if i knew that you were coming i'd a baked a cake.

Friday, May 26, 2006

ELC Days Twenty-five and Twenty-Six

Day 25: Not much happened food-wise. I went to the chiropractor for the first time in six years for a very sore and stiff neck, and I just didn't feel like eating. I munched a little on leftovers and some marinated Goat Lady Dairy cheese. The good news is that my neck felt a lot better this morning, and my appetite was definitely back!

After work I went to Harris Teeter for beer and cat food, where I bought a 12-pack of Carolina Blonde for the hot holiday weekend ahead, and a 6-pack of Cottonwood Low-Down Brown Ale, made by the same company. I usually prefer a brown ale, but when the temperatures start hitting the high 80s and it's muggy, I'd rather drink a pilsner. I really liked the Carolina Blonde that I tried last week, and I wanted to try a new North Carolina beer for this week, thus the Cottonwood purchase. I will be buying both of these again. Leave it to a bunch of lake (Norman) bums to know how to brew a fine summertime beer.

Day 26: I woke up hungry this morning, so I hit Tate Street Coffee House for an apple danish, baked for them by Spring Garden Bakery, one of the five local bakeries I decided to support during the challenge. The others are Simple Kneads, Dough Re Mi, Nora Glanz, and Ninth Street Bakery.

Then, when my co-worker asked me what I was doing for lunch, I just didn't want to go home and eat leftovers AGAIN. So I made a phone call to a very nice little restaurant that is on our Slow Food list (yet unpublished, but hopefully coming soon) of restaurants that serve local food.

"Hi, I was wondering if you have any foods from North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia on your menu for lunch today."

"I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"Are you serving any local foods at lunch today?"

"Excuse me." (Off-phone) "Hey, this woman is on the phone asking about local food and I don't know what she is talking about."

New Person: "Hi, my name is ****, and I'm not sure we understood you. Did you have a question?"

"Thank you, ****. I am on an Eat Local diet this month and I'm eating only foods that are from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. I wanted to check to see if you were serving any today at lunch before I came out there. I write about this on the Internet and there's going to be a newspaper article pointing back to it, so I want to make sure that I can eat there."

"Oh yes, almost all our food comes from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, except for lettuce, which I think comes from California. But the chicken, deli meat, all that is local."

"That's great! Can someone tell me which foods are local when I come out there?"

"Yes."

So we show up, and the poor waitress has no clue what we're talking about. She scrambles to figure it out, and runs back and forth to the chef several times. "Oh yes, we buy all our food locally, but I don't know about whether it is PRODUCED by local farms. But everything we serve is fresh!"

Oh.

He meant that they bought their food through a food distributor based in town. A very good food distributor that most of the good restaurants in town get their food from, but the food doesn't qualify as local food.

The waitress comes back. "The chef says that the chicken is from North Carolina."

"Oh, that's great! Is it free-range?"

She comes back. "He only knows that it is from North Carolina."

If it's free-range, they know. Believe me.

She comes back. "The chef says that the grouper we serve at dinner is from North Carolina, and he would be glad to prepare it and sell it to you at the lunch entree price."

"Uh, no, I'm sorry, I can't do grouper. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be difficult, but I write a food diary on the Internet and I need this to be correct. How about the bread - do you get your bread from a local bakery?" I knew that their bread was really good.

She comes back. "The bread is commercial, but the chef has a really good pimento cheese recipe from his grandmother that everybody loves, and he can make you a lightly grilled sandwich with the pimento cheese..."

At this point, I just can't torture this poor waitress any more. Really, she was going way beyond the call of duty. I don't know what clairvoyant abilities the chef had to know that I had a real weakness for lightly grilled pimento cheese sandwiches, and I hadn't had one for a lo-o-o-ng time. I ordered pasta salad as the side, since pasta is one of my exemptions. So it was a real carb and cheese fest for me at lunch. And the sandwich was great.

My realization for this month: Even people that work at very nice restaurants don't seem to know what "local food" means. Food advocates know, and we zero in on all the publicity that the Slow Food and local food movements are getting nowadays and crow about the progress we've made, which is admirable, to be sure. But most restaurant folks, the ultimate foodies, the ones we expect to know about it, did not get the memo about local food.

One of the big problems I see with this is that I was about to put together the second installment of our convivium's Local Food Guide, which was to cover restaurants that serve local food. I did not gather this data. Now I wonder how many other restaurants on our list told the surveyers that they bought local food, when they meant they bought through this particular local food distributor. The other restaurant on the list that I wrote about previously never answered my email questions about local food. There seems to be a basic misunderstanding about what local food is. This is where we need to get the word out to make a major difference in this region's foodshed.

Now I think that the way to go about this is to ask what specific producers and farms do you buy your local food from? If they answer a particular distributor, then we'll know to dig a little deeper. Some, such as growers' marketing cooperatives, carry North Carolina produced foods. Most others do not. If the restaurant does not carry food from local producers, then at least it will get a little hint that this is a subject of growing interest, and it might benefit their business to check into some local food sources and publicize it when they use them.

1 comment:

FJK said...

Another way to get at this info is to go to the local producers you know about and ask them who their commerical food customers are.

I am so impressed with your committment to eat local not for a meal or a day but for a month.