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Top 10 Ways To Eat Locally Like a Local

2011 April 27
By Jessie Chien

Whether it’s because we’re traveling or that we’ve moved, most of us have found ourselves in a completely foreign place before.  Even if this means going from San Francisco to St. Louis, trying to eat locally and eat like a local can be a pretty daunting process.  Here are a few tips to do both, hopefully at the same time!


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  1. Avoid the Supermarket
  2. Unless you are at an exclusively-organic or natural market, supermarket aisles are packed with imported products and un-sustainably produced and packaged foods.  Do your shopping for fresh meat and produce at the local outdoor market, seek out fresh breads, fish, sweets, and cheeses among the  small neighborhood businesses, and finally splurge for what you can’t find anywhere else at the supermarket.

  3. Read up on the history of the area
    There is no better way to educate yourself on the bounty around you than to study up on the history of the area. Migrations, natural disasters, and even political conflicts/resolutions play their part in the development of what we know today as Cuisine. Whether this pertains to the Spice Trade, the Slave Trade, or Fair Trade, reading a history book will help you understand what is readily available around you, and hopefully provide some new inspiration in the kitchen!
  4. Eat breakfast
    Regional breakfast specialties tend to be more defined, and if you are in a foreign country there will be fewer selections to choose from compared to dinner – often a relieving stressful situation when you’re not familiar with the local foods and customs.  Many countries use breakfast as a way to use up leftovers from a past evening’s dinner – some examples of this are Chilaquiles in Mexico, johk in Thailand, and Arepas in Colombia. Chances are that by eating the breakfast of a region, you’ll narrow down your food impact and learn about the culture at the same time!
  5. Stick to veggies
    As the Michael Pollan mantra states, “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much”.  Meats, in general, have a large carbon footprint, and it is also harder to  verify where they come from. Eating veggies from your local outdoor market is the guaranteed easiest way to eat local.
  6. Shop for spices
    Take a quick look around the markets to see what spices are the most popular.  The spices of a region often serve to complement the produce and meats that are grown around it.  Don’t be afraid to grind your own at home, too.
  7. Eat anything preserved – and do your own preserving at home
    Pickled and preserved vegetables (and meats!) generally reflect what foods are out of season…Culturally and sustainably, eating preserved foods is a great way to be adventurous, but it’s not always for the faint hearted – for example, preserved whale meat in Iceland will stick with you long after you leave the country itself!
  8. “I’ll have what they’re having”
    Take a look around you when you dine out.  If there’s a big group of people that look like locals, just get what they’re having.  Local dishes, for obvious reasons, use up local ingredients, local flavors, and can be a history lesson in itself!
  9. Take cooking classes
    No matter how you go about it, Chinese sausages cannot take the place of Italian sausages, or vice versa.  That’s why it makes sense to learn to cook the dishes of your region; once you do, you’ll be better equipped to make use of a wider variety of items at the market. Even in the US – if you’re in New England, take a class and learn how to make proper chowder.  If you’re in New Orleans, explore the world of crayfish and jambalaya. Where better to make the perfect croissant than in Paris!?
  10. Make an effort to eat nose to tail
    If you are going to eat meat, make the most out of it.  Don’t be afraid to consume more organs, tails, skin, and feet than you thought possible.  Though chefs in the U.S. have recently come to embrace this phenomenon, ages of culinary traditions have long preserved nose-to-tail cooking. Plus, not only will you be eating sustainably and producing less waste, but those duck tongues and trotters you ate for dinner will certainly give you something to write home about.
  11. Use common sense, be open, and form new habits.
    Unfortunately as human beings we (well, most of us) love tradition and the comfort that old habits provide.  There’s something unparalleled about the chicken soup that our mothers taught us to make, the fruits we picked on our 3rd grade field trips, and the dishes we whipped up in our very first apartments. Moving on, it is natural to seek out the dishes and ingredients that you associate with ‘home’. But, avocados in Finland? Wild salmon in Mongolia? Be open to developing new habits based on your new surroundings, and you’ll soon be making new food memories to add to all those old ones.
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  • Briannambain

    Love, love, love this Top 10 -great advice Jessie!

  • Jtsa0chien

    Great advice!

    But how are we going to get a chance to practice all 10 of them? 7 is the max or a normal human, according to the studies. Or 3, when one is desperate!