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On Vacation: Looking for Sustainable Food in Nevada and California

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Over the last week, my family and I have been traveling on vacation to Las Vegas, NV and Los Angeles, CA to see my husband’s parents and sister’s family. We’re still here and I’d like to share my adventures in finding and buying healthy food on our trip.

The picture at the left is of Ann Marie Michaels and I at the Santa Monica farmer’s market in California- I’ll tell you all about that a little later in the story.

I was planning to take some of our own food with us since we’d be driving and we always take a cooler.

Here’s what we brought: meat, milk, ghee, cheese, fruit, coconut oil, and sprouted nuts. Ghee is fantastic for traveling because it keeps well and is healthy and delicious.

In the past when we’ve traveled to Las Vegas, I’ve done some shopping at Whole Foods Market because it was conveniently located near my in-law’s house and had at least some of the things we normally eat at home. Now I’m wanting to avoid WFM because of their refusal to keep raw milk on the shelves and their Health Starts Here Campaign. Read more about that here.

This time, I wanted to rely less on stores and more on my own food brought from home and also to take advantage of local food and farmer’s markets. I checked the Real Milk web site several weeks ago to find some good, local raw milk. Last year I got in touch with a woman who would travel to California and buy Organic Pastures raw milk and store it in her freezer. But by the time we got here and tried to connect with her, our schedules were too different and we were only going to be here less than a week, so we just decided not to pursue it.

This time, her contact information was no longer on the Real Milk page, and the only entry left for Las Vegas is a person named Nicole Lyn who is a contact for a co-op selling raw milk and other products from various farms. I tried contacting her and received a couple of unclear e-mails in return. After several attempts, I finally received a detailed message. As it turned out, the co-op delivers twice monthly and we were going to be in L.A. visiting my husband’s sister’s family during the delivery time. Apparently the co-op provides a variety in natural foods from sustainable farms – raw milk, cream, cheeses, sour cream, yogurt, and other items like coconut oil and raw honey.

What I have started to discover about Vegas is that there is not much local food available. Vegas is in the desert, and much of the “local” food doesn’t come from the desert, obviously. Much of it comes from surrounding states like Arizona, Utah, and some from Northern Nevada. Since Nevada is a pretty barren state, availability is limited.

I was able to visit a local farmer’s market that is relatively new and is actually located just across the street in a park from the condo complex where my in-laws live. It happens on Wednesdays in the seasonal farmer’s market months, and has a nice variety of foods from places like California, Utah, and Arizona. However, they don’t have any meat or meat products because the weather is much too hot. It’s mostly produce, jams, kettle corn, lemonade, and some arts and crafts.

The people I spoke with there said most of the meat and milk availability goes through co-ops and buying groups, but didn’t have any information other than to call the name of  a local butcher/meat store in Vegas where my in-laws sometimes buy meat. So, I called the business – Larry’s Great Western Meats – and sure enough, it’s all basically conventional. The woman I spoke with said it was “grass-fed” until it goes to the feedlot and then is grain fed. Sorry, not interested.

After calling several other places, I did find one business, The Butcher Block, which does regularly feature various cuts of meat from organic sources that are 100 percent grass-fed. They don’t have a web site, but the person I talked to was helpful and nice, and said he makes an effort to keep this type of meat available all the time.

Los Angeles

During our trip to Vegas, we planned a spontaneous trip to drive over to the west Los Angeles area for a few days to visit my husband’s sister so our son could see his cousins. I knew when we made it to California we’d have the chance to buy some great meat at one of the farmer’s markets and also probably be able to locate Organic Pastures milk at one of the health food stores.

On the road, I called their main business line to ask whether they sold any products in or around the Reseda area where we would be staying. I found out that they did, at a store called Follow Your Heart, only 4.5 miles from my sister-in-law’s house. Follow Your Heart, located in Canoga Park, CA, is a quaint little store with food and gifts, and caters to locals and the surrounding neighborhood. The store also hosts special events like health-education classes, music and other performance events. I love places like this!

For years I had known about (and back in the day used to purchase from my local health food store) a product called Veganaise, a home-made egg-less “mayonnaise” substitute made by this company. It wasn’t until I walked into the store that I connected this product with the store. Of course now I know how unhealthy vegetable oils and soy are to consume – the ingredients that make up the bulk of these products. This kind of store is what I would call a traditional foodist’s nightmare, except for a few choice items.

The minus side: Offers no meat or meat products. The store is replete with many foods containing soy and vegetable oils, and processed, packaged foods containing grains, fruits, and vegetables (and chemicals).

The plus side: They do sell grass-fed butter, cheese, and Organic Pastures raw milk and cream. I was so excited to find a clean source for raw milk only five minutes from my sister-in-law’s house! They also have a variety of beautiful gifts and novelties – cards, incense and candles, children’s toys and games, clothing, scarves, pictures, and household items. They also have a good stock of various dietary supplements and herbal products.

The best part of our trip to California for finding good food was our drive over to Santa Monica to meet up with Ann Marie, also known online as Cheeseslave, and her daughter to have brunch and visit the local farmer’s market. I wasn’t sure if we’d have time to do this with really only two days in California, but when my sister-in-law remembered she had scheduled an event to attend for her and her boys on Saturday, it was the perfect opportunity to drive down and check out the coast and the food offerings there.

Ann Marie is only the second fellow foodie from online I have met in real life, and it was a special treat indeed! She took us to the French restaurant, Le Pain Quotidien, which is actually a chain, but features mostly organic and local foods (and home-made, long fermented sourdough bread!). The food was wonderful. I had a chicken cobb salad that had amazing bleu cheese, bacon, and a nice variety of chopped vegetables. My husband had a ham and gruyere omelet with a spring salad, and my son had a home-made Belgian waffle with some ham and greens.

After brunch, we walked over to the farmer’s market. There you can find just about everything you need – grass-fed meats, pork, lamb, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, fruits, vegetables, heirloom garden plants, fresh flowers, raw milk, cheese and butter, honey, dried fruit and nuts, seafood, olive oil, herbs, and personal care products.

We bought some cuts of grass-fed meat (ground beef and a roast), bacon, ham, eggs, strawberries, and hand-made organic lotions made only from essential oils and shea butter from Roots Brothers Grows – the proprietor is a very nice man with awesome dreadlocks!  :)

This market definitely had more variety than our own market in Boise, but I was surprised that the size of our two markets was pretty comparable, which gives me hope for our own market. If you’ve ever been to the Capital City Public Market in Boise, Idaho, you will find that it really is quite a splendid market and does offer a good variety of products and food. But I still think the Santa Monica market is a bit better in its offering of grass-fed meats.

Here are two observations I made on this trip:

  1. I am always astonished at the enormous array of non-healthy foods sold in health food stores. I have noticed this to be true in all health food stores whether it is small, independent, locally-owned businesses like this one or the one in my own community, The Boise Co-op or a big corporate chain like Whole Foods Markets. Now, I know these kinds of faux-health food products are a big business, and they sell like hotcakes at stores. Some of the foods and other products I’m referring to are as follows: soy products, dairy products, cereals, pastas, crackers, chips, rice cakes, tortillas, canned foods, frozen foods, juice and other beverages, personal care products like shampoos, conditioners, skin creams, sunscreens, and other similar products.
  2. Las Vegas seems to have a distinct lack of resources and places where consumers have options for sustainable, farm fresh food. Unless I am mistaken, if you are traveling and don’t have a lot of time or a way to get places, your best bets are the farmer’s market located at the corner of Vegas and Rampart on Wednesday’s, The Butcher Block, and other stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Food’s Market. If you have any idea of the lack of ethics displayed by Whole Foods Markets, you’ll want to avoid supporting this business.

Want more information on healthy eating while traveling?

Eating Healthy While On the Go! Helpful Hints

What are your experiences traveling and finding food? Please share! I’d be very interested to know about anyone’s experiences in the Las Vegas area as we usually come to visit my husband’s parents at least once or twice a year.