Buffalo roast in roasting pan for a fall or winter meal
Buffalo Feast

As simple as it may sound, paying attention to what we eat and “eating local” can deepen our connection to the place where we live. In the U.S., the average food on one’s plate travels 1200 miles. That means the food we put into our bodies grows on soils vastly removed from our planetary home. Check it out sometime.

While on developmental leave at Ohio State University in 1989, I hosted a dinner for Usha, a student newly arrived from India. I planned a simple and slow dinner “from scratch”, featuring welcoming conversation and cooking. We had some of my favorite foods at that time: chicken in marinara sauce over pasta, lettuce salad, rich brownies with richer ice cream and raspberries. As we got to know each other while preparing our dinner, we looked at places of origin for each food. I was stunned: those foods that would sustain us had traveled from sea to shining sea and from around the world; those delicate raspberries from then Yugoslavia had traveled farthest. While I had known my food would travel great distances, I had no idea how much my food had traveled to then be stirred in my tummy. I quickly concluded that this surely must be a sign of a more advanced state. Pondering these food origins was just as remarkable for my guest. Foods served in her home in India were grown in the immediate area and purchased from the known vendor down the way. We both were puzzled at what we saw.

Over the years, I reflected on the relationship of these things. Not only were the foods grown on soils beyond my home, but the faces and lifeways of the people who grew it were invisible and unknown to me. On a spiritual level, I began to ponder the relationship between our chaotic lives and the widespread dispersal of foods on our plates. My scatteredness and running on the outside could perhaps reflect a cellular confusion at the heart of me. At least in part. These were things that my partner, a scientist, was also writing and thinking about. We had some long conversations and silences over the food on our plates. Our evolving and “advanced” reality was considerably different than my husband’s mother, who had proudly fed her family on food primarily from their land.

Over the years, we began consuming more and more local food. Our vegetable garden has expanded. Over the summer season, we contract with a family who offer shares of organic garden produce through Community Supported Agriculture. We regularly purchase produce from farmers’ markets. I simply love to know who grows my food. Standing eye to eye with the person who grows my food as we exchange cash for produce with stories added free is a deeply satisfying experience. The taste of these local things is beyond my imagination. It is like “Grandma’s garden”. I hadn’t known what I was missing.

The meal that provides us one of the greatest celebrations of connecting to place in the fall and winter season is Buffalo Roast. This recipe grew from my childhood memories of the wonderful roasts at Aunt Louise’s (hers were beef). We would enter her farmhouse after traveling through cold and smell the aroma of her special roasts. After living in North Dakota for almost 30 years, we began eating buffalo. Indigenous to the prairie, 40-60 million roamed 200 years ago on a virtual Serengeti plain in the heart of this continent. Buffalo are creatures of the prairies; the symbiotic relationship they have with the land leads to restoration, physical and spiritual, human and otherwise. Trying buffalo seemed a natural for us. Reclaiming Aunt Louise’s recipe for roast was another step to coming home.

Yesterday, we fixed buffalo stew. We were warmed by the aroma throughout the day. Once again, I pondered origins of the foods but this time I got different results: buffalo (raised on prairies 8-10 miles west); onion, corn, green beans (from truck gardens 3-10 miles as the crow flies); carrots, turban squash, dried beans (our garden); sweet potatoes, celery (California); portabello mushrooms (Pennsylvania). I am doing the best I can these days to feed my family on local foods. And for those foods, the soils and people are known to me and I smile. These special feasts nourish our bodies, warm our souls, and create an almost visible connection to this place.

Recipe for Buffalo Roast
(c) Glinda Crawford, 2004