I noticed two different menus last week from two different, unaffiliated dining establishments that listed different ingredients as “local,” (my use of quotation marks, it didn’t say “”local”" on the menu (meaning it didn’t say “local” with only one set of quotation marks, I added the second to refer to the fact that I was referring to the earlier non-existent quote of “”local”" that I had quoted before (and by using more than one set of quotation marks I’m in mo way saying that “”"”"”"”"local”"”"”"”"”"” isn’t really local, because the whole point of the following post is to say that some things are local without trying and…. hell I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore))) yet they were items I hadn’t ever thought of before as “local” because they’re only grown locally. Confusing I know, here’s an example:
Last week I had a lovely dinner at The Press with my lovely lady and my sister and her husband. We had a great time and the food, like always, was fantastic. One thing stood out though. On the menu (or honestly it may have been in the description of the specials, we had already had cocktails after all and my memory’s a bit spotty) an item was described as containing “local” endive. Hmmm, I thought, is it really fair to call endive “local” if the only place it’s grown in the U.S. is Rio Vista? I guess it is, technically. Rio Vista is right down the road. Endive is delicious. What’s the big deal?
My issue is this: is it local if you have no other choice? Does having a nearby monopoly somewhat lessen the effect of local-ness? After all, no matter how much endive we elites shove down our craws, the single endive grower in America will still ship his product all over the world. It’s like eating artichokes in Castroville. They aren’t really grown anywhere else. It’s not like we have a choice.
Example #2 was at Ten22 (which has gotten quite a lot better under its new chef). A dish was advertised as containing “local” rice. Now, I’m no rice expert, but isn’t half the rice in the Americas grown in Yolo and surrounding counties? You’d have to try pretty hard to buy rice the wasn’t local. It’s like having a pie at Apple Hill and having it advertised as containing local apples. It’s like products advertising that they’re “fat-free” when they never contained any fat to begin with. It’s highlighting something that isn’t a conscious choice. It just is. By buying endive and rice and almonds and other locally grown items we’re supporting local farmers and local communities and that’s great, but should we pat ourselves on the back for buying things that have no “non-local” competition?
I’m not sure if I have a firm answer on this one but it is (pardon the pun, as Christopher Hewitt would say) food for thought.