Are you a locavore? If so, how far would you go to ensure that you’re eating ONLY local food? How about 4500 miles, across the country, on a bicycle?
My nephew, Rob Greenfield, is on a cross-country journey. He’s vowed to only eat local, organic, and unpackaged foods and to live entirely “off the grid” during his trip. That means only using electricity generated by portable alternative energy devises, sourcing water solely from natural sources, and composting all food waste. And those are only a few of the standards he’s observing.
Rob started his trip from his current home in San Diego, California on April 20. Initially, eating local was not that difficult, because California has more seasonal, local foods available than anywhere else in the country, even in April. As he rode through other states, including Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri, however, his choices dwindled. He sometimes subsisted on a diet of honey, raw eggs, yogurt and cheese, supplemented with raw foods, such as apples, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, cabbage and onion. Fortunately, some of those nights, Rob, an Eagle Scout, cooked more substantial meals, such as rice and beans, over a campfire.
I recently met up with Rob in Dubuque, Iowa, where he and his riding partner/ photographer/videographer Brent Martin, stopped for the night about midway through their journey. My sister, Louise Greenfield, and I drove about four hours from the Chicago area to cheer them on.
We arranged to meet at 5pm in front of a HyVee, part of a small chain of employee-owned grocery stores based in the Midwest. It was really fun to watch Rob and Brent ride up to us after an 8-hour bike ride, as nonchalant as though they’d just come from the next town. Each of them was pulling a small trailer behind his bike, but I was startled to see how little equipment they really have. It’s amazing to think that they’ve already ridden halfway across the country, across mountains, against intense winds and through savage storms, with so little protection against the elements.
We went inside to look for any type of local food that the story carried. The branch of Hyvee we visited was fairly large, but its supply of local foods was quite small. It was illuminating to roam the aisles with Rob’s “spin” on everything. Most of the produce didn’t say where it was from. HyVee carried a small selection of organic produce, but this time of year, most organic products are still grown in California or outside the US entirely. To its credit, it did sell some locally grown, hydroponic greens.
Not surprisingly, the cheese section is where Rob had the most choices. Dubuque is only 50 miles from Wisconsin, which is lousy with cheese, but there were also cheeses from Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota that could qualify.
I was also psyched to see they had local wines. Who knew that they grew grapes in Iowa? (Actually, I recently read that wine is now produced in all 50 states.) I passed on the opportunity to taste it, but we bought Brent a bottle. (Rob is eschewing alcohol during the trip.)
Sadly, however, products such as bread were off-limits. Although bread is often produced locally, it is fairly rare to find bread made with locally grown grain. It made me resolve to go home and try baking my own bread, using flour from the wonderful Four Star Farms, right here in Massachusetts.
Louise and I drove back to Chicago that night, leaving Rob and Brent to resume their trip. Back in Chicago the next day, we stopped at the Park Ridge Farmers Market to pick up a few items. The produce at our Boston area farmers markets had been pretty sparse, so I was surprised—and delighted–to see peaches, strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, and even field tomatoes for sale. Most of these items were from a farmer in southern Illinois, which I guess is far enough south of Chicago to have an earlier growing season.
We took the food home and made magnificent salads for the next few days. Every time I savored fresh lettuce and tomatoes, I thought about Rob and all the foods he’s giving up over the course of his trip. To be honest, I found it hard to take him seriously when he first told me about the trip. “Holy crap, you’re doing what?” It was only after weeks of reading his blog and seeing him in action that I finally gave him credit for doing this wacky, brave adventure.
Although he’s created a lot of restrictions and rules for the trip in order to demonstrate that it’s completely possible for a strong young white male to lead a healthy, sustainable, zero energy lifestyle while riding across the country, I suspect that he’ll maintain most of his standards even after he ends his trip at 1% For The Planet (the group he’s fundraising for) in Waitsfield, Vermont on August 1. Because after this trip, things that most of us would find extraordinarily difficult will seem really easy to him.
Want to know more? Check out Rob’s route and schedule, blog, and Facebook posts. And don’t miss Brent’s extraordinary photos. Rob Greenfield is available for media interviews and will be passing through Boston on July 25.