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desert locavore

Taking the Eat Local

Tucson Challenge

When it comes to healthy living, I get tired of hearing “No.”

No to refined sugar, no to saturated fats, and a resounding no to anything in the doughnut section of the grocery store when it’s almost time for dinner.

I like to think of the farmers market as the Land of Yes. Yes, you can buy whatever you want. (That’s my rule.) Yes, it will be good for you. Yes, you can even think of it, if you’d like, as a charitable contribution.

I’ve been a farmers market shopper for about a year, but I never totally threw myself into the process until I took the Eat Local Tucson Challenge.

This challenge (see doesn’t actually start until Monday, so if you want to participate, you have time. It runs two weeks, and participants make their own rules. The only requirement is that you eat more locally produced food than you normally would. I decided to go 100-percent local excepting tea and salt.

My pre-challenge trip to the Tucson Farmers Market exuded yeses. Yes to that 16-ounce bag of pistachios, yes to local citrus honey, yes to an $18 bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, and a resounding yes to Sonoita wine. (And yes to all the local eggs, milk, beef and produce I needed, too.)

When I got to the actual eating part of the challenge, I found even greater delight. Not only did I love the taste of my baby greens salad topped with fresh peaches and seasoned cheese, I loved tucking it into my lunch pail each morning before I went to work. A lunchtime restaurant-goer by habit, I felt deeply nurtured by this act.

But it didn’t take long for nos to invade my adventure. One time, they took the form of a full Mexican buffet in the Explorer’s kitchen. Another time, they appeared as popcorn on a co-worker’s desk. On one occasion, they came as an unprovoked craving for chocolate cake.

Each time, I had to stare temptation in the face and keep going.

When I reached the end of Week One, I wanted a taste of the forbidden. I loved my new routine of preparing three delectable meals a day, but I didn’t love telling myself “no.”

Obviously, I hadn’t found the Land of Yes, after all.

For Week Two, I resolved to have it all. I’d keep preparing my local meals, but this time, I’d say “yes” to the extras I coveted along the way.

If somebody deposited a tasty treat in the Explorer kitchen, it was fair game. If friends invited me to eat with them at a restaurant, I didn’t have to think twice.

As for other indulgences, they had to pass my treat test. If I could honestly say, “Oh goodie, this will be such fun,” then the treat was mine.

Immediately after I set my rules for Week Two, I got a chance to test them. While standing in the checkout line at Target, I spotted a twin pack of cupcakes on the shelf and felt sorry for myself for being bound by the eat-local challenge.

“You can have that,” I told myself, generously. “Would you like that as one of your treats?”

The idea cheered me up. Then I thought about it for a moment. The truth was I didn’t even really like cellophane-wrapped cakes. If it was a treat I wanted, surely I could come up with something better.

“No thank you,” I mouthed silently, my lust fading.

Now a week has passed since the end of my private Eat Local Tucson Challenge, and I’m still loving my modified plan. While it may not be the one big resounding yes I’d hoped for, due to temptations from my surrounding culture, it does offer something equally good. It protects the specialness of treats.


Monday through Tuesday,

Sept. 15-30

• The Food Conspiracy Co-op will play host to the Eat Local America Challenge. Participants have access to activities. including a local farm tour and a desert gardening workshop, for inspiration. For more information, visit

Saturday and Sunday,

Sept. 20-21

• The Oro Valley and Tucson farmers markets will hold a chili festival from 8 a.m. to noon at Oro Valley Town Hall, 11000 N. La Cañada Drive, and St. Philip’s Plaza at the southeast corner of Campbell Boulevard and River Road, respectively. For more information, call 918-9811.


A typical menu during my Eat Local Tucson Challenge looked like this:

BREAKFAST: Fried egg, roasted potatoes, grapefruit and tea with milk and honey.

LUNCH: Baby green salad with salted heirloom tomatoes drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, a dollop of soft artisanal onion-and-dill cheese from Yuma cows, and beef strip seasoned with garlic.

DINNER: Assorted vegetables sautéed in olive oil and salt, carmelized onions and local wine.

SNACK: pistachios

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