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Local Girl Goes Local: Things No One Thinks About

Kate enjoys one last non-local meal out, and tests the feasibility of eating locally at a restaurant on a whim.

September 13, 2015

If you’ve been following the Local Girl Goes Local Tumblr, you may remember me mentioning my plan to go into a restaurant without doing any research in advance, and see just how much information I could get about the localness of the food being served. I figured Zona 78 would be a good bet for finding locally sourced food, since they have a locally sourced Farm to Table wine dinner coming up on September 28 (more info on that here).

On Saturday, September 5th, Chad and I went to Zona 78 for our last restaurant meal until the thirty days are over. We brought along the minion, for what may be only her second time ever visiting a restaurant. It’s not that we don’t like having her around, or even that she’s unpleasant in restaurants, but more that if we’re going to pay for someone to make our food, it would be nice to actually eat said food while it still could be considered hot. But spur-of-the-moment lunch dates aren’t exactly compatible with finding a babysitter, so off we went – that is, off we went two hours later, once the baby had nursed, napped, had her diaper changed, and was (fingers crossed) in a relatively stable condition. Thank goodness Zona 78 still serves lunch at 3:00pm!

When we arrived, Chad began the process of unloading the minion, while I went inside to get a table set up with a high chair. Once seated, we watched with no small degree of enjoyment as the baby babbled and waved, happy to be seated with the grownups. Sarah, our server, came over, and she and I recognized each other from when I used to work at an office just down the street and made a habit of stopping by Zona for their amazing grilled cheese sandwich special. Phew, I thought, at least I won’t be subjecting a total stranger to this. Sarah is great at what she does, handling each of her tables with efficiency and a smile, and remembered me as her “grilled cheese girl.”

I gave Sarah fair warning: I explained that I was getting ready to do thirty days of eating 100% locally sourced food, spices and everything, and that day I was out testing the waters. She said that she had time available to answer a couple questions, and we got down to it.

True to form, I ordered the grilled cheese of the day: a blend of gouda and house-made mozzarella cheeses, slathered with pear butter and grilled to gooey, golden perfection. I paired it with a side of what, in my personal experience, is the only dish fit for such a grilled cheese sandwich: Zona 78’s creamy, chunky, divinely tasty tomato basil soup. Midway through my asking where each ingredient came from, Sarah grabbed out her pad and explained that she was going to check with the chef. One stop in the kitchen later, and we had our answers.

The bread for the sandwich comes from Beyond Bread (which is a local bakery, true, but where do their ingredients come from?). The mozzarella is made in-house, using Shamrock Farms milk (which technically counts as local, since Shamrock Farms is an Arizona dairy located in Stanfield, Arizona – but doesn’t meet the small business qualifier that I’m hoping to focus on during my thirty days). The gouda is ordered in (not local), and the pear butter is made in-house (but the pears are not grown locally). As for the soup, the tomatoes are from local grower Sleeping Frog Farms, the cream is from Shamrock Farms, the basil is normally locally sourced, but that particular day was not.

Then I asked Sarah, what about the seasonings? The salt? Her eyes widened and mouth closed into an ‘o’. She confidently stated that no, those weren’t local. I wasn’t surprised. Every time I tell someone about the project, they smile and nod – right until I mention the seasonings restriction. Or the concern about non-local yeast or hops in wine or beer. Or the fact that my canola oil non-stick spray hasn’t been lifted from its place next to the stove since this project began, because the oil inside is most definitely not locally sourced. People just don’t think about eating locally on such a low level – most of the time, the expectation is that “eating local” means eating from local restaurants, or at the most from local farmers, and prior to embarking on Local Girl Goes Local, I thought along similar lines. But if the goal of eating local is to reduce the carbon footprint of food being trucked around, and to increase the freshness of the food we eat, it seems that we must also take into account the small ingredients, the condiments and the seasonings, that we use in our food, and treat those with a similar focus on sourcing local when possible, and aim to consume non-local ingredients in moderation.

Of course, that afternoon I wasn’t eating 100% locally, so I didn’t let a few non-local ingredients stop me. I enthusiastically savored my sandwich, and Chad allowed me to sample his BLT wrap, and we both took turns holding the baby and feeding her bites of soup. We capped off our meal with an obviously non-local, but delightfully decadent, rich chocolate brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, fresh berries, almond granola, and salted caramel syrup. It was a perfect way to say farewell to the seamless convenience that is eating in a globalized food system: local foods and non-local foods blended together so that you would never know unless you asked, or already had some awareness about where your food comes from. It feels so easy to pick something off the menu, without concern for its origin, and even easier to assume that when we pay our bill, the money stops at supporting the local business and staff of Zona 78. Of course, that’s not true – and after completing this project, I doubt I’ll be able to return to ordering food with such ease any time soon, if ever.

Follow Kate’s local food adventure:
and under the #localgirlgoeslocal hashtag on:

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