The Whole Local Food Thing

BY BILL ST. JOHN

In order to "get" local, it may pay to look far and wide.

The Slow Food movement — begun in Italy in the 1980s by a group of food activists — really has changed how we see the idea of eating “local.” Mainly via what it calls its “convivia” — almost terroir-based gatherings of food folk (farmers, producers, gardeners, eaters) — Slow Food, again and again, calls us not only to purchase and consume foods grown near us, but to cherish them, sustain them, shield them from leaving us.

Consequent with this, some have taken Slow Food’s message to mean shunning foods obtained from afar (as, needless to say, not local, but perhaps also not wholesome). Foods have been saddled with frequent flyer miles or their transportation to have imprinted carbon footprints. 

But to see matters clearly, perhaps, to really see what “local” means, maybe it’s we who need to do the traveling, if only by our imaginations.

“Everything is local to somewhere,” says Pete Marczyk. A cad says that the phrase is superfluous, but it’s its superfluity that should whip-snap our attention.

“I was eating a bag of potato chips,” says Marczyk, who at the time was not in the U.S. Northwest, “that said 'Made with locally grown potatoes'.” Right. Well, yes, they were “locally grown” to somewhere, but the marketing minions were shaving the lens to look a certain direction that wasn’t underfoot.

“The olive oil that we sell isn’t local,” reiterates Marczyk. “The fish that we sell isn’t local.” 

But those things from Marczyk's — and so many others on the shelves of the market — are “local to somewhere” — and that “local” is important to your “local,” especially your local mouth and your local aesthetic.

“One of the more ‘local’ things that I know of is our lobsters,” says Marczyk, who grew up in New England and took many food lessons from there (one of which, surely, is that lobsters aren’t profitably raised or harvested in the Rocky Mountains). “I have had experiences with the fishermen there; their livelihood depends on creating a sustainable habitat for lobstering.”

“It’s boat by boat by boat,” he says. “Little co-op by little co-op.”

Marczyk’s lobsters are local, very much so, first to the “local” from which they come, then to the “local” to which they are sent.

Local is as local means.