Welcome to my blog about my efforts to eat sustainably and locally in Manhattan.

In the past five years I have thought increasingly about where my food comes from, and I have begun to source more and more of my food from local farms and purveyors whose methods I know and whose values I support.

My original inspiration came, as I suspect it did for many people, from Michael Pollan's seminal 2006 book "The Omnivore's Dilemma." Although I had always been a relatively "healthy" eater, for the most part eschewing fast food and processed food, eating instead a varied diet of fresh, whole foods, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" opened my eyes to how little I really knew about where my food came from and how far-reaching the effect of my food choices was. The result was that I began paying attention: asking questions at restaurants and farmers markets, reading more books and blogs, taking notice of my choices and sometimes making different ones.

Luckily I was surfing a wave (likely caused by the very book that had inspired me) and as I became more interested in this topic, others did as well. More books and movies touching on sustainability and agriculture came out, the public "discovered" Alice Waters (herself Pollan's inspiration), farmers markets began popping up in record numbers, restaurants began proudly listing their local suppliers, and like-minded people began joining together in CSAs and "eat local" challenges. The term "locavore" was coined. At the same time, movies, books and articles exposed the horrors of industrial agriculture, and waves of fruit, vegetable and meat recalls for salmonella and E. coli contamination brought those horrors home.

In the years since I started paying attention to the sources of my food, I have slowly made changes to increase the amount of local, sustainably produced food in my diet. It has not always been easy -- it takes more time, money and effort to be a "locavore" than it does to just eat whatever is put in front of you. But the more I learn, the more I am convinced that that time, money and effort is well spent. This blog is intended to document the changes I have made, and continue to make, in my quest to eat as locally, seasonably and sustainably as possible.

Of course reality constantly encroaches on idealism, and so there are always trade-offs, compromises and choices to be made. Ideally, everything I eat would be produced locally from local, organic, sustainably produced ingredients. Some of these criteria are elastic and some are not always possible or practical, but the main goal is to stay mindful that my choices matter, and to make the best ones possible given the circumstances.

Given that I live in the Financial District of Manhattan, "local" is already a bit of a loose term. (Although there is actually a small farm on Governor's Island, within two miles of my apartment.) I consider food local if it is from upstate New York, Long Island, or any of the surrounding states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. I prefer locally produced food not just because it has less distance to travel, but because it is often fresher, keeps me in sync with the seasons, supports local economies, and helps keep nearby land vibrant and fertile.

Local or not, I will always choose organically produced food over conventionally produced food. By "organic" I do not necessarily mean the USDA standards governing the term, but generally food that is grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, instead utilizing natural fertilizers, crop rotation systems, and natural pest control methods. This is not just because I don't want to eat chemically-treated food -- the chemical pesticides and fertilizers from conventional agriculture run off to contaminate nearby soil and streams, and single crop production threatens biodiversity and leads to barren soil that needs ever more chemical fertilizer. Organically produced food is healthier for the soil and the environment as well as for me.

With regard to animal products, I choose purveyors who raise the animals with habitats and feed as similar as possible to those the animals would choose in the wild. For cows, this means grass pasture and hay, not grain, corn or industrial cattle feed. For chickens, this means pasture as well, where chickens will eat insects along with seeds and grasses as they pick through the fields. For pigs, this means foraging in pastures and woods for whatever pleases the snout. For all animals, this of course also means not using hormonal growth supplements or prophylactic antibiotics.

Seafood is one of the hardest foods to make sustainable choices about, because there are so many species and fishing (or farming) methods, and there are no standard rules of thumb. I rely almost totally on the Seafood Watch List put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (also available as an iPhone application), but I still find myself confused about seafood choices from time to time.

The overarching aim is to choose foods that further the goal of the sustainability of our environment and our agricultural system. Organically grown produce increases the health of soil and streams and consumes what would be polluting animal waste as valuable fertilizer. Locally grown produce brings those agricultural benefits to your proverbial backyard, keeping the watershed clean and the regional environment healthy. Pasture-raised animals become a part of the agricultural cycle, fertilizing and aerating fields as they graze them, and are protected from infections and illness by fresh air and the foods that are most healthful for them. And responsibly fished seafood maintains fish stocks and the health of our oceans.

Beyond the environmental reasons for choosing sustainably-produced food, there are purported health and taste benefits. I cannot speak to the health benefits other than to say that consuming plants that have not been chemically treated,  and animals that have not gotten hormones or antibiotics seems logically healthier to me than the alternative. Taste benefits are, of course, subjective, but in my opinion locally, sustainably produced food has always proven to be fresher, juicier and more flavorful than its conventionally-grown counterparts. The only way to find out if I am right about that is to do a taste-test yourself!

I hope some readers will be inspired to follow my lead, especially during the NY Locavore Challenge in September and the nationwide Eat Local Challenge in October. And I also hope readers will help me by sharing their own tips for eating locally and sustainably, in Manhattan and in general.

Let's begin!