‘Eating Alabama’ bloggers speak at UM

Published 2:18 pm Sunday, April 19, 2009

The authors behind the weblog “Eating Alabama” spoke of their yearlong experiment of only eating food grown and raised in the state April 16 at the University of Montevallo.

Andrew and Rashmi Grace of Tuscaloosa and Joe and Sara Brown of McCalla are the first to admit eating strictly local is no picnic, but suggested taking things one dinner party at a time.

“Cook a meal with local food and invite your friends over for dinner,” said Andrew, a filmmaker at the Center for Public Television and Radio at the University of Alabama. “You’ll be amazed by the conversation you’ll have about the meal and where it came from.”

The Graces and the Browns began what was to be a four-month experiment last April. When the Browns ended their run in October due to work obligations, the Graces decided to stay the course. They intend to turn their statewide journey into a documentary film.

Rashmi Grace, a geologist, said “Eating Alabama” forced her to retrain herself and the way she ate. She said the experiment ended all snacking. If she wanted potato chips, for example, she had to thinly slice a potato and fry it herself — a time-consuming task.

“It was really hard for me to figure out what I wanted,” she said, “but it made me creative and made me want to be more creative.”

The Graces learned to churn butter and practiced the declining art of canning and preserving foods. They got by on frozen okra, green beans, pork, canned tomatoes, canned and frozen soup, bread, cheese, wild onion and garlic this past winter, and they seldom made trips to the grocery store.

“We ate out of our freezer pretty much all winter,” Rashmi said, “and we didn’t produce a lot of trash because we weren’t buying boxed things or things that are individually wrapped.”

Rashmi added the cost of eating local isn’t as expensive as one would imagine.

“What we bought was comparable to grocery store prices,” she said. “There were things that were less expensive and things that were a lot more expensive, but we did save a lot of money. We didn’t spend any money on food for four months except for milk and eggs.”

Andrew said the practice of eating local begins by supporting events like the Columbiana Farmers Market and groups like the Shelby County Cattlemen’s Association. Although Alabama has a long growing season, he said, most farmers who produce fruits and vegetables are limited by consumers who think local produce is only available during the summer months. Because of consumers’ assumptions, most farmers markets are idle from December to May.

Redefining people’s idea of whole foods is the first step in achieving southern sustainability, Andrew said.

“This is not just about food, it’s about localizing a statewide food system that could make the rural economy alive again,” he said.

To learn more about “Eating Alabama,” visit the Web site eatingalabama.org.