Monday, July 27, 2009

Defining Local: From Thomas Keller to Green Market

September 11th enlightened most people about the significance of buying local. Local for the USA, in terms of manufactured goods, usually just means made in the United States.

For me, as a food industry professional, defining local and understanding where our food supply comes from means much more than “made in the USA.” In food production, aspects that shouldn't be overlooked include sustainable practices, harvesting and shipping methods, and organic production methods.  Many in the food industry have a different opinion on what local means to them and the importance of it.

Some people don't think local, period.  They just pick the cheapest, best product they can obtain without taking into consideration all of the economic and environmental “taxes” on growing and shipping.

While at Union Square’s Green Market this morning, I really pondered the thought about local and what it means to me. Some people place a mileage limit on locality. For me, it’s more regional. Local foods also describe seasonality. While certain fruits and vegetables might be in season in California, that doesn't mean that they are in season in New York. Green Market, then, is a great example of local. There are producers from as close as Brooklyn, to a few hours away (upstate New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut). I consider all these options to be local.

In a recent article in the Contra Costa Times on Thomas Keller's Definition of Local, Keller states "For me, as I went through my career, as I came to understand where our product came from and where the best products came from, the term 'local' changed for me. It wasn't about geographical location, it was about quality of the product. If we could get great lobsters from Maine every day at my back door, then for me that was a local product.” Thomas Keller is a world-renowned chef who owns multiple restaurants in California, Las Vegas, and New York. I have to argue that even though Keller picks his ingredients based on the best possible criteria, that he shouldn't be calling Maine lobsters at the French Laundry in California “local.” Buying local should mean, first and foremost, supporting your local economy to better your town.

Today I picked up a list from the manger’s station at Green Market entitled “10 Reasons to Buy Local Food”:

1. Local Food Tastes Better
2. Local Produce is Better for You
3. Local Food Preserves Genetic Diversity
4. Local Food is Safe
5. Local Food Supports Local Families
6. Local Food Builds Community
7. Local Food Preserves Open Space
8. Local Food Keeps Taxes Down
9. Local Food Benefits the Environment and Wild Life
10. Local Food is an Investment in the Future.

How do you define local and what's your take on Keller's definition?

Edit: here's another list that explains the benefits of buying local, and it doesn't just focus on food.   It also includes an illuminating graphic on the subject.

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