After 7 years living in Saudia Arabia, I still haven’t quite acquired the taste for camels milk…
The fresh fruit of Southern California and Indonesia, however, are a welcome addition any day of the week!
Making locally grown foods the main part of your diet is an important step in creating a sustainable life. Choosing local foods helps the environment by lowering the carbon footprint needed to transport the food, along with supporting your local economy.
Long before transportation enabled goods to be shipped around the world in a day, people had no choice but to eat whatever food was available in their region. If you were living in the temperate, fertile valleys of the Mediterranean, you had many choices. If you were in harsher climates, your choices were limited to what could grow or live in your area. Gaining food from another region was time consuming and costly and could only involve choices that wouldn’t spoil before it was delivered. This is why salt was such a priced and important possession. Salt allowed food to be preserved for consumption at a much later date.
But then transportation improved and the amount of time needed to move food around the globe changed from months, weeks, days to just hours. Fragile foods could be transported more quickly and cost effectively. No longer were people limited to the same meals each day. Now they could explore ingredients not only from neighboring regions but continents on the other side of the world.
Gaining a diversity of foods was fantastic. It meant that more people had access to important foods for health, like citrus, which helped to eliminate scurvy in most parts of the world. But shipping food around the world has also dramatically accelerated the use of fossil fuels leading to a significant increase in pollution. In other words, we have paid a very steep environmental price for having quick and easy access to global food choices.
Summer, however, is the perfect opportunity to offset our global choices and carbon footprint by eating locally. The crops are full and ready to harvest. The long, hot summer days lend themselves to salads and fruits that are served in their natural state with little to no fuss. Farmers markets are overflowing with choices, usually grown within an hours drive of the market. The fossil fuels used to transport these local foods are minimal and the money used to purchase the food stays in the local economy.
Summer is the perfect season to lower your
carbon footprint by choosing local foods!
I’m originally from Southern California and the summer months meant fields of red strawberries just minutes from my house. There’s always a stand on the side of the road where you can buy baskets that were just brought in from the field or where you can pick your own. Avocado trees are full and our golden retriever, Daisy, always gained extra pounds in the summer months from eating all the avocados and apricots that would fall to the ground around our property. Daisy was practically vegan in the summer months as she would gorge herself on fresh fruits. She even taught herself how to pluck wild blackberries from the thorny vines without poking herself! Eating incredible, fresh produce simply meant walking into the back yard or a quick trip down the street.
When we lived in tropical Surabaya, Indonesia, there was a beautiful mango tree on the walkway between our house and the school where I taught and my daughter attended. Although an expensive luxury in many northern locations of the world, in Surabaya the mangos were plentiful and grew without any effort. You could indulge in mangos on a daily basis without denting the monthly food budget.
Now I live in Saudi Arabia and in a natural environment completely opposite of Indonesia. No longer do I have the heavy afternoon rains or the lush, green jungle surrounding me. Saudi Arabia actually has many different ecosystems, but I live in the eastern province which is one huge expanse of sand and desert. The eastern province borders the northern edge of The Empty Quarter – Rub’ al Khali – ٱلرُّبْع ٱلْخَالِي. The Empty Quarter is 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) long, and 500 kilometers (310 miles) wide. The region is classified as ‘hyper-arid’, with annual precipitation generally less than 35 millimeters (1.4 in). This harsh environment means there aren’t fields of strawberries or mango trees along the roads…
What we do have, however, are dates. A LOT of dates!
Saudi is famous for their variety of dates and they are an important part of the diet here – so important, in fact, that dates are usually the first food to be eaten when breaking fast during Ramadan. Dates grow easily in the desert and groves create a much needed oasis.
Before moving here, I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a date. But now I am quite fond of them and agree they make a great snack and afternoon pick-me-up. Naturally sweet, dates are used in desserts a hundred different ways and I haven’t found one yet that isn’t delicious! One of the reasons dates were so valuable in Bedouin life was how durable they are. Dates don’t need to be refrigerated, they last for weeks, and are usually eaten raw, so zero to little prep is needed. Dates are often thought of as a super food as they are one of the best natural sources of potassium and minerals like phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron.
If you REALLY want to eat locally in the eastern province, then camels milk is always available. The camels roam the desert in this region and owning a herd of camels is quite prestigious. I’ve been fortunate to be invited to several camel farms over the years and the owners are always generous and proud to offer fresh camels milk to their visitors. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan… but I do appreciate that Bedouin traditions live on here in Saudi! Maybe I’ll give it another try on my next camel farm visit…
What’s your favorite local food?
Fresh, frothy camels milk Saudi Arabia