Book Review: BoadillaSeptember 18, 2011
Book Review: The Forgotten WaltzOctober 3, 2011
Few trends have been more prominent in the food press these past few years than “locavore-ism”—the idea of sourcing your food from local producers, especially sustainable farms.
There are many sound reasons for this philosophy. For starters, it cuts down on “food miles”—the distance an ingredient has to travel to get to you—which means it decreases your carbon footprint. (No need to produce greenhouse gas emissions by flying or shipping those tasteless grapes all the way from Chile.)
It also helps support farmers, which means they can continue to get up at 4 am every morning and work long, hard days with no vacation, all for the privilege of feeding us. (Think about THAT the next time you complain about the price of the organic kale.) When farmers can count on a loyal, local customer base, they don’t have to worry about selling off their family farms and ranches to real-estate developers or large, factory farms—which are usually lousy neighbors. (Unless you enjoy the wafting aroma of pig feces with your morning cup of joe. Me? Not so much.)
Though there are several compelling ethical arguments for eating local food, I was reminded this week of another (more selfish) reason. Flavor. On Wednesday, I attended Just Food‘s “Let Us Eat Local” fundraiser. As a food writer, I’ve gone to my share of tasting events, and you’d be surprised at how often the food is mediocre (at best). But this event was different. I’m sure that that was partly due to the number of good restaurants represented, but I would also attribute it to the fact that the chefs were largely working with local ingredients.
The best dishes were the ones that featured the least cluttered flavor combinations. Like ABC Kitchen‘s shaved fluke with pickled plums, and The Harrison‘s roasted sweet corn soup with blue crab and tomatoes. These dishes prove that if you start with great, local food, you’ve already improved your odds exponentially. (Of course it helps to have a staff of professional chefs who’ll prep and cook for you, but we can’t all be Jean-Georges.)
Nothing about this post is rocket science; it’s not news to anyone who’s ever eaten a tomato fresh off the vine, or grilled a fish that was caught that same morning. The closer the source of the ingredients is to your kitchen, the greater the likelihood that they won’t have spent two weeks sitting in the back of a refrigerated truck as they made their way across the country to you.
It’s true that not every item can be locally sourced. If you live in NYC, and you want to buy things like bananas, chocolate, or coffee beans, you’re sh*t-out-of-luck. And you can revoke my environmentalist card if you must, but I love far too many flavors to eat nothing but potatoes, apples, and turnips for an entire winter in the Northeast. Plus, we all know that locally sourced food can be more expensive than supermarket fare, and who amongst us is made of money, especially these days? (Naturally, we all know that two major reasons for the price differential are government subsidies of large agribusiness and these factory farms’ shoddy management of natural resources, both of which help conceal the true cost of industrial food—but that’s a discussion for another blog post.)
But all caveats aside, buying local is also a little personal to me. My parents grew up on small farms in Spain, and their parents and grandparents spent their entires lives working the land, so I know how hard farming can be—how even your best efforts can still leave you with nothing if Mother Nature has it in for you that year.
In my own life, I refuse to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Though I may be constrained by practicality and budget, I’ll opt for local when I can. And when I do, I plan to enjoy every delicious bite.