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Our Last Day: Top Ten Tips for Local Eating in Montréal July 24, 2010

Posted by maggieknight in Resources, Une diète pour La Belle Province.

Today is the last day of our local diet, so it seems a good time to condense our somewhat expanded “wisdom” on eating locally in Montréal.

1. Think about why you want to eat locally. Is it for the sake of eating fresher, tastier food? To support the local economy? For the environment? This will influence the kind of food you are interested in buying and eating, and, if your convictions are strong, they can help you through patches of candy or caffeine cravings. For a discussion of some of the many reasons for eating local (and a counter-argument to the typical arguments against local eating which rely on efficiency and comparative advantage), please check out my friend Tim’s blog.

2. Decide if you want to have rules, or if you just want to try to eat locally as possible. If you do want rules, make sure that they are feasible for you. For instance, if you’ve never made anything from scratch before, you might want to spend some time getting comfortable in your kitchen before you begin. If you’re vegan, you probably want to spend extra time making sure you can source appropriate protein before you start. If you have a severe caffeine addiction and a high-stress job, going cold turkey into a local-drinks-only diet could make life take a significant turn for the worse. Keep in mind that the more specific you are about where your food can come from, the more time you will have to spend asking questions (and sometimes nobody will know the answers). Make sure you know how much you can afford and that you keep track of your budget (most farmers’ markets don’t give you receipts, so take along a pen and paper). Depending on how much packaged food you usually buy and how much you usually eat out, you could either save money or spend significantly more. There are lots of local luxuries that will come at a higher cost (berries, wines, cheese) – know how feasible it is for you to splurge and plan accordingly.

We added some luxury to our homely (but delicious!) meal of sautéed onions, rainbow chard, celery, garlic, and leftover green beans with some delicious local honey wine.

3. Expand your horizons in the kitchen. This is mostly about making it fun, instead of a more laborious copy of what you usually cook. During our month I’ve learned dozens of new recipes, particularly featuring rhubarb, asparagus, eggplant, and zucchini. There are some great cookbooks on local and seasonal eating, but you can also find great recipes for pretty much every type of food on the web (if you’re willing to sift through all the ones that won’t fit your local aspirations).

A delicious variation on eggplant parmesan which included yellow zucchinis as well as eggplant and substituted mozzarella for parmesan.

4. Talk to other folks who eat locally and get their advice on where to source food. Highlights for us included local sunflower oil from Le Frigo Vert, local flour from Première Moisson, and fresh produce from Marché Jean Talon and Marché Fermier. You can find out more about neighbourhood farmers’markets here and check out a “Local Food for McGill Students” map I started as part of a GIS course and have now handed over to the McGill Food Systems Project.

5. Try to find substitutes early for the things you think you’ll most miss. For us, that was tea (we substituted mint tea made from fresh and then dried mint leaves) and beer (apple cider has a similar degree of fizz and alcohol). This means you won’t be as likely to cave.

6. Decide what you’ll do in social situations where eating out is likely or where friends invite you over without knowledge of your diet. Where will you draw the line between sticking to principles and not being a pain in the ass? It’s likely you’ll need to pack lunches if you want to keep to your diet at work or school. (We’ll post more on this in a bit…)

7. Make things in big batches. We all have nights where they don’t feel like cooking. Try to make big batches of foods like soup that can be easily kept in the freezer for just such nights.

8. Figure out how often you’ll be able to get to a reliable source of fresh produce, and plan your meals accordingly. In order not to let your delicious fresh produce spoil, eat the sensitive things (berries, soft fruit, tomatoes, some greens, etc.) first and leave the more robust veggies (carrots, celery, potatoes, etc.) for later.

9. Grow things yourself! This of course depends a lot on whether or not you have a garden, balcony, patio, or at least enough sunlight to enable photosynthesis. Herbs are a great choice (we have basil, oregano, mint, chives, parsley, and rosemary) since they don’t take too much space, you won’t need an entire plant for one meal, and they are often expensive to purchase. Plus they smell great. If you have some more space, greens like lettuce, chard, and kale are delicious minutes after they’re plucked. And of course nothing beats a tomato eaten straight from the plant. You can also check out local community gardens or groups like McGill’s Campus Crops and the Vert ta Ville group based out of the Concordia greenhouse. Even if you live in a windowless basement apartment, you can still grow alfalfa and other sprouts (make sure to rinse at least twice a day).

10. Celebrate! Embracing the local foodscape and its seasonal flavours should be a source of joy, and sharing food is central to the fabric of society and culture. Plus, if you’re not going out or imposing your diet on your friends, inviting them over may be the only way to spend time with them except between meals (which, let’s face it, is just less fun). Depending on your friends, you may find that you need to do all the cooking, that they’re willing to embrace your eccentricities and cook locally with a bit of help, or that they join in with gastronomical gusto. Even when you eat alone, take it as a time of celebration. The flavours are the mark of millennia of plant adaptation and later agricultural manipulation. Share what you’re excited about with your friends (in person, via social media, by blogging, whatever floats your boat); do try not to be too smug (we think we are sometimes failing at this, particularly where strawberry-rhubarb pie with blueberries and whipped cream is concerned). Eating locally shouldn’t be a kind of environmentalist hairshirt or holier-than-thou competition–it’s taking the basic nourishment of our bodies literally closer to its roots, seeking out plant varieties bred for their tastiness and adaptation to the local climate,  and embracing the transience of each season, enjoying its bounty and then bidding it farewell until next year.

That’s it for now. We’re having a finale potluck ce soir, so I’m off to make a massive batch of tomato sauce for pizza and spicy broccoli soup. Nat’s contemplating another strawberry-rhubarb pie.



1. downtoearthtim - July 24, 2010

Sounds like the diet was a huge success! Congrats!

2. LynneCW - July 24, 2010

Delightful post, Maggie!

3. Breaking the Diet (Celebrations and A Little Cheating) « Maggie Knight - July 31, 2010

[…] really cheat, we just gave into our “social clause” loophole. As I reflected in our “Top Ten Tips for Local Eating in Montréal”, balancing local eating with any kind of normal social life can become difficult (particularly in a […]

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