SITKA — A locavore eats only food that comes from its immediate area, and on Baranof Island — provided you don’t move on four legs, have wings or live underwater — it’s a very difficult thing to be.
But one Sitka woman decided to give it a try.
Kari Sagel, who is head librarian at Blatchley Middle School, went to the Aug. 10 Sitka Farmers Market aiming to stock up on enough locally grown or harvested food to sustain her for a week.
“I got to the Farmers Market at 10 o’clock, and I was just going to be a pig and take everything, no matter how many customers they had,” Sagel said with a laugh.
The motivation for the experiment had nothing to do with weight loss or promoting local foods, but came from plain curiosity.
“I did it to amuse myself,” Sagel said, “but it wasn’t that amusing.”
She said the idea stemmed from a conversation with friends that eventually turned to a discussion about the feasibility of living only on foods that could be found in or around Sitka.
“Originally I was going to do it as part of a group, but people got busy and forgot, and I decided I still wanted to try it myself,” Sagel said.
The rules for being a locavore in Sitka were pretty simple: if it wasn’t made, grown, harvested or caught within walking — or swimming, in the case of fish — distance of Sitka, she wouldn’t eat it.
“I got a lot of food from the Farmers Market but I got most of my help from friends who gave me local foods,” Sagel said.
Brooke Schafer and Hank Moore gave her fish and venison, and Florence Welsh provided much of the week’s greens in the form of cabbage. Perhaps the biggest help, Sagel said, came from Doug Osborne, the friend who helped her think of the idea, and who is also a board member of the Sitka Local Foods Network.
“Doug gave me 18 eggs that saved my week,” Sagel said. Osborne also provided tomatoes and raspberries. “The tomatoes were the most wonderful thing of the week.”
Sagel used local sea salt and ate a lot of potatoes, turnips and made smoothies made with carrots and salmonberries. If a carrot and salmonberry smoothie doesn’t sound like a very sweet way to start the day, it’s because it isn’t, Sagel said.
“One tablespoon of sugar would have made the whole week for me,” Sagel said. “A little bit of sugar would have made (the smoothies) go easier.”
Sagel said when she tries it again she might attempt to boil locally-grown beets for beet sugar or grow a plant called stevia. Stevia belongs to the sunflower family and has sweet leaves that are said to be useful as a sugar substitute.
The sugar-free week had its benefits, Sagel said.
“I had basically no sugar and I think that was a really good thing,” she said. “It’s nothing new, but it was certainly made obvious to me that we could all use less sugar in our diets.”
The other notable omission from Sagel’s list of foods was cooking oil or butter. Sagel had to change the way she cooked things, opting for water over cooking oil, which limited her recipe experiments during the week.
“Changing the way you cook takes a lot of energy,” Sagel said. “Cooking without cooking oil was probably the biggest challenge.”
While weight loss was not a goal, Sagel estimated that she lost 20 pounds as a locavore. She can’t say for sure how much of that loss was because of the local food choices, and how much from the fewer calories she had time to consume that week during her busy preparation for the start of the school year.
“I definitely picked the wrong week to try it,” Sagel said. “I would estimate I was eating between 300 and 700 calories a day.”
Despite the caloric and culinary challenges, Sagel said she made it through the week without cheating on her locavore diet, and nearly completed the week craving-free.
“I had decided I would have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the morning (after her week ended), and once I had made the decision as to what I was going to eat I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said.
Sagel plans on another locavore experiment next summer, when she hopes to have more company in the project. She said she learned enough this year that the road will be easier next time.
“I will try and extend it to two weeks,” she said. “One week was not that long, but I was glad it was over.”
Sagel said she’s still adjusting back to a normal diet. The sugar change has been the biggest adjustment.
“When I had my peanut butter-and-jelly-sandwich and orange juice it tasted incredibly sweet,” she said.
Next year Sagel hopes that having more participants will make it easier by providing a greater pool of resources to draw from, but her experiment did show her that, while difficult, an all-local diet is possible.
“I found that there’s a lot of people doing (local food) stuff in Sitka,” Sagel said. “Local food week would be possible for a large number of people.”