Saturday, September 6, 2008

Local Motion

It wasn’t that long ago that come winter the produce section of the grocery store became a barren wasteland: little more than potatoes, root vegetables, head lettuce, citrus fruit and bananas. Everyone looked forward to asparagus and strawberries, the harbingers of spring and end of the long gulag for gastronomy.

For better or worse, science and technology have always worked to improve the quality, quantity and distribution of food. Obviously profit was the motivation which isn’t a bad thing in itself. To be able to buy tomatoes in winter that aren’t hard, anemically pink and actually tastes like something is progress. To add Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) to milk for whatever reason is not.

The choices available to us at the modern super market today are staggering. Heretofore unknown species like kiwi fruit, red bananas and peppadews dramatically appeared. Rarely seen items like fava beans, baby carrots and radicchio became commonplace. And, asparagus and strawberries are now available year round. The efficiency and economy of modern transpiration has literally brought the entire world to our table.

But with all this progress an odd phenomena followed. Even at the height of the local growing season everything available at the super market is still shipped in from afar. For example, Wisconsin produces about 1.5 million bushels of apples each year but finding one is another matter. Today, native produce is rarely found outside of farmers’ market, upscale specialty stores or farm stands. There is no shortage of apple varieties at the mega markets but inevitably they hail from Washington, Oregon and even New Zealand.

Fortunately, more and more people are rediscovering local food. Food less traveled not only tastes better, may be better for you and certainly is better for the environment. An international “Slow Food” movement began in Italy in 1989. It was a reaction to the negative impact fast food and the disappearance of local food traditions was having on our quality of life. It was a rejection of the idea that people no longer cared about what they ate, where it came from and or how it tasted. It also recognized the impact of what we eat has on the rest of the world and our ecology. Today this organization boasts over 85,000 members in 132 countries, including right here in Madison.
My own mantra is homegrown first, whether shopping at the market or dining out at a restaurant. Madison is fortunate to have its own organization of homegrown restaurants, each unique in its own right, each owned and operated by someone right here in our community. Appropriately, they’re called Madison Originals:


juan wayne said...

MADISON,S ORIGINALS are mostly transplants!

Scott said...

You can get local rhubarb from my back yard and I promise the Gooch has not peed on it.