Saturday, November 03, 2007

Local Schmocal



Is anyone else out there starting to get sick of all the "eat local" hullaballoo?

I'm not sure why it's suddenly getting to me. For years I've sung the praises of great local seafood and local produce and locally-owned restaurants. Fresh-caught shrimp and homegrown tomatoes and freshly picked greens--what could be better? I've always leaned toward the gamble of trying the local dives instead of the franchised chains, believing the risk paid off often enough to outweigh the mediocre sameness of Everywhere USA. Nothing makes me happier than pottering down the aisle of my local farmer's market and discovering fresh, wonderful produce grown just down the road by a small-scale local farmer.

I still love all these things. But just in the past few months or so something has shifted and it's now seeming a little out of proportion. "Eating local" is no longer a hobby or a personal preference or even an aesthetic philosophy. It's now a full blown "movement", complete with books and websites and organizations and journals. You can't throw a rock in the high-end restaurant community without hitting some chef who pronounces his commitment to "localism and sustainable food."

Perhaps I'm just getting a bit of the "no one goes there anymore: it's too crowded" syndrome. Trendiness can be annoying, especially when you know that half the people raving today about the angelic brillance of their locally-raised free range rabbit with heirloom radish puree will, three years from now, be standing in line waiting for a table at the hip bistro of the month specializing in factory-farmed owls raised in anaerobic isolation tanks in China because that's what's all the rage according to Gourmet and The New York Times food section.

But that's not the real reason. I guess what really bothers me most is that the "Eat Local" movement is doing the right things for all the wrong reasons. Something about the high-minded moralism gets to me: it's an odd form of sensual Puritanism. We should be buying and relishing local produce not because it's morally superior to other ways of eating nor because it helps advance some fuzzy notion of "sustainable agriculture" but rather because it tastes good and is fun to eat.

I'm not going to stop eating at locally-owned restaurants or going to the farmer's market or seeking out fresh local shrimp (which I once thought was morally superior to imported or farmed shrimp but, as it turns out, aren't high on the "sustainability" rankings because the trawler nets can catch sea turtles and other endangered creatures, so it's hard to know what to do). I'll still eat locally. But, I'll probably stop talking about it so much.

2 comments:

rottenoysters said...

Exactly. A year ago it was soccer moms championing organic food (flown in to whole foods from chile and picked up in a hummer). Now it's Go Local! It's always annoying when common sense becomes sloganized and then super-trendy.

I think a lot of this owes to the fact that we are still relatively young in terms of food traditions--in Europe, everyone knows that local, seasonal food is better and that animals taste best when properly raised. They simply have a more established food culture. Couple the fact that we are young in this sense with the fact that we love slogans and trends and you have a recipe for perpetual annoyance.

By the way, Go Green!!!

Just kidding.

Rev. Biggles said...

I'm that anyone else, am raising my hand. I'm in the center of the SF Bay Area and can't move 4 feet without bumping in to it.

I wonder what's next?

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