As the season shifts into low gear preparing for the long uphill drive through the cold-weather months here on the plains, our kitchen is in the process of change as well. Grieving the loss of an abundant, local vegetable supply, we turn our focus toward meats and proteins, and squeezing out every last drop of usefulness from late harvest tomatoes, pumpkins, butternut squash and a few things we have dehydrated, canned or put by in the freezer. There is a sadness to the turn, but it gives way to other benefits and blessings that otherwise would not be enjoyed if we maintained the more rapid pace of life during the warmer days.
If you asked ten chefs about his or her philosophy about buying and sourcing food locally, you would probably get ten different points of view. Likely you’ll find a little overlap on the Venn diagram, but opinions would vary from a commitment to using 100% of products sourced within an hour distance away, to the other extreme of only trying to catch and ride the wave of a trend that may or may not be here in 10 years. I don’t hold to a right or wrong position on the matter. I subscribe to a belief that free choices should lead to just that: freedom. Being free to choose what and how you eat hopefully will lead to the ability to enjoy that freedom even further. Eating should enhance the quality of our life, not diminish it.
It would be impossible to obtain all my food from local sources here in Nebraska. Our weather does not allow it, but even if it did, I would still run into the problem of supply. The greater the demand affects how much is available. Finding sources that will be capable of getting the adequate amount of product I need for my customers will most likely always be a challenge.
So I take the approach of developing what some call “local habit.” This means I have as a regular practice, the decision to buy locally when I can. If given the option of buying salad greens from a local grower or from a regional supplier, I will go with the local. I have the habit of buying pork and beef from guys who raise hogs and cattle in Elk Creek and David City. If they are out, I have to find another source that I trust. I have to be flexible with my philosophy if it is to be sustainable. If I held the position that I only served local, period, there would be many days I couldn’t sell a half the items on my menu. The more rigid my posture becomes, the more likely it is to snap. Trees survive the wind because they can move along with the currents.
But at the same time, sustainability also requires staying rooted. The tree can bend and sway because it goes down deep, keeping anchored and strong. Making local habit is a decision to which I can stay grounded in philosophy and ideal, and at the same time, gives me great pleasure in doing so.