“Is it local, Dad?” by chef Jeremy Conner
written by Jeremy Conner – Humble Fish & Cellar Salt
Everyone likes to eat. It’s necessary, indulgent, gratifying and unifying. As we live, love, age, and ultimately approach the point at which our generation will earn its defining reputation, the most important thing we can pass on to our children may be teaching them how to eat.
My 5-year-old daughter takes great pride in preparing meals with me. Cooking with her is rare quality time spent creating something we can enjoy together. As a chef, I know the hours and attention given to the job often preclude the type of quality time we desire to spend with our loved ones. We’re often told coming up as cooks that you can forget about holidays, birthdays, and family reunions. You learn to profoundly cherish the hurried grocery shopping with the kids, homework time, date night, even a great meal together.
At the top of this industry, performing well is just as much about anticipating and meeting guests’ many desires as it is about adequate seasoning or perfectly cooked fish, and there is a sense of pride like no other when you connect with a guest who has found and enjoyed the efforts you’ve put into your craft. Yet, sometimes you wonder where your precious time and efforts have landed you. More than that, you think about what a lifetime of work in this business will grant you in the end. The bottom line for me is this: If I’m going to work as hard as I do, sacrifice like I do, and be away from my loved ones, I’d like it to be worth something truly valuable in the end. I’d like to say, even in a small way, “I did those things so that I could make a difference.”
So what type of world saving difference is a chef likely to make? Some great chefs have opened eyes and struck significant blows against food deficit and hunger problems. There is, however, a glaring sustainability issue facing our foodways. Big Ag and Big Pharma are a team, and while their goal isn’t to starve us all, it isn’t to ensure the viability of our foodways, either. Large scale corporate food production is a foolish attempt at a solution to ensuring a long term food supply.
Even though food trends are seldom about solving problems, the Farm-to-Table trend is one to pay closer attention to. When the food cycle occurs
within a community, there are bridges built, bonds forged; heritages, cultures and livelihoods preserved. Kurt Vonnegut said in 1973, “Human beings will be happier – not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie – but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again.” Vonnegut’s satirist views suggested actions that are extreme, but the problems he discussed are real. He saw the globalization of everything from communication to economics as a step away from the community interactions that make us special and individualistic. Today, the bulk of our food supply has nothing to do with community.
The solution is simple. Eat local. Feed local. Teach and preach “locavorism.” Know your farmer. Introduce your friends to them. Grow your own food. Teach your children that the best food comes from that guy you’re on a first name basis with. When your farmers are your neighbors, they eat what you eat and legitimately care about those they grow for.
At home, I talk to my daughter about the food we eat. I ask her what she likes about it and she shows interest in seeking out local foods. She often goes with me when I visit local farms and is a popular sight at the farmers market where she helps her aunts sell their cut flowers and homemade popsicles. I’m proud to be able to immerse her in the food community, and when she asks me while shopping, “Is is local, Dad?” I smile the big proud Daddy smile. If I can instill these types of values in her, then others can do the same with their children. If our kids grow up to not only care about what’s in their food and where it comes from, but to understand the benefits of the community relationships built by eating food grown by their neighbors, then we as parents have made great strides and perhaps helped to preserve our humanity. If the Greatest Generation succeeded because of the values it inherited from deprivation during the great depression, our children can choose to eat to preserve and sustain their neighbors, to become the generation that saved community.⊕
Originally printed in Runaway Dish Vol. 2 – Fall 2013