You just know it all came out of California. Only in that fertile environment for culinary ideas and social experimentation could the thought of a “Locavore” emerge. Even the word sounds very Left Coast-ish.
Yet at its core, the concept of purchasing and preparing food grown or raised close to home is appealing. And for years the basic tenets of locavorism were accepted without question. But now questions have been raised, and the answers are not as clear cut as the original disciples had presented. Let’s take a closer look at this concept and lifestyle, particularly as it applies to us, along America’s Third Coast.
While foodies in California came up with the name locavore, or locavorism, which is the concept of eating vegetation, fish and animals that are raised and prepared near your home, the philosophy is not a California-centric idea. In fact, the whole thought is exactly how humans lived for most of our history. We grew our own crops, did our own hunting and procured our own liquids, all very, very close to our abode.
For eons past, transportation of fragile foodstuffs could not take long or be far. In fact, it was more common for humans to pick up villages and move closer to a main food source rather than traveling out and then returning to a set place. Only those villages near lush agricultural areas or near hunting grounds where animals grazed at least eight months of the year were permanent. Everyone else everywhere else lived the life of nomads, actually migrating with the animals and planting crops that were in harmony with the seasons in those multiple locations. But as humans tamed both animals and agriculture, we were able to settle down and make a life for our tribes and families in one location, close to the food supply.
All of that happened a long time ago, and with the modern age, we were able to invent methods of keeping food fresh longer and transport it over long distances via trucks, railroad and airplanes. We were now able to enjoy delicacies from around the world delivered to our tables in a form that would not make us sick, or even kill us. That’s progress.
But we never lost the desire to grow our own crops near our homes, or to cure our own meats, or even brew our own beer and make our own wine. Today, many homes and restaurants have their own gardens where they raise fruits and vegetables, even spices and herbs.
Every village, from its inception, had a market where good things to eat and drink were brought by farmers and sold to the inhabitants. New Orleans’ French Market is a prime example of centralized shopping in an early urban environment. It will soon commemorate its 300th year.
Locavores, those proponents of defining a tight circle from which all sustenance comes, can get preachy about the “carbon footprint” of transporting foodstuffs great distances. Better, they say, to stay local and not further stress the earth’s environment with emissions from heavy equipment. The locavores’ thoughts are well placed, but their belief that they have discovered something new is wrong.
And here is where the concept starts to break down. The emphasis is placed on the transportation aspect of the comestible. Eating foods raised closer to home assures, locavores preach, freshness and so is healthier. Neither is an absolute truth.
Sometimes foods raised close to the places of consumption have to be manipulated with fertilizers, pesticides, or even genetically altered. Crops, meats and fish do not grow with equal success in every location. Some areas provide better soils, more advantageous climates and longer seasons. Sure, peaches can be grown in Arizona, but peaches grown in North Louisiana and in Georgia are truly a better outcome. It’s true for every crop and for every head of cattle.
The reality is that really outstanding results with any crop or animal are only available from certain areas. Alaskan King Crab or Dungeness Crab only come from the very cold waters of the Pacific Northwest. Creole Tomatoes and crawfish are best when sourced from South Louisiana. Snap beans are grown in a lot of places but those from southern Alabama are exceptional.
And why shouldn’t we avail ourselves of our technology and knowledge in order to savor salmon from Alaska or lettuce from the Salinas Valley in California? If we can make it happen, why not?
What we do have all along the Gulf Coast, and we are very lucky in that respect, is an amazing variety and selection of the finest food on earth. Our soils are fertile and our waters are teeming with life. We not only are able to enjoy the freshness of our bounty, but we are also supporting our neighbors as they go about their tasks and deliver to us incredible variety and flavors.
Gulf Coast residents are among the original American Locavores, delighting in enjoying the bounty of what our region yields. But we don’t often look upon it like that. We just think how fortunate we are during every season of the year to be so close to so much goodness.
And so I tell my California friends that if they really want to taste a strawberry or a peach, if they really want to know how to prepare a red snapper, if they really want to savor filet mignon done properly, come to the Gulf Coast. Then they will know the true and long-time meaning of locavore.