Friday, September 21, 2007
Wherever you look, they’re there: those happy Marin-county infused people who only eat things from Nearby, thank you very much. With sturdy, healthy hands, they drag themselves to the farmer’s market bright and early every weekend ready to scrupulously vet the location, whereabouts, and personal affinity of every animal and plant they put into their mouths. They’re happy about their eating habits, all right, and they want you to know about it – so be prepared for a look of disdain when you’re popping open a bottle of Italian wine or chowing down on some so-not-local Hawaiian Mahi-Mahi.
It’s not enough to eat organic, humanely raised, biodynamically farmed personally massaged food anymore: it’s gotta be local. And everyone from the Sacramento Bee to the New York Times to every food blogger under the planet is jumping on the bandwagon, breathlessly detailing their personal attempts to eat within a 100 miles or within 20 miles or within about 20 feet. (True story.) Local food is in. Local food is hip. Local food is within, well, spitting distance.
I think this local business began after the end of the initial organic onslaught, where it had to be all or nothing organic or you were TOTALLY GOING TO HELL. Then the socially conscious set (Berkeley residents) came to the startling realization that the organic tomatoes they were mixing into their Mario Batali endorsed veal sugo came from very, very far away. Thus the seeds of something else to get indignant about were planted in their casually coiffed heads. Add in Michael Pollan, the monolithic Ferry Building Farmer’s Market in San Francisco, and the always fad-happy New York Times, and you have the beginnings of the next big moral food junta. Run and hide.
Now, I have nothing against high minded eating. I actually read and finished Michael Pollan’s by now ubiquitous Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I like his message: that we need to be aware of where our food is coming from. The localvores are correct on that count. We are helping to steward the planet by eating food that didn’t emerge from a vacumn-refrigrated-monster-truck that began in El Salvador. We are aiding our community by giving support to local farms and local producers. We are eating better by avoiding mass-produced corn infused foods and turning again to wholesome fruits o’ the earth. I get it.
However, why the hell does it have to be so rigid?
I happen to be a big fan of exotic food. I love to eat food from all over the world, as often as possible. I would happily eat a different world cuisine for every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Well, not Chinese cereal. That’s gross.) But local food, despite being big on tradition, seems to indicate that the exotic flown-in-ingredients often used in these cuisines are bad bad bad.
And of course, exotic ingredients from far away aren’t the worst of it. What about all those delicious, shelf stable snack foods most of us like to indulge in? Those sure as hell aren’t being produced within a 100 miles of my Sacramento home. My little Kettle Chips problem is not being fed by my local foodshed. And neither is my sushi one either, unless they happen to be farming big meaty ahi tuna in Folsom Lake now.
My high-heeled foot is on the throat of the farmer’s market seller, the environment, and possibly Alice Waters herself if I refuse to give up my tamarind or my hamachi or my Goldfish crackers, the ardent Locavores seem to say. If I really want to be a conscious member of the planet, an eater with a conscience, a supper with a soul, organic and humane and biodynamic ain’t good enough. No, I need to severely constrict my diet and my choices for the good of us all.
And I reply: bullshit.
For one thing: we live in an incredibly globalized city. A lot of Northern California progressives seem to think that’s a terrible thing, a harbringer of a future filled with boxes made of tickey-tackey and Quizno’s sub shops sharing carnal relations with Wal Mart shoe emporiums. I don’t see it that way. I see this globalization and interchange of ideas, products, and yes, food as a damn good thing indeed.
Globalization is the reason why I love California: because I can listen to 30 different languages and eat 30 different cuisines whenever I step out my door, because almost everyone I see on the street is in some way manifestly unlike me. And if eating a traditional ethnic dish made with ingredients that don’t grow so hot in the Sacramento region means I’m giving a pass to the Locavore idealogy…well, too bad.
Trying new things and exploring California’s ridiculous wealth of diversity is another way to strengthen the community, even if it doesn’t involve a pleasingly rustic farmer.
Futhermore:why isn’t trying good enough? You might reply that that’s a cop out. I’m not sure. I have heeded the warnings of the proponents of organic and local food, and furthermore, I try to follow their guidance. I visit my farmer’s market as much as I possibly can. I avoid the chemically laden plasto-fruits in favor of produce grown with soul (and hopefully nearby.) I enjoy local yogurt, cheese, fruit, and even local Merlino’s Fruit Freezes. But I can’t adhere to this plan all the time. Sometimes I want that damn Maine lobster tail or that buttery slab of sashimi from Japan.
Sometimes I need a bag of artisan free trade potato chips. Maybe I really just want a (horrors) Oreo. But that’s okay. At least it should be okay. If I’m trying 70 percent of the time to eat local and organic, I’m making a difference. I’m supporting the side of angels, deliciousness, and the beatific gaze of Alice Waters. I am not perfect (and never will be) but at least I am aware.
And that’s good enough for me and should be good enough for the Locavore Lobby as well.
Now off to enjoy some local Jelly Bellys! Score!