Alice Waters, the mother of local food in America, has learned that “the people who were growing the tastiest food were organic farmers in [her] own backyard.” At her acclaimed restaurant, Chez Panisse, she insists on the use of locally sourced ingredients because of their exceptional taste and quality. The small family farms she buys from tend to care more for their crops than industrial food producers do. They care for their plants each day, they harvest them by hand, and they have a respect for seasonality, nutrient-rich soil and sustainable growing techniques. Because of this care, Chez Panisse is able to serve the vibrant and alive food that it is internationally known for.
It’s certainly true that there is some fantastic local food – in Austin and otherwise. I buy my honey from Round Rock honey and love its pure taste. I have heard great things about the CSA programs of farms including Johnson’s Backyard Garden and Green Gate Farms. Locally grown cage-free eggs are far superior in quality than anything that can be found in a modern supermarket, to be sure. And for someone who has been raised on tasteless, mass-produced food for his or her entire life, the bright, succulent taste of a strawberry from a farm right up the road can be transformative. It’s easy to understand why so many have adopted the “Go Local” food philosophy after an experience like this. And it feels good to eat local food – it tastes good, we’re supporting our local economy and our neighbors, and we feel as though we’re part of a greater cause.
But before we give ourselves completely to the “Go Local” mantra that is so pervasive in Austin, it’s important to critically examine the implications of the statement. We should be asking:
- Is local food good by virtue of its being local?
- How do we define local food? Does its definition include “organic” as well?
- Is it practical to eat local?
- Ideally, should all our food be sourced locally?
- What about foods that we have grown to love – coffee, chocolate, and tropical fruits – that cannot be grown locally?
- Can everyone eat locally, regardless of socioeconomic standing?
These are the questions that we should be asking and answering in order to understand the local food movement comprehensively. Over the course of my upcoming posts, I’ll explore the issues behind the “Go Local” slogan.
If you have any thoughts, please don’t hesitate to email me.