Like ‘organic’, ‘natural’ and ‘sustainable’, the word ‘local’ has become a catch phrase that food marketers think is cool because it sells.
But here’s why:
Resource, economy, community and earth conscious people tend to want food that is local. This means it didn’t travel for however long in a box, it didn’t tax resources unnecessarily and because it was purchased and then sold in the same area, supports the local economy. Taking it a step further, by definition this food is in season and grown very close by to the point of sale.
Sadly, however, some restaurants slap this word on their websites, menus and marketing ads to attract people, when they have no idea what it means and no interest beyond attracting more diners. This is very prevalent in the United States wherever you go.
In Italy, however, I’m finding a fierce awareness about local/regional cuisine and resources. Not just in the restaurants, but in it’s patrons and people of that specific community. A restaurant that claims it’s only serving locally sourced food, has nothing to prove, because a majority of the people coming to eat there are totally educated and in the know about what grows in that region, who the restaurant acquired that food from and exactly how far that food traveled to their table.
I am not exaggerating. A place where this isn’t as true would be Rome which is a massive metropolis, filled with as many tourist as it’s filled with locals.
Imagine, being so aware of your surroundings, the land you live on and what it grows, that you know where the available dishes at a restaurant was sourced from. Imagine only having available things that are in season and knowing that your favorite restaurant will be changing it’s menu to accommodate seasonal changes in bounty.
Currently, I’m in Corniglia, Italy. It’s one of the quaint little towns that make up the Cinque Terre region. Here there are no cows, just fish, rabbit and the occasional sheep. Imagine what they eat here. Pesto is pervasive as Leguria is the home of Pesto, but there is rarely any butter, milk or beef. Most dishes are light pastas, meats are predominantly fish and rabbit, loads of pecorino cheese made of sheep milk, and loads of olive oil and wine from the groves and vineyards that pepper the mountain sides here. When it’s too rainy and a purveyor wasn’t able to get to the farmer, there will be no eggs that day. No one complains. It’s the way of the land.
The herbs, the protein, the fruit, the drink, the cheese, the oils and of course the wines… all sourced here. When I went to a restaurant here called Km 0 and asked for butter, she smiled and shook her head, “There is no butter from this region.” Rock it, sister.
Incidentally, Km 0 is a restaurant that takes things several kilometers further in the local commitment. What they don’t grow or make, they don’t sell. Everything they provide is from Corniglia and it’s fields. Rare is the item that comes from the neighboring towns which are just several kilometers away.
Are you entering a restaurant that claims locally sourced food? Ask questions, both to learn what it is that is local to your area, but also to test whether the restaurant itself is using a marketing ploy, or if they are truly committed to the concept. Find out.
Ask questions: Where did you getting your vegetables? Fresh ingredients, meat, fish? How much of your menu is locally sourced? What farms are you in relationship with? Why did you decide to source locally?
You get the picture. I’d also love to hear what if anything you hear out there. This really needs to be part of an ongoing dialogue. Why do we do this? What are the benefits to a community? What is the benefit to all of us when we eat and sell seasonally appropriate foods?