Monday, July 26, 2010

Rant: Why So Hard To Be True?

Though I want to give my support to those who ardently advocate for local, sustainable food, I sometimes find it hard to do when those advocates don't live up to their convictions. Especially when it would have been easy for them to follow through on their own words. This struck me once again this past weekend.

Yesterday, I attended the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival in Shelburne, Vermont. It was generally a fun and tasty time, especially as I met several friends there, including some other local bloggers. There was plenty of delicious food and drink available for tasting, and I will go into much more detail in the near future. But what bothered me occurred during a cooking demonstration.

As it was hot in the barn, I decided to sit in the courtyard and watch a demo by Chef Sean Buchanan of the Stowe Mountain Lodge, who is an advocate and crusader for the use of local, organic and natural ingredients. He prepared five different recipes, and most of the ingredients he used were local ones. But, while preparing one of the appetizer dishes, he used a meat, a pork product, from San Francisco! This was a jarring inconsistency to the theme of the demostration, of the use of local ingredients.

There was no reason he couldn't have used locally made meat. There are plenty of local, artisan pork producers in Vermont. He seemed to have taken the care to select plenty of other local ingredients. So it saddened me to see such a disconnect. It is such moments that make you doubt a person's sincerity to their stated cause. It would have been so easy to follow through, and select a Vermont-made meat.

If you have strong convictions, please just follow through on them, especially when it is easy. Though you should follow through with them even when it is hard. That is what makes them true convictions.


Jen said...

Ugh, comment posting, take two.

I'm surprised by this too, given the abundance of Vermont product present at the festival. The fact that Sean used ham from San Fran sends a confusing message, indeed.

Exploring the culinary terrain where you live is a huge part of eating well, as well as eating more locally and sustainably. As a chef advocating for sustainability, he had the opportunity to show festivalgoers that going 100% local isn't difficult - it's knowing and exploring what's in your back yard. Ham isn't an exotic ingredient only produced regionally, nor is it a spice only available from far away. I'd be interested to hear his rationale in throwing in that one non-local ingredient.

Couves said...

Before passing judgment, I’d want to know why the chef is a local food supporter. Is it to develop the local food culture? Or is the intent to save humanity from global warming by reducing the distances he ships items? The former justification gives much more room for compromise than the latter.

tyler said...

Just curious, Richard, why didn't you ask him why? He might have a really good reason.

Terence said...

Localavore is all well and good, but let's not make a fetish of it.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks all for the comments. I was unable to ask the chef any questions while I was at the demo. I did mention my concern to the host, but he basically smiled and ignored my question.

If a chef is going to stress the use of local ingredients, then he should be consistent if possible. There is no reason he couldn't have used a local ham rather than something from San Fran. I want consistency in a person's convictions, and don't think that is too much to ask.

If he hadn't stressed the locavore nature of the demo so much, it would not have been an issue.

Vermont Butter & Cheese said...

Response from Sean Buchannan:

Thanks for the heartfelt debate. A friend of mine passed on your blog to me. My apologies for coming off as a purist when it pertains to our local food system. I support many different levels of businesses that produce, distribute, and sell local products. However, as far as I know there is no one commercially producing air dried meats in VT. I know of a handful of entrepreneurs who are working on business plans, but they're waiting for a bank to approve the loan.

Most people that know me would say that I try to be a realist. I love local food, I love talking about local food, and I really enjoy conversations about how we can integrate more local products into our lives and the lives of others around us. I also believe that this doesn't happen immediately and that these small farms and businesses need a sustained and balanced growth to survive over the years to come.

And even though I believe in our local food system and its continued growth I know that we do not produce enough milk for our small state's population, produce enough affordable meat for our school systems, or raise enough grain for our bakeries. I buy olive oil, coffee, raisins, nuts, and on and on. I went digging for salt the other day but just came up short. Reconnecting with our food system does not happen overnight and we shouldn't make it a black and white debate. In a perfect world we would all raise our own food, trade furs for homemade jewelry, drink mead from gourds, and ride our yaks to work in caves... to mine salt.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to respond.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks very much Sean for your response. I certainly understand and agree that we need to be realists and sensible about using local products. I am not an absolutist about locavore issues, and agree with most of what you have said here.

But, your cooking demo emphasized the local identity of most of the ingredients, so it was strange to see you using a meat from San Francisco. Even if you could not find an air dried meat from VT, I would have though you could have find a replacement from New England/New York.

A quick google search though indicates there are air dried meat producers in Vermont, including:

Harrington's of VT (air dried beef)

Dakin Farm (air dried beef)

Bufala di Vermont (Bresaola, air dried bufala)

There might be other producers out there too. Would any of those producers have sufficed for your recipe?

Take care,