The lack of ketchup for the two small McKeever women left them shocked (and appalled) and me questioning the flavour of the dinners I cook.
Flavour was a surprise as without said condiments, carrots tasted like carrots should taste and cooked ham is now a serious thing in our house.
To recap on what this 50km diet challenge is: for one week, we ate only foods grown or produced within a 50km radius of our homes.
If buying processed foods the ingredients were to have at least 50% of the ingredients within the 50km.
The McKeevers live in south Kilkenny, 5km from the village of Windgap, which has one shop which stocks the “essentials”. The next biggest town is Callan where there is a SuperValu and an Aldi. Kilkenny and Clonmel are equidistance from the house and between them all the retailers are represented.
The usual weekly shop and spend
A review of my food spending was also a useful result of this process. I was shocked by how much I was spending on food on the go, which is most likely not Irish. As eating out while doing this challenge was not possible, we spent considerably more on food than we normally would.
I would normally eat out for lunch a few times per week (€40), when in the office, we would get a take away once a week (€25) and the kids get a school lunch delivered from the Lunch Box service once a week (€5).
The average Aldi spend is approximately €120/week. This is then topped up with another bi-weekly “proper shop” in Dunnes Stores once every two weeks (€100).
Unlike both Janine and Ciara, I was on a winner with Flahavan’s porridge. All of their conventional oats (Progress Oatlets, Quick Oats etc) are grown within a 60-mile radius of their mill in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, which is 40km from our house. The mental Venn diagram in my head had those two circles firmly overlapping. Of course, we couldn’t have raisins, nuts, frozen fruit or conventional sugar but with hives in our forestry, we were not short of sweetness.
Lunches were more of an issue and I found that moving some of our traditional breakfast items to lunch was the best route.
The great bread debate
It is well known that we don’t produce white bread flour here in Ireland. However, that is not to say that you cannot get flour for bread. I had to have bread for the kid’s lunches and I was successful in securing two types. First I contacted The Little Mill in Bennettsbridge.
Joe from the company assured me of their dedication to Irish flour: “We have always done our very best to source suitable wheat for bread-making flour grown here in Ireland. As you know, the climate here in Ireland is not always suitable for the successful commercial growing of cereals of the quality required for a bread making flour. For our plain wholemeal wheat flour, which is a ‘soft flour’, we source 100% of the grain here in Ireland, 50% of which comes from farms within a 20km radius of our mill.”
The company is also working with farmers to grow a wider range of rarer ‘heritage’ cereals. They are several years into this programme and they are gradually building up sources from local farmers but Joe cautioned: “This does take time. It also depends on support from our customers.” I think that this is a very relevant observation considering ongoing conversations in relation to the impact of food production on the environment. Farmers will produce food but customers have to act with their feet and buy it. The Little Mill products can be gotten through their websites but also in many Dunnes and SuperValu stores as well as some independent stores like Ardkeen Stores in Waterford.
When we have a hospital appointment, I never ever leave Waterford without visiting Ardkeen Stores. Mam will always put in an order for olives and I love their cheese selection. On this occasion I was on the hunt for fish. Goatsbridge trout farm is well within my 50km and so we swapped smoked salmon out and trout in. They also do a caviar but as I could hear the comment “‘Tis far from caviar you were reared.” I left that one for the next customer.
More to the butcher than meat
Meat as expected was absolutely no problem. Good friends of mine own the butchers shop in Mullinahone. Edward O’Brien has his own cattle, Kylenagranagh, so all the beef is hyperlocal. While in his shop I also got carrots, which were sourced from O’Sheas in Piltown and a bottle of Michael Corbett’s rapeseed oil (Emerald Oil) which is produced from start to finish on their farm in New Inn. I picked up a Butlers Family Farm free-range chicken in John Murphy’s butchers in Callan.
At 2.5kg, we had chicken for lunches for a number of days post the roast dinner. In John’s we also picked up salmon from Kilmore Quay but realised afterwards that the Wexford port was not actually within range.
Meat protein is good but we also like egg protein in our house. It probably won’t surprise many but young Michael Hayden, who rose to fame as the “Fear the Deere” Toy tester on The Late Late Toy Show in 2015 continued his enterprising streak and has set up an egg sales business from the family farm in Drangan. Initially I went to get Butlers Organic Eggs but Hacketstown again was out of range.
I always say that the pig is the only animal you can eat three times a day and not have even remotely the same meal. As Homer Simpson would say it’s a “magical animal”. I sourced our bacon and ham from O’Neills in Enniscorthy. Ham sandwiches and the fry up were secured. Flavour was a massive thing here. We generally buy sliced ham for the kid’s lunches. When I took the O’Neills dry-cured ham fillet out of the slow cooker and started slicing it, there were some questions asked about why it looked different. The 1kg ham cost €10 and it should have lasted for their lunches for the full week but the girls had eaten half of it within a few hours of cooking it. They loved it.
We also have a neighbourfood in Callan. I bought a 5kg bag of Oak Forest Mills Stoneground white Spelt flour [I might never run out of flour again] which also made a nice bread. I did cheat and use a raising agent which was not within my 50km. Through neighbourfood, I also got a Speltbakers Irish sourdough loaf made from the aforementioned flour.
An absolute highlight was the bag of greens that I got from Slievenemon View organic farm. I got the mixed leaf salad and it was really exceptional value as there was lots in the bag, it was really tasty and it lasted really well. Bargain for €3. Last on this list was a bag of queens which were from Patrick and Will Stokes, potato and vegetable producers from Kilsheelan, Co Tipperary.
Cheating – a little
Like Janine, I chose coffee as my cheat item but if I am 100% honest, we exercised a little liberty when sourcing some of our staples, for example, dairy. Where we live, we are surrounded on all sides by dairy farms and they all supply Glanbia. We are not within 50km of the processing plant in Ballitore but both Belview and Ballyragget are both within range so cream, milk and cheese from the Avonmore ranges found their way into our fridge as normal. I felt doubly justified in this as when I was young and before we exited dairying we would take milk directly from the bulk tank and pasteurise it ourselves. A Google revealed that these are still available to buy if you were so inclined.
I will be absolutely honest and say that without my mother’s generosity and planning, this 50km diet would have been much more difficult. Over the summer, mam made tomato sauces from her own tomatoes and this enabled me to replace tinned tomatoes for beef stews and [potato] bolognese.
Between her herbs and a vegetable stock I was able to flavour food and create dinners that otherwise would have been impossible. For reasons unknown, my smaller daughter hates spuds. She is a pasta or rice girl and really struggled with this. I would say that living where we live, it is possible to eat plain but very well within the 50km. However, you need to be really organised. The winter diet needs to be frozen in summer to get through the hungry months.