By Patrick Hutchison, Selby meat & seafood buyer
Eating locally is in full swing, both in terms of the seasonal abundance of fresh food currently available and as a national movement as well. Locally sourcing one’s food has moved from a relatively underground obsession to a point where eaters can choose between CSA’s, farm markets, their local Co-op grocery or favorite restaurants of all price levels. “Eat Local” has become such a powerful idea that it has (by necessity) become a selling point for such massive retailers as Wal*Mart and Target.
In past summers of blogging for the Mississippi Market during the Eat Local Challenge, my focus has been primarily on the food found on our shelves. I’ve written about both the relative ease of the Challenge (it’s truly amazing how much of the Market’s products are local, all year ’round) and some of the less easy aspects; determining one’s own definition of relative locality and affordability, avoiding boredom, and planning out efficient use of the foods one purchases. It’s been fun to do this, and it’s allowed me to fully indulge both my instincts as a former professional cook and my arguably annoying penchant for taking pictures of my latest meal with my fairly decent cell phone.
This time around however, I’ll be spending a good chunk of August on vacation. Even though I’ll be leaving the amazingly robust local food region that I’m familiar with in the Twin Cities area, I’m still going to be making an attempt to eat locally when I can, wherever I am. The first several days of my vacation will be spent in Brooklyn, NY. Of course I’ll be sampling some obligatory New York regional and ethnic foods (I rather doubt that I’ll find a classic New York slice with local cheese, for instance). But I’ll also be keeping an eye on the local food culture there, and later as I travel to rural Central Pennsylvania. My assumption is that I’ll probably find a more vibrant Eat Local culture in the humming megalopolis of NYC than in PA, which as of my last few visits was ironically (like many agricultural regions of the US) a virtual “food desert”. But there are glimmers of hope there, too; last summer saw us stopping at a well-established farm store, and the recent explosion of consumer interest leads me to believe that the selection of locally sourced products may be better when we do our pre-cabin stock up.
One of the best parts of eating locally is that over time one begins to really see the “web” of small-scale food producers that help get quality food to our plates. My “challenge” this summer is to see how I fare when suddenly removed from this interconnected system that I’ve become so familiar (and comfortable) with. Should be quite a trip!