Eating Local: Re-establishing a Sustainable Eating Culture in New England
“We’ve discovered that an abundance of food does not render the omnivore’s dilemma obsolete. To the contrary, abundance seems only to deepen it, giving us all sorts of new problems and things to worry about.” This is a line out of Michael Pollan’s well-known book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, an investigation into the history behind America’s swelling meal choices, and a helpful critique on our anxiety-filled, media-dependent eating practices. With so many variations of our basic food groups and a continual shift in understanding best health practices over the years, our opportunity to preserve a consistent eating culture in New England has become overwhelmingly limited. Furthermore, with increased quantity has come decreased quality, driving the majority of grocery store items, our most vastly consumed food source, away from unaltered, chemical free, and naturally fresh. As Pollan and a growing number of the population suggest, this artificial (and often mysterious) state of our sustenance has largely to do with the lengthy gap between farm and table.
David Valicenti, chef owner (along with his wife, Michelle Valicenti) of Valicenti Pasta Farm in Hollis says we need to bring food back to its roots and healthful function. He admits that there is a problem lately with the number of farmers and consumers concerned about the aesthetically pleasing nature of produce, as opposed to its utility. The pasta farm participates in the Seacoast’s winter farmers’ markets, sharing seasonal ravioli, fresh pasta, and signature sauces homemade from ingredients grown on their seven acre farm. “When I pick a tomato in my garden,” David says, “I don’t think about if it’s a little bruised or dented, I think about what it will taste like, the possibilities.” It is with these possibilities that locavores – a term used to describe people who eat local food frequently or whenever possible – are developing a resilient future for the eating culture in New England, and Seacoast farmers are rising to the occasion with an abundance of fresh bounty during all seasons. One way to join this local food movement and invite a bundle of different fruits and vegetables into your own kitchen each week is to join your nearby CSA. When put this way, I think the goal is actually bringing the roots back to their food.
Jim Griswald, owner of Velvet Pastures Elk Ranch in Lee, has lived and cooked all over the world. He contrasts Seacoast geography to places like Colorado, where the environments are lush with ideal opportunities for agriculture, but the landscapes are much more widespread. Here in New England, we’re in much closer quarters, creating a unique and convenient experience for eating local. “It’s a wonderful, very vigorous lifestyle. You take the road less travelled,” says Jim, who is holding precious the opportunity he has to contribute to society.
Board Chair of the nonprofit organization Seacoast Eat Local, Sara-Zoe Patterson is also in favor of supporting local farmers and regional crops, and works to define this lifestyle for consumers. One factor she advocates is the understanding that eating local is not an unforgiving diet: effort in any measure adds up. “We don’t have to make perfect choices for every forkful of food,” says Sara-Zoe, “but every time we do choose locally produced, farm grown foods, we have a positive impact.”
Such an impact is exactly what re-establishing a sustainable eating philosophy in New England requires. With some attention paid to the history and ancient rituals that built working communities for past generations, we can bring our ancestors’ success and the food that accompanied it closer to home. By supporting the trusted, native sources that continue to provide reliable items and an enduring landscape, we are recreating a durable food chain, a cohesive map, and a contagious appetite for what’s around the corner. Help yourself – there’s plenty to go around.