Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Eating ‘Local’

I’ve been eating at several different tables these last few months and paying more attention to how menus have become rather elaborate in their descriptions and highlighting their ‘local’ ingredients.

Unfortunately, most of this is lost on me, just like when nice wait staff recite the day’s specials in wonderful detail and lose me after the second item.

I’m happy that we are all cooking with more local ingredients, period. But I wonder if it makes any difference if I know that the mushrooms are Hamakua wild mushrooms, the pork is Shinsato Farm pork, the short ribs are Maui Cattle Co. meat, the oysters are Blau oysters, the steak from Skagit River Ranch?

It does help define your brand and distinguish you from the greasy spoon diners and fast food joints. But if all the big kids are cooking ‘local,’ then it’s the same as nobody cooking local— as far as branding is concerned.

Where can we go from here?

There’s local— and there’s fresh.

There are Chinese restaurants where you can choose for your meal the rockfish fish or the Dungeness crabs still swimming in their tanks. There are sushi restaurants where the fresh water eel is gutted and prepared on the spot-- very local, very fresh.

I grew up skin diving and some of the best times were had coming out of the water, building a fire, and throwing the day’s catch of fish and octopus on the grill at the beach. Local and fresh.

I’m sure I’ll end up one day in a restaurant where I’ll be invited to go out to the hen house in back to collect my three eggs for my omelet and maybe even the basil, parsley and rosemary from the herb garden.

But I think I’ll draw the line if it came to knowing the name of the lamb whose rack of ribs I was eating, although it didn’t stop me from slaughtering two young buck goats a long time ago and eating ‘Gray Goat’ and “Brown Goat.” Never a good idea to name an animal you’re going to eat.

What are you eating these days?

--Mike Sato

3 comments:

  1. Good stories, Mike:
    sweamishness, guilt, homage, respect, praying, savoring, I guess these are all human feelings we oughtn'd to lose and it's good to know what we're putting in your gullet and where the precious food came from. The promotional hype though can get a little out of hand ("fresh from Grandma's garden").
    Grant Jones

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  2. The only problem I have with the big Eat Local campaign is that all the potatoe and berry farmers here in Skagit would collapse if everyone ate local.

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  3. Branding foods as 'local' is part of marketing that gives a product a name, a place, a story which we find -- and maybe read -- on milk cartons, seafood cans and even cookies. Think Peterman catalogue for food items. From the Amy's Kitchen box of gluten-free shortbread cookies: "After the birth of our daughter Amy in 1987 we found there was little time to prepare the wholesome nutritious food we normally ate. Realizing there were others like ourselves, we set up Amy's Kitchen to produce delicious, nourishing frozen meals for health-conscious people too busy to cook.... When Amy was little her grandmother used to bake cookies made from simple organic ingredients.... Amy grew up eating those cookies and still would like to enjoy them. However, like many people nowadays, Amy doesn't eat wheat, so our chefs tried out a gluten free version of the classic shortbread cookie, replacing wheat flour with a blend of almond and rice flour. The results were amazing...." Remember the story, remember the product.

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