Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Locavore Way: Discover And Enjoy The Pleasures Of Locally Grown Food

The Locavore Way: Discover And Enjoy The Pleasures Of Locally Grown Food
Author: Amy Cotler
Publisher: Storey Publishing (2009)
Eating local is all the rage these days. From tiny roadside stands with Bristol-board signage proclaiming backyard strawberries to five star restaurants building entire tasting menus from local suppliers and reality television challenges, it's the latest trend in food culture for good reason. Local food is picked riper and shipped less, allowing the best nutrition and (most importantly) the truest flavours of the fruit or vegetable to shine. While you would figure that the task of eating what is produced around you is an easy one, it's not always the case. Labelling is hit and miss, some farmers markets are actually selling imported goods and occasionally the prices are higher thanks to the lack of corporate mass-farming operations keeping costs to a minimum. Amy Cotler attempts to ease the transition to a more locally based diet in her book The Locavore Way: Discover And Enjoy The Pleasures Of Locally Grown Food.

Locavore Way is if nothing else a valiant attempt to humanize the still somewhat elitist world of farm-to-table living. With a personable writing style and many helpful lists and subsections including stories from producers who follow the "local food first" philosophy, Cotler addresses many key concerns such as sourcing local food, finding farmers markets and restaurants who provide truly auto-produced or regional fare, how to shop and prepare what you buy or grow for the best results and most importantly - doing all of this on a budget. While similar books become akin to sermons or lectures on how conventional eating is the root of all evil, and usually promote a strict vegetarian way of life, Locavore Way is less so. A certain amount of preaching is present however, especially where the chapter Connect and Engage (p. 180) and the appendix section Key Events in Local Food History (p. 216) are concerned, but in general the message Cotler brings is full of passion and backed with experience, whether her own or her interviewees.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that anything to do with local eating is by nature only applicable to the immediate surroundings, some of this book specific points and examples lack relevance for anyone outside of Cotler's location of northeastern America. Many of the points mentioned in Locavore Way are, while important in their own right, also dependent on living in cities within the United States with easy access to services like Community Supported Agriculture (p. 47), bulk Buying Clubs (p. 67) and well stocked supermarkets and specialty grocers, not to mention longer growing seasons and better climates than those in Canada or the United Kingdom can hope to have. This book also struggles with a lack of fresh, revealing content for it's target audience. In essence, the messages shared in anyone outside of Cotler's location of northeastern America. Many of the points mentioned in Locavore Way are intuitive, and the majority of consumers already understand the basics of why and how to eat locally that make up this book's skeleton. A lot of the information in this book is identical across chapters and sections, simply re-stating the same facts in different language, occasionally sounding like the author simply turned to a Thesaurus and re-wrote what came up. A section that would have been appreciated is a section of tips for finding a "better option" when, as in the case of us up north, local options are out of season or too expensive. A portion of the book I looked forward to, "The Seasonal Eater" (p. 18), is unfortunately impractical for the majority of readers, since today people tend to thrive on variety, not to mention an array of foods in the diet is important for overall health. Even her well-intended section "10 Reasons to Eat Locally Produced Food" (p. 10) is written from an idealistic perspective - for instance, point #3 (For the health and safety of your family and yourself) is not necessarily the case - just because a vegetable or loaf of bread came from next door doesn't mean it isn't laden with chemicals, pesticides and preservatives, less processed or more sound nutritionally than a similar item. Number 6 (For an open, working landscape) would be wonderful if it was as common as Cotler may have you believe, but the truth remains that local production does not equal historical or pristine landscapes and environments.

I appreciated the fact that Cotler took the time to connect with like minded farmers and document their stories, particularly those of Breezy Hill Orchard and Stone Ridge Orchard (p. 35) which were a great eye opener as to the challenges of biodynamic farming. Her section on "Local vs. Organic" (p. 13) was refreshing to read as well, as it reiterated what many shoppers are unaware of in terms of the costs of certification preventing many local farms from applying the label regardless of their identical practices. Her farmer's market planning guide (p. 23) is fantastic, especially for those who have never ventured to one. "15 Ways to Become a Locavore" (p. 4), while imperfect in it's ability to be applied carte-blanche across livelihoods and locales, is a good start for complete local neophytes and worth a read even if you've eaten local for years. While the section dedicated to seasonal eating was more flash and less substance, readers can find lists of what to look for (at least in the northeastern US) by season in the sections titled "The Seasonal Market" (p. 33) and a sample CSA "share" listing from Sproutwood Farms (p. 64). As a foodie, the chapter Play with your Produce (p. 146) was a wonderful resource for preparation and serving ideas (whether using local or supermarket fruits and vegetables), and as it covers some of the less familiar items like celeriac, jicama, fennel, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes and tomatillos the information may entice even the wariest cook to look at it in a different way. For budding gardeners, Locavore Way also has a fairly basic starter guide to growing your own, but I would suggest true beginners consult a gardening manual before jumping in head first.

For those just discovering the local way of eating, The Locavore Way: Discover And Enjoy The Pleasures Of Locally Grown Food is a good first read to test the waters with. Amy Cotler takes care to inform, inspire and impassion even the most skeptical consumer, and provides enough solid, basic material that readers can move on and apply specific principles to their lives in the way that suits their lifestyles best. A perfectly 100-mile existence is out of reach for many, but regional and in-season eating is attainable at least some of the year. When it's as close as your backyard, there's no reason not to try a taste of local living.

Available on Amazon

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