Two summers ago, while visiting my in-laws in Massachusetts, we made the trek up to the Farmers Diner in Quechee, VT. Not only did we enjoy the food – standard diner lunch fare – but more importantly, we loved the concept. We went home with a bumper sticker that says: “Think globally, eat neighborly.” The restaurant boasts of “Food from Here.”
I was flipping through a library book today, a new cookbook titled “Outstanding in the Field.” It is a compilation of recipes resulting from an extraordinary shift in dining, in which the proprietor (author and chef, I think) began hosting Farm Dinners. Every harvest season for over a decade, they would hop in their bus, drive all over North America, and host meals on farms using the farm’s and other local ingredients to make the meal. Anyone with reservations could attend, and everyone came. Last year, nearly every venue was sold out. I love the idea, I love the desire to share food that came from “here,” wherever here is.
This is where my rant actually begins. I live in Utah. I know where there is a local Goat Dairy, and a few other farms and cheese makers within 100 miles, but the only farm stands are set up by what I have to presume is a giant collective employing high school students selling overpriced, not even organic, and often imported, produce. You can go to the famous roller mills of Footloose fame, but even the grain you can purchase there comes from a four state area. There is such a small “local” market (and apparently demand) that the actual goods seem to be more for novelty’s sake than for feeding’s sake. I’m not saying there just isn’t much, but really, there is none. I can’t even be a beggar here.
So tonight, on our annual trek to see Christmas lights downtown, we began discussing why I find myself frustrated here. After flipping through this cookbook, I was again frustrated that I couldn’t do that, that I couldn’t find local eggs, or mesclun greens, or heritage turkeys, or anything really, that I could feel good about as local produce*. And finally I realized one of the big challenges that I think is plaguing America. I know, we all have our soapboxes, and here is mine. We aren’t neighborly anymore. As we try really hard to keep up with our neighbors and to accumulate so we’re independent, we lose our need for neighbors. No longer do we borrow Joe’s weed-eater or saw, because we just got the nicer, newer one for ourselves. No longer do we knock on Bill’s door and ask for an egg, because mostly we’re not so sure about Bill, and without the egg, we have a quick substitute of swinging by the drive through or by one of the WAY TOO MANY markets on the way home. And oh, the markets. Within 3 miles of my house, you could go to an Albertsons, a Smiths, a Sunflower Farmers’ Market, a Good Earth, a Whole Foods, a Super Target, a Reams, a Macey’s, a Dan’s, and a Harmons. And yes, those are all grocery stores. And no, that isn’t all of them.
As a society, we have worked so hard to be independent and self-sufficient, that we no longer need our neighbors. I no longer need to rely on a neighborhood bakery for my bread, or the butcher for my meat, or even my neighbors for their wisdom, help, or canning parties. I can do it all myself with my very own tools or at one of my dozen grocery stores, thank you very much, and I think that is one of the saddest realizations of my day.
*Sure, we have the farmers markets in the summer full of standard fare, but if you want anything on a day other than Saturday after the fourth of July or after Halloween, sorry. Out of luck. And even then, there is such a rush on the farmers market with variety, that it’s a zoo and often ridiculously overpriced (think novelty foods rather the feeding foods).