Is it Local If…..

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.

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8 thoughts on “Is it Local If…..”

  1. I like my own comment so much, I’m making it twice:
    What’s the problem, exactly? Except in a Portlandia sort of way. It shouldn’t be too easy or else it’s no fun? Is that the message? If not of the eat “local” movement, would you know where all the endive comes from? Frankly, it sort of highlights how ridiculously easy it is to eat local in California – especially here in the Valley.

    This sort of anecdote should be used at stores like Target or grocery chains – why are you importing food from other countries when you can get fresher, cheaper stuff from literally down the street? (Ironically, Walmart is starting to adopt this view. Go figure)

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  2. Why don’t you feel your sister is worthy of the the “lovely” designation?

    Also, is her husband not lovely, as well?

    I’m feeling a bit “put off” by the derogatory tone here and I feel this has overshadowed any and all opinions I may (or may not) have had with regard to locally-grown (or even Belgianally-grown) endive.

    Don’t you just hate it when someone pronounces it “En-Deev”? Like they’re from Akron or something? Hahaha… rubes…

    Where was I?

    Oh right… food origins… I believe “locally grown” is about as relevant as any other fad designed to appeal to the emotional sensibilities of stupid people who can’t keep their economic, political, social and environmental opinions separate in their heads… if they even have well-formed opinions.

    I guess I’d prefer all my food was gently killed and picked, nearby, by loving humans who then sang over it as it was prepared… but, really? Other than how it tastes? I don’t think about my food much.

    I do hope it is prepared locally, and recently, for what it’s worth.

    (now I’m hungry)

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  3. Because not every diner realizes that this is the single choice, and they will appreciate that the transit of their produce doesn’t create a large amount of carbon pollution.

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  4. I think calling the ON-DEEV local is horse-puckey, because it was most likely brought to the restaurant, via the local produce purveyor (rhymes with besh frixpress) who in turn *probably* got it from somewhere outside of Rio Vista. Wrap your dome around that. The “local” ON-DEEV may have well had plenty of miles on a truck (>100 mi), out and back to NoCal. Truth.

    The rice example is just silly….unless that rice was grown near the RR Museum, 1022 is just hosing idjits. Hey, if people are willing to take the bait, why not print it to increase profits?

    Know thine clientele is the first rule of food warfare.

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  5. In the developing world (and in my dirt-poor hometown in Northern Wisconsin) restauranteurs make great effort to inform the diners that the food came from somewhere else.

    Apparently we have now reached that point on the xenophobic gentrification curve where we smugly proclaim our goods & produce better then those from some “outsider”

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