Food, good and tasty food, has become for some North Americans, and obsession! Millions spend untold amounts for obscure foods, others buy vegetables they really don’t know to prepare.
The ordinary North American follows food trends – some clever entrepreneur wants to sell a lot of something he/she has seen during his travels in Europe or
elsewhere in the world.
Then the ingredient or product is introduced with great fanfare and all kinds of health claims, without any substantiation.
Yet all these marketing activities for food do in promoting (at least in some cases) eating fresh, locally produced foods.
The fascination with food is one of life’s constants, but never before has it been as popular as deep-rooted as it is today. This can be attributed to a better educated generation that wants to enjoy food and live as long as possible without depending on artificial medications.
The new fascination with quality food bodes well for restaurateurs, and grocery store owners. Foodies want transparency about provenance, how the food was grown i.e organic, or fertilized by synthetic fertilizers, or in huge quantities with weak flavours because of excessive irrigation. Many young Californians in San Francisco and Los Angeles advocate purchasing from local farmers in farmer’s markets. They consider a distance of up to 600 kms. from farm to consumption as “local food”. I think this is far fetched! 150 – 200 kms is more like it.
Fresh food means from farm to table within the shortest distance practicable.
I remember working in a hotel kitchen in Austria, as a summer intern, and picking salads and herbs from the hotel’s garden every day.
Local food has no established definition – to some its means networks of local farmers, to others, on-line markets.
All local market farmers may not sell their own product, but buy imported produce and sell them as own as I have seen on several occasions. Honourable, small-scale farmers would never lower themselves to such practice. A few San Francisco foodies created the word locavores, and also designed locavores.com that you can read to learn about their thought, but more importantly, keep in mind geography.
In Toronto, or Montreal, produce available in winter is not locally grown, except a few root vegetables, or hothouse grown salads, tomatoes, herbs, providing they are properly stored. Locavores promote sustainable agriculture, purity of taste, freshness, nutritional value, regional commercial activity for farmers (by cutting out middle men in the process), stewardship of soil, and conserving energy. Imagine how much energy is used to transport a truckload of iceberg lettuce from the Salinas Valley in California to Toronto and beyond!
There are some who advocate importing specialized fruits from long distance claiming that the farmers of these regions produce more efficiently using the same inputs, and even though the produce transported over very long distances, it is still less expensive than locally grown fruit.
In some rare cases this may be true, not from a nutritional point of view, or taste wise.
In order to ship pears say from South Africa or Argentina to Canada, the fruit, by necessity must be picked unripe. It ripens during and after transportation. The same is true for bananas.
Also, remember that each vegetable or fruit starts losing nutritionally important constituents after picking.
Then you have to question the flavour and nutritional value of hothouse grown salads, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. Most assuredly, hothouse grown salads are clean, tomatoes uniform in colour and size, but what about taste?
Restaurateurs who make special efforts to buy locally grown foods and cook expertly, can build a reputation for their specialties and may I add, ambitious cooks are doing just that quite successfully.
A few chefs in the Niagara Peninsula unabashedly promote their farm to table policies and consumers respond favourably.
Everyone can do it, given their location; some more successfully than others.