Eating Locally, Artistically


September 13, 2014

Belinda and I were asked to join a ten-day program to eat locally. Folk were hoping to get some statistics on how hard it is to eat food from within a 100-mile radius of our home. We didn’t join in, but it is harvest time and what isn’t grown in our garden is by one of our neighbors. This is our vegetarian time of year and local eating is easy.

The local movement has asked us all to consider eating locally for a while now. The local idea is moving along, but one needs only to drive through town and see the cars at Applebees, McDonald’s, Outback, and the slew of non-local eateries and know it has a long way to go.

Perhaps more folk could enjoy local foods if they understand locally does not mean never eat non-local foods. Rather local eating is about honoring non-local food by knowing food is sacred and relational. Relational meaning one knows their food and the landscape of origin—soil, farmer, weather, rancher, water, fisherwo/man. Such knowledge brings forth an intimacy that binds one to their food and its relations. This bond creates better tasting meals and a reason to share.

There is not a farmer, rancher, fisher that does not want to share the fruits of their labor. Sharing enriches those who labor and those who eat. Most of the time there is no reason for meals to be non-local in origin, but there are times when everyone becomes richer by eating from the landscape of another.

An example that comes to mind is artistically given in the 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast. Babette, a refugee from the Paris Commune (during the French Revolution), arrives in a small village on the western coast of Denmark. Worn out she arrives at the doorstep of two sisters with only a letter from Achille Papin, a renowned French singer. Having little money the sisters take her in after she agrees to work for free. She cooks for them for the next fourteen years. Babette has one only link to her past, a lottery ticket. One day she wins and receives 10,000 francs. Babette uses that money to serve a real French dinner to her adopted community rather than return to Paris. From far away come ingredients of turtle, quail, Belgian endive, walnuts, Blue Cheese, papaya, figs, grapes, pineapple, rare wines, and champagnes. Only after the people of this remote community feast do they learn Babette was once the head chef of the Café Anglais. Upon learning what Babette has done one of the sisters tearfully say, “Now you will be poor the rest of your life,” to which Babette responds “An artist is never poor.”

Being a local eater is not always about eating food within 100 miles. Eating locally is always about relationship and sharing. It is good work to daily cook with local ingredients for it honors neighbor, family, and local landscape—and that is artful.

When the local becomes normal in the everyday meal, an unimaginable richness comes forth in celebration. For as we purposefully choose our foods from faraway landscapes, our celebrations—the wedding, the graduation, and the birthday, become grander because food eaten is special, delightful, and honored for their landscape and journey.

Eating locally is more than saving petroleum, road and tire wear, and the environment. Local is about community, near and far, and bringing about harmonious meals where taste buds rejoice over backyard gardens, friend’s trees, and the work of our neighbor.

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