If you read those articles, you read about the haves and have-nots–the people who can afford to dine at the latest locavore bistro or who chose to spend a large chunk of their income on good, healthy, fresh foods and those whose food culture is more of the mass-market variety.
Out here in the rural areas where I’ve been living for the vast majority of my life, the local food craze might seem like more of an urban fad than a legitimate lifestyle choice (and out here, even the phrase, “lifestyle choice” will raise some eyebrows).
While it’s true that I learned to cook creatively in a city (albeit a small one) where I had unlimited access–though limited funds–to embark on worldly restaurant excursions, my roots are in places where agriculture forms a sizable chunk of the economy.
With a background steeped in sit-down family meals and gardening as a form of both sustenance and competition (my mother and her father vied for the first full-sized bell pepper of the season), it seems to me that urbanites are really just catching on to what rural people have known all along–food from your farm or garden is fresher and tastes better.
That doesn’t strike me as a fad so much as a realization rather late in coming.
Sure, you can fancy up your arugula salad with the latest hip, imported cheese and toasted nut oils more easily in places where such amendments are easily sourced, but if you call it “rocket”–that super-early spring green that’s a tonic after the long, hard, snowed-in winter–it tastes just as good, and is a heckuva lot cheaper when you scatter a few seeds on the newly-thawed ground–or just harvest the volunteers from last year’s patch.
Often, the recipes that are celebrated in urban locavore cuisine have their roots in rural and peasant traditions (like the “nose-to-tail” craze)–they’re not new to a lot of us, they’re just new (and exciting!) to people who didn’t grow up with “delicacies” like blood sausage and head cheese, which are meant to salvage every last scrap of food from an animal’s carcass.
The necessities born out of the hardship of yesterday are today’s gourmet delights. If there is a real food culture in America, it comes from the traditions of immigrant farmers and ranchers–the rural people.
Now that our rural communities are emptying out, perhaps we should be thankful that the urbanites are taking up the cause of preserving our rural food traditions, even if we smirk a little at their newbie naivete.
But I would also argue that if we want to preserve our rural communities, a good way to do that is to celebrate our food culture and teach our traditions to new generations. If our own kids (having been steeped from birth in the dull-seeming traditions of their parents) aren’t interested, surely others are.
And we need to make those special foods locally available, so that tourists and passers-through and newcomers have access to the foods that make our region unique.
I was really disappointed today, after having found some really nice-looking potato sausage, that the only sauerkraut I had access to was a bag of mass-produced additive-amended stuff in the grocery store. Wha? After all the talk this fall of enormous cabbages and epic kraut-making adventures, I can’t find a single jar of the real deal?
If someone wants to trade fermented sauerkraut for fermented dill pickles, get hold of me. Next year, I’m laying in my own supply, even as I work to secure the commercial kitchen and processing space to ensure no one in Big Stone County suffers intense kraut disappointment in the future.
But the real point of this discussion is to say that local food is not about the latest trend, it’s about community–and it’s most especially about rural communities and their special food traditions.
You can’t call backyard gardening a fad in a place like Beardsley, Minnesota, where almost everyone in the skosh-over-200 population has one, or has a neighbor with more than enough produce to share. Where city-trendy hobbies like canning and preserving are an intrinsic thread in the fabric of everyday life and the cycle of the seasons.
For me, growing and sourcing local food–preparing it, preserving it, and eating it–is very much about community and making a home in a specific place.
Sure, it’s nice to dine at a fancy international bistro every once in awhile, but eating at home, and eating good food produced close to home, has always been more satisfying than the fanciest haute-cuisine-local-sustainable-organic-what-have-you meals I’ve enjoyed in metropolitan places.
Even when I end up doing all the dishes.