Here's a scenario: You go to your local farmers market, where you find some beautiful vegetables to cook for dinner. Because you are buying directly from the grower, you can ask questions about how the food was grown and how to prepare it. You are participating in a community, you have a personal connection to your food. And 100 percent of the money you spend goes to the person who did the growing.
Here's another scenario: You go to the grocery store and buy some vegetables. To get to you, these vegetables have traveled hundreds, often thousands, of miles. They have passed through numerous hands, from the farmer to the distributor, to the shipper and then to the retailer. Fuel has been used. There is no way for you to know exactly how the food was grown, and there's no one you can ask. For every dollar you spend in a grocery store on a tomato shipped from far away, the approximate benefit to the farmer who grew the fruit is 9 cents.
Around the country, the question of local food -- of slow food -- is being asked more and more loudly. The term slow food, meant as the antithesis of fast food, refers to the practice of eating locally, of slowing down, of preserving local cuisines and artisan food producers. The movement stands in stark contrast to the way most Americans eat today. The recent packaged-spinach debacle shined a harsh light on the concerns over mass-produced foods, and people increasingly are realizing the benefits of eating locally.
In Atlanta, eating truly locally is still a hard thing to do. We have great grower's markets, but they are hardly comprehensive enough to allow us to do our entire week's worth of food shopping. We have chefs and restaurants that are buying and using local ingredients, but it's not as much of a priority here as it is in other cities.
In these pages, we take a look at the chefs who are striving to make it a focus of their work, and we offer some of their recipes (based on the four seasons) so you can try your hand at cooking with local, seasonal ingredients. We consider the Wal-Marting of organics, and what that means for the organic movement. We profile Crystal Organic Farms, a local farm that is expanding with the movement. And we provide listings of resources, from farmers markets to direct-buy programs, so that you can find and support our local bounty.
There will come a day when restaurants are able to cook solely with local ingredients, when true grower's farmers markets will exist in Atlanta where you can shop for all your groceries and have a personal connection to everything you eat, and when food will serve as a medium for true community. This is not some hippie notion -- it is close to a reality in many communities already. Georgia is an amazingly fertile state with all the potential to become a haven for slow food. And what a delicious transformation that would be.
CL's 2006 Food Issue