Monday, February 8, 2010

Livin La Vida Locavore

The Oxford University Press had this to say about the relatively new but exciting locavore food movement:

The past year saw the popularization of a trend in using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives.

The “locavore” movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.

“The word ‘locavore’ shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment,” said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”

“Locavore” was coined two years ago by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Other regional movements have emerged since then, though some groups refer to themselves as “localvores” rather than “locavores.” However it’s spelled, it’s a word to watch. (

It is obvious to me that such a philosophy would be formed, articulated and advocated by an individual or group from a place like California. You would not expect to find someone from Montana or Wyoming promoting such an idea. I don't think it would appeal to Idahoans to subsist upon a cellar full of potatoes and onions for the whole winter.

I think the idea is brilliant for the many reasons stated above. Even so, I do not think that all aspects of this philosophy are perfect or of equal importance. But when it works, it is great.  

Two recent examples have been carrots from our neighbor Wendell's garden and oranges from our friend Devon (who just happens to live in California which, she likes to boast, has year-round growing seasons). I think it would be great if we could all be locavores. I think, regardless of our climate, we can buy local inasmuch as we have local dairy and livestock industry or other foods that do not require warm weather year round for those of us who don't live in the an area referred to as "the salad bowl."

As stated, the first dilemma however, is that for many, the climate doesn't offer a great deal of variety in local fare for much of the year. Let's face it - Shoo Fly Pie is a unique and wonderful treat - but the Pennsylvania Dutch did not start out with a great idea to make a dessert just out of flour, molasses and butter. The recipe was a dictated by their resources, a good (and delicious) example of the so-called "pantry principle" where, in the scarcity of late winter and early spring, they were left without other ingredients they would have preferred to use in making a pie or other dessert.

So it is that necessity is the mother of invention and, as it turns out, the creator of Shoo Fly Pie and its relatives in France and the American South, where so many great recipes find their origins in times of scarcity and poverty. There is an old saying - German I think - which says, "Hunger is the best cook." This is not simply because things taste better to us when we are hungry (remember that Big Mac that started out so appetizing but near the end made you wish you'd never been born) but because great inspiration and creativity flow when cooks are faced with limited resources.

One other limitation to the locavore philosophy is that, there are so many excellent types of food from different parts of the world that without importing/exporting through the complex global distribution networks in place for that purpose, some of us might never know what an avocado tasted like or get to make our own pan-seared butter and herb scallops. I would never get to eat a wonderful California orange without visiting California personally. And if you think black truffles are expensive and hard to come by now, imagine if you had to go to Alsace in order to partake.

And speaking of oranges, last December I looked forward to buying a big box of Sunkist oranges, as is our custom. Where as we had a great box the Christmas before, this purchase was a complete disappointment and should have been sold as rawhide chews for dogs. Although I know, as Jerry Seinfeld told Kramer about purchasing produce, "Produce is a gamble. I know that going in." I was, nevertheless very disappointed.

Enter our friend Devon; kind, altruistic benefactress and purveyor of great produce. She has not only sent us the most beautiful avocados (not Haas, Floridian or other type you can even get in the market but a special hybrid only available in her locale), Meyer lemons, and so forth but we have been enjoying a surprise delivery of oranges which are so unbelievably sweet and juicy that they are difficult to peel or dissemble without losing more juice than store-bought oranges have in the first place. As it turns out, a bread knife works great for breaking down oranges like this with minimal mess and loss.

And so I say - Hurray for oranges and the people who send them! Hurray for our own local agriculture and livestock industries! Hurray for good weather to grow our own eats! And hurray for the producers, transporters and sellers of those things which we can't get from local sources! 


  1. Wow, this Devon person sounds like Hathor's Second Coming. Too good to be true, Fuerte Avocados notwithstanding. What about Wendell's carrots? How were they?

    FYI: Only some parts of California have a year-round growing season. There are things that don't grow well ever (root crops) and times of scarcity in that state where history has proven that pickins can indeed become slim (as in the infamous party which gave the Donner Pass its name). In fact, now with the drought on, California orchardists are cutting down and destroying their trees because it's cheaper than trying to keep them hanging on until the drought breaks.

    And secondly, hunger makes the best seasoning. It does nothing for cooks' abilities. :)

    Does the loca(l)vore (trying not to read too much into "loca" here) movement accept greenhouse-grown produce? That is, if I wanted to practice locavoracity (? locavoriciousness? what is it called?), could I grow my own Maitakes and Tangelos in a greenhouse in say Michigan? It seems that in this day and age where grow lights are available from every big box store (not to mention home-delivery from, anyone with the space can set up a year-round plot.

    I think there's something to be said for knowing what you're eating (as in, knowing how it was grown and with what chemicals), but at the same time, it seems more than a little impractical to have to plant my own wheat field if I ever want to eat a piece of bread. Is there a way to ethically straddle the fence on this issue? Is there a way not to if you truly love food and know that it always tastes better when in season? Just curious...

  2. I have to say that the localvore movement has some merits. Have you read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"? Very interesting, enlightening read. I do believe in supporting local farmers, etc., but at the same time, why do they have to cost so much money? Sometimes I don't notice a difference in quality. But I do now refuse to buy tomatoes out-of-season. They just aren't worth my money. I think this year I might grow a tomato in a container and bring it inside in the winter, since they are self-pollinating.