If you read this blog, you will probably be familiar with eating locally. Maybe you participated in the Eat Local Challenge in years prior. Perhaps you have a garden. Your Saturday ritual might include a bike ride to Pioneer Park for: the cottage bacon; lemon spinach; burrito; spreads; people-watching. My point is, you already know how to do Eat Local Week. In my experience, it's also something - eating locally - that one doesn't do just for the hell of it. People have reasons, values, beliefs… These things impel us to grow a garden, or get a CSA share. Here are some of those reasons: health, environmental impact, carbon footprint, response to personal trauma, supporting local communities, fun, friendship, nostalgia, exercise, peer pressure, taste. This blog post isn't out to convince you that you should be eating more local food, or that you should take the Eat Local Challenge (even though you should!). It's more a story about my experience in the west, and how I have come unexpectedly to like Salt Lake City partially as a result of eating more local food. I know eating local food isn't going to cure cancer, or even eczema. In public education and non-profit organizations, at least, us folks are quite keen on the "measurable outcome". The story below is not a measurable outcome; it will not lead a grant report. It's an abstract and possibly metaphysical outcome, which is the kind of thing that has always moved me.
(Photo by commons.wikimedia.org)
The joys of the West are revealed in the smallness that is necessarily hidden in plain sight by its bigness.
Here’s a story about me moving from Massachusetts to Salt Lake City. It's 2011, late July, I'm on I-80, west of North Platte but still hours from Cheyenne, driving through the gunmetal overcast of a late-afternoon supercell - the kind that midwesterners like me think the midwest is famous for - that turns, like a mood ring, from drizzle to rain to hail and back. I pass the storm, pull over for gas and a bathroom break, the adrenaline of driving through the storm having made the latter urgent, and when I get out of my car it’s not so much that I realize I’m now in the west as it is that sudden bigness of the west pummels me into feeling that I’m just a small sack of carbon and fatty acids. Many people I know like the west for its bigness and openness, but these things make me feel both diminished and exposed, which I dislike. My go-to complaint for three years concerned the gratuitous width of Salt Lake streets. The mountains, the big thing that brings and/or keeps people in Salt Lake, their physical bigness, yes, and also their closeness, and ability to catch and hold frozen precipitation, et cetera, it doesn’t do it for me, which is of course not Salt Lake’s fault. What does do it for me, is food. Salt Lake isn’t known for its food nationally, at least according to the lists of 14/23/37 best cities for food/foodies/food culture that I clicked through for research. But that doesn’t mean it’s not here, it is here, it’s just hidden in plain sight by the bigness of other things Salt Lake is known for, outside of Salt Lake. It took me almost three years to find local food, not because it’s hard to find, I just wasn’t looking for it. The phrase I like here is ‘minute particulars’. Some of the most sought-after mushrooms in the world are coming up through the pine duff in the Uintas right now, if you know where to look for them. We’ve got peaches, and apricots, and brook trout, and dusky grouse née blue, if you’ve got a gun and a bird dog, and the fall greens… They taste better here than anywhere else I’ve grown them. The way the tomatoes come on later than I’m used to, because of the hot July nights. And then when the tomatoes finally are happening, it's cool enough in my house to run the canner all day. How well the sage does. Going to the Tuesday market, or the bakery I like. And just, the soil is different here, so I learn about the soil here, and I learn why it’s different, and then one day I realize, oh, I do like it here. Eating local food connected me with this place. It revealed local customs, textures. I struggled with this, because I think vastness of the west - capital T, capital W - initially distracted me from the presence of these nuances. It’s a door, one of many, to the minute particulars of a place, to the things that move me. -- Join us September 12-19th for Eat Local Week in Utah. Eat Local Week aims to bring our community together through a series of educational activities and events focused on local food resources, agriculture and food production, environmental impact, and sustainable food practices. To learn more about participating in the Eat Local Challenge and its events, visit eatlocalweek.org. Commentary provided by Mike Lynch, WCG's Community Education Director.