When Local Meets Provincial (e.g. Short-sighted)

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You call that local? (Leah Nash for The New York Times)

Today’s New York Times has a brilliant report on the battle royalle being waged in the hipster-strewn streets of Portland, Oregon over the integrity, meaning and yes, swine-worthiness of local food. According to the Grey Lady, Portland chef Eric Bechard (top) dropped his gloves outside a bar after confronting an outsider chef (oh, the horror) in town for a pig contest. When Atlanta-based participant Brady Lowe incurred Bechard’s wrath for allowing pigs raised in Kansas and Iowa (Iowa took the prize) to enter the competition, the pair dropped their artisan micro-brews and began pelting each other with locally procured compost (OK, the compost bit is just speculation and not part of the NYT report).

Look what you’ve created, Mr. Pollan!

The rise of the local, seasonal and sustainable food movement over the past decade is a legitimate bright spot in the world’s wealthiest, yet most undernourished country. From San Diego and New York City to Decorah, Iowa and Chicago, chefs and food markets are finding opportunities to keep more of their spend in the region. This development improves seasonal eating — consuming food at the peak of flavor and nutrition — as well as raising awareness for the value of preserving local, diverse food systems. And indeed, Portland, along with the Bay Area, Madison, Wisconsin and others, have been in the vanguard for many years. We owe much to them.

But if local is every going to achieve scale, it cannot remain a precious, elitist cult available to an exclusive coterie of latent snobs covered in ink. No, local must be for everyone and yes, perhaps have different meanings for different actors. If the goal of local is to increase healthy, seasonal eating and promote diverse food systems, then quality and flavor still must remain paragon concerns.

The pig from Iowa , a state long known for its Heritage pork ( I daresay a local core competency), presumably won based on the merits. Why can’t Portland be happy for Iowa? I can relate to wanting to jump off a bandwagon when it is discovered by everyone, but we’re not talking about bands here. This is about the health and future of our country, our land and our people.

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