This morning, about 8:45, I took this photograph of bananas at the Casbah Café in Silverlake, Los Angeles.
At breakfast, I sat with my dear friend Sharon, who was born and raised (until she was 11) in Hot Springs, South Dakota, then moved to Claremont, California, went to college in Poughkeepsie, NY, lived in New York City, Ashland, Oregon, and now in Los Angeles. I was born in Pomona, California, moved to Claremont (where I met Sharon), lived in London, moved to Vashon, Washington, lived in New York City (where I lived with Sharon), London, and now in Seattle.
For breakfast, Sharon ate poached eggs with brioche toast, wrinkled black olives, and tomatoes. Where did the eggs come from? Perhaps from California, as well as the tomatoes. The brioche? The wheat could have come from anywhere in the Midwest, the yeast from somewhere not clear, the water imported from Colorado or Washington. And the olives were probably from Morocco, because the little café is Moroccan inspired, but both the women preparing our food were from Mexico, originally. And mine? The strawberries were from Southern California, the sweetness far more full than that of the strawberries I ate a couple of weeks ago, because they were local and in season. The yogurt, I would guess, came from Greece, given the thickness and particular taste. And the bananas? Perhaps from Ecuador?
Right now, about 9:45 in the evening, I am writing this in our bedroom in Seattle, a little weary from traveling and full of memories. The man I love — born in Breckenridge, Colorado, went to school in Vermont, cooked in New York City, Denver, and now lives in Seattle — is with me, eating beef stew. The beef is local, raised about 60 miles from us. The potatoes were grown on the other side of the Cascades from us. The carrots are probably from California, since we bought them from a supermarket, and it’s not carrot season here. The kalamata olives were from Greece, the canned tomatoes from Italy. The red wine I used to deglaze the pan came from Napa Valley, and the mushrooms from California as well.
Is there really such a thing as eating local?
I am struck, once again, by how odd airplane travel truly is. After we ate our breakfast, Sharon drove me to Burbank airport. From the time I stepped inside that airport, until I walked out of the Seattle airport? Three hours and ten minutes. Now granted, that time went fast, because I had a fabulous conversation with an unexpectedly familiar stranger in the seat next to me. But really, are we supposed to be able to move that quickly? This morning, I woke up on Sharon’s couch in Silverlake, and tonight I’ll be sleeping in the bed I share with the Chef in Seattle. Believe me, I’m grateful, but I don’t think my body will catch up for a few days. Do we move too quickly? Do we want too much?
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how excited I am that local asparagus is finally in season. Some readers wondered what the big deal was. A few anonymous readers even suggested I was being a snob by waiting. But really, have you eaten asparagus grown in Chile, purchased in Seattle in January, at $8.99 a pound? Withered, spindly, and no real taste. The taste alone makes the wait worth it.
But does that mean we only eat locally grown produce around here? Nope. As much as we try, we find it near impossible, all the time. If I never ate any foods grown or made outside of the radius of Western Washington, how could I ever make something with teff flour? Or eat the health benefits of red quinoa grown in Bolivia? Even more simply, olive trees don’t grow in Washington. Nor do any of the ingredients necessary to make any kind of oils. And what would I do without avocadoes?
I heard a beautiful piece of advice recently: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” That covers most of the faux ingredients that fill out packaged processed foods that don’t seem to do us any good. But I’m certain that my great grandmother never ate shiso leaves, macadamia nuts, or balsamic vinegar. Isn’t the tremendous variety available to us, because of the food revolutions of the past forty years, better for our health, and our understanding of the world? But they’re not local.
We don’t have any answers around here. I certainly don’t think that anyone has to live the way we do. And every day, I make decisions as to how to spend our food dollars, and I’m never entirely sure I made the right decision.
But what we try to do around here is this. When there’s a piece of produce that grows naturally, abundantly, in the Pacific Northwest — fat blackberries; sweet peaches; wild salmon — we wait to eat it until it’s in season. That makes the produce cheaper, and it tastes better, as well. I love buying food directly from farmers. These next few months will be a bonanza of berries, pea vines, and soft green lettuces. I can hardly wait.
But when it comes to foods that will never grow here, we buy them sparingly, and with deliberate decision. My great-grandmother probably ate everything locally. I have the chance to know more about how the rest of the world eats.
And besides, I’m really not willing to give up bananas for the rest of my life. (And for Little Bean’s, either. Bananas are the perfect portable kid food.)
So I’d love to know: how do you approach this?
And for that matter, how do you like to cook with bananas?