoy, which cannot be found locally from where they can be found. I enjoy bananas. I live in New Hampshire. Bananas cannot be grown locally. That is a benefit of modern life, which should accentuate balanced living.

    Comment by Dan Jenkins — May 8, 2009 #

  3. Absolutely, Dan. Oranges, coffee, rice, tea, bananas and most spices absolutely do not grow in Ohio. But, instead of refusing to eat these things, I still eat them in addition to eating all of the amazing agricultural bounty we have in Ohio.

    I just think that looking at locavorism as something where you subtract foods instead of adding them is a bad idea, and I am glad to know that I am not the only one.

    Comment by Barbara — May 8, 2009 #

  4. I can’t believe how much more you can get locally than me, being in another MAC college town on the other side of the state. You’d think I could get similar stuff… I guess I am not in Appalachia (I’m in Oxford), perhaps that makes the difference? Depressing either way, your available dairy selection makes me sigh with jealousy. If it is not made with goat’s milk, it is not here, and while I love goat cheese, I’d love local sources for milk, sour cream and yogurt…

    Anyway, though, I agree strongly with you–adding is way easier than subtracting. It’s why I exercise but don’t diet. 🙂

    Comment by Laura — May 8, 2009 #

  5. I totally agree with you. I have no qualms about eating mangos, toor dal, coffee, spices and many other non-local things. But every year I try more & more to seek out & support local farmers and food products, and have been very excited by what I have discovered and integrated into my diet.

    Comment by Diane — May 10, 2009 #

  6. Just came back to your blog – don’t know why I stopped, because I thoroughly enjoy your insight.
    Think of the noodles as foreign aid.

    Comment by Julie — May 17, 2009 #

  7. Julie–that is a great way to look at it.

    Ever since the dawn of time, humans have traded local foods back and forth with each other. I mean, tomatoes–are they from Italy? No, they are from Central America. But can we imagine pasta marinara without tomatoes?

    Of course not.

    Chilies–they, too are from the New World, but now they are grown everywhere, and are ubiquitous in two of the greatest cuisines in the world–Indian and Chinese. They got there through trade.

    And now they grow there–and they are local.

    It is all a matter of perspective, I suppose.

    Oh, and welcome back! I am glad to have you!

    Comment by Barbara — May 17, 2009 #

  8. I’ve been reading your site for a few years now, and it’s helped guide me a lot in finding what I enjoy about food – which is…mostly that: food.

    I just wanted to add my two cents from the prospective of an economics major: people trade food because there are gains to be made from trading food – the good things, like enjoying different foods of different regions of the world where we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. If you close yourself off to the outside, you’re closing off others from reaching you as well – and I think food is one of the most poignant ways through which people connect. Not to mention the fact that foreigners likely buy your produce as much as you do theirs (at least in my wheat-producing part of the world); it’s not just a matter of support for local farmers so much as support for farmers everywhere. What comes around goes around – and yes, the carbon footprints are bad, but I’d sooner give up driving than eating fresh fruit from Mexico on occasion.

    Comment by Geli — May 30, 2009 #

  9. Just wanted to add that chickens don´t grow on fields or have teats from whom broth is milked, therefor chicken broth is not vegetarian. 😉

    Comment by robin — June 13, 2012 #

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