What does it mean to eat locally, and why is it a thing? Opinions of what is “local food” differ, but here are some essentials:
Terroir comes from the Latin root meaning “earth” and refers to the earth where wine, or food, is grown. Literally, the “taste of the earth”. Terroir is a term generally used for wine, and although not traditionally thought of in regards to food, it actually plays a large part when talking about the locally grown and its amped-up taste. This pure taste is very evident and strongly influenced by effects that varying climates, microclimates, soil types, temperature, the sun, water quality, nutrients, and populations have on the state of the food. These differences are subtle, but in real food, are boldly evident.
Unfortunately, this is not evidenced in a lot of the foods that we do eat, due to the nature in which it is grown. Often the food that we buy is picked well before it is ripe, mass produced, and chemically assisted for the long journey [both in miles and time]. This stems from our year-round demand for everything, and everything now! We are trained to want strawberries and peaches in the winter, winter squashes in the summer, and tomatoes all year long! The result is food that severely lacks its original flavor. Most people don’t even know what a real tomato tastes like. The result of all of this is that we disguise the lack of natural flavor with strong seasoning, herbs, and spicy sauces, or marinades. While this is not all bad, [I love spicy food!], we have forgotten what real food can taste like.
I was reminded of this recently in Italy. Actually, this was in the airport, so was not expecting much, but I went to grab something to eat before our flight. They sliced the prosciutto right there off the bone, layered it in a freshly baked warm baguette, and served it with a glass of orange juice that was squeezed while I waited. My first instinct was “where’s the mayo and mustard”, and “do you have any pickles?” Nonetheless, I took it as it was, and my wife and I proceeded to enjoy a wonderful treat. We had tastes that re-awoke long forgotten taste buds! How can something so simply prepared and unadorned taste so amazing? It reminds us that many times, and especially with local foods, its natural flavor if prepared correctly, has no need for complicated flavor masking, and can be great on its own, or with simple accouterment.
Transportation & Mass Production
Most accept that eating locally means minimizing the distance between growing and eating. Of course, the closer to market, the less time and handling are involved, the fresher the food is, and the benefit of tasting the local terroir can be hugely experienced.
Did you know that when farmers sell directly to you, they keep a larger portion of the value-added costs typically captured by the big companies who are the middlemen? If you buy locally, more of your money stays in the local community. It is calculated that buying local keeps approximately 65% of your dollar within the community as opposed to the large chain stores where the local community keeps about 40%. There will always be a need for commercialized, mass-grown food, cattle, chicken, eggs, and so on; we can’t argue with that. But when you are dining out for pleasure, spending your hard-earned money for a better experience, take the next step: visit a local – buy and support local efforts. It saves on fuel and emissions for transporting. Eating locally also helps preserve local and small-scale farmland.
Eating locally is correlated with improved nutrition, increased likelihood of making healthier food choices, obesity prevention, and reduced risk of diet-related chronic disease. This is because the food is more nutritious, fresher, and less processed. So much of the food that we buy is overly processed; it is barely food anymore! As a general rule, the closer the food is to how and where it came out of the ground, the better it is when you chomp it down! In remote places of the world where all they have is fresh foods, fruits, and vegetables, people are living longer and staying fitter.
More and more restaurants are getting on board and what once was a fad is becoming the expectation in Chef-driven restaurants and even casual restaurants throughout the country and the world. Many are now jumping on board with more than 80% of fine-dining establishments serving some degree of locally sourced ingredients. Just for calcification, I am not talking about Organic food – just good, locally grown food without lots of added chemicals.
So, try to support Chefs and restaurants that buy local – look for restaurants that list their local farms and purveyors – try closing your eyes and tasting the difference. Support local business and taste the local flavor, the Zest of the soil…………………
Russ Blakeborough is Managing Director and Senior Food and Beverage Consultant with Focus – F&B. firstname.lastname@example.org
Russ Blakeborough is Managing Director at Focus F&B. Russ works to reimagine food and beverage at hotels and restaurants. We work on refreshing your current concept and creating steps for improvement. We have the tools and resources for cost-effective and immediate improvement.
Russ, originally from England, now resides in Savannah, Georgia, in the USA, and operates worldwide.