What it means to think about food
I recently heard an interview of an author who’s written a book called “where locavores get it wrong…”. His basic thesis is that for someone who is concerned with the carbon footprint of their food, local is often not the right choice. It often is of course, but sometimes it makes more sense to import snap peas from Uganda than it does to walk down to the farmers market. I guess this is true. I imagine the man did his research, as he was being interviewed on a show I trust, so I’m going to take it as a given that he’s not lying. So that begs the question…why eat local? If we can get snap peas year round from disparate corners of the globe, always snappy and fresh (or at least fresh-ish), and at the same time reduce our carbon footprint, why all this talk of eating local?
The answer that I’ve come to (full disclosure, Michael Pollan was also on the show, and he had a similar idea to the one I’m about to espouse, but I swear I thought it before he said it on the show) is that local food is about more than food. Wild food is about more than food. People love wild foods, they’re clearly delicious, often more nutritious (and I believe if the author had done his research on foraged foods he would have found they are much more carbon efficient, but put that aside for a second), but I’m not sure that’s the main reason people love them. To me wild food is almost more about the connection to the place I live. I’ve lived in San Francisco for two years now (just had my anniversary), and I feel more a part of this place that almost anywhere else on earth. I’ve explored more of the Bay than I have in VT, and I grew up there. I meet people every day that are interested in what I’m doing, and want to be involved. I know that a week after the first rains I’m going to mushroom forage, I know who I’m going with, I know what I will (or should) find. I’m honestly looking forward to going up to Mendecino next week to collect acorns, and making plans for the best way to get to the wild onions before the landscapers get them next spring. I feel a part of this place, and that has all sprung from my interest in the foods of this place. I throw dinners that have become some of the most memorable meals of my life. I know chefs all over the city, and always know if I have a question about the food business I can ask Ian at Far West Fungi. The people I call friends are the people who are actively working towards changing the way America eats. Creative people who, through their creativity, inspire people to see the world in a different way.
Local food is about much more it’s carbon footprint. That’s important of course, but what the local food movement is really about goes beyond the eating. It goes to a connection with the place you live, and the people that make that place important. When you buy a mushroom from a forager (or a farmer), you support that person, their community, expand your own community, and get to know the place you call home just a little bit better.