Prepared Foods

The Locavore’s Dilemma

April 19, 2012
It’s about time I got a word in edgewise. When Claudia O’Donnell introduced me in her farewell editorial (January), I didn’t think it would be another three issues before I could elbow my way onto this page. But, now that Chief Editor Bob Garrison and Trendmeister Extraordinaire Billy Roberts had their 15 minutes, it looks like I’m up to bat. April is a good month to call attention to myself—it marks 25 years since I first got paid to write. In 1987, although I was still half a decade away from returning to grad school to study diet and nutrition (and, ultimately, becoming a full-time journalist), I already was a dozen years into my career as a professional chef. As a chef, I helped pioneer regional, haute-health cuisine.

But, this was in my home state of Texas, which brings me to topic: A processor friend recently asked me how he could connect with the “locavore trend,” which is generating so much buzz it typically is referred to as a “movement.” I told my friend not to worry; this so-called trend is a fad, plain and simple. It’s a nice little fad and not unpleasant, but it will never amount to a trend, because it is, by definition, self-limiting. Must all Midwesterners limit themselves to a diet of corn, soy, apples and pork? How many Americans would desire to never eat another banana or coconut here again?

As I transitioned from chef to nutrition scientist to magazine editor, I also transitioned from the big, abundant, year-round growing season of Texas to the Midwest—and limited access to a variety of fresh, local produce—not just in winter but all year long, even at the height of growing season. I remember a Texas friend bringing me okra in June; my brother-in-law sending me home from a late-fall visit with a bag of Ruby Red grapefruit. Desperate times.

In the dead of winter this year, a bumper crop of berries came up from South America. It took decades for that region to “get produce right,” but the quality today is superb; luscious, sweet, fat blackberries filled pyramids of punnets that kept me scurvy-free all winter. (And guilt-free, too.)

 For food and beverage makers, supporting nearby suppliers is admirable, but they cannot—and should not—be expected to feed the world healthy, flavorful food solely from their home state. pf