There's a great scene in Barbara Kingsolver's 2007 book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where the acclaimed novelist attends a dinner party in New York City and is served an exquisite dessert topped with seven perfect-looking raspberries—in the dead of winter.
A dedicated "locavore" (one who eats fresh, seasonal food grown near where it's consumed), Kingsolver wonders to herself about the farming and transportation practices it took for those berries—grown somewhere in the Southern hemisphere and shipped at perfect ripeness without a bruise—to garnish her plate. Her hostess assures her that in New York City, "We can get anything we want, any day of the year."
That's true for most American shoppers, thanks to the multinational corporations that operate our grocery supply chain, with large profit margins. But just because we can doesn't mean we have to. Food produced and then consumed without leaving its home county, or even state, is better for the land and health-smart—and it tastes better and usually costs less.
Kingsolver's family dedicated a year to eating only food produced near their southwestern Virginia home, and chronicled their adventures in the book, which was co-authored by her husband and one of her daughters. Their experiment helped draw attention to the costs of industrial farming, mass-market shipping and other unhealthy and planet-unfriendly practices that form the backbone of our conventional food systems. The solution, Kingsolver and other students of global food issues argue, is to become a locavore—a new term the New Oxford American Dictionary selected as its 2007 word of the year—by eating local food as much as possible.
By "eating local food," we mean consuming on a regular basis ordinary meals consisting of vegetables, dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, grains and even beer and wine that didn't have to travel very far from their soil or stable to get to your table. We can also define locavore by what we don't eat. For North Carolinians, that means no bananas, Alaskan king crab legs or out-of-season tomatoes. We exclude all foods grown far away (not necessarily in foreign countries—we also mean Texas and California), even though they may be "fair trade" and "organic."
This week, the Indy introduces a new column on locavore cooking, with the goal of incorporating into our community conversation an awareness of what's available from local sources, including in farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs), where shoppers subscribe to a particular farm's harvest weekly. We'll feature can-do, how-to recipes and knowledge gleaned from Triangle farmers, chefs and home cooks. Using the diverse agricultural bounty available to us here in central North Carolina (within a 150-mile radius of RDU), we'll create main dishes, sides and desserts from local ingredients that are in season, easy to find nearby and generally inexpensive.
We're not preaching perfectionism. For example, trying to cook fresh veggies without olive oil or turn lamb into curry without non-local spices is a setup for disappointment. So, we're proceeding with a reasonably stocked pantry of flavor staples: oils, vinegars, spices, leavenings, etc. Look for Locavore Cooking twice a month, starting this week with Garlicky Sautéed Kale.
As winter wanes and the growing season gears up, Triangle farmers' markets are beginning to open, including new ones at University Mall in Chapel Hill and North Hills in Raleigh. Our Locavore Cooking column will rely on ingredients found at local markets, delivered by community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs), which are subscriptions to local farms' harvests, as well as farm tours, roadside produce stands and other outlets for central North Carolina's products. Check out our complete and up-to-date list of Triangle farmers' markets.