A Pleasure Seeker’s Defense of Eating Local, or How I Spent my 4th of July Weekend

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July 9, 2013 by productoverprocessed

The title of this post may be somewhat misleading, given that I am not exactly a pleasure seeker–at least, not according to a personality test I recently took for my job (I am also, apparently, 0% adventurous–I guess I got no points for eating a live scallop that one time).  And while it’s certainly true that I’ve never placed a high premium on “pleasurable experiences”–I’ve never enjoyed roller coasters, resisting peer pressure as an adolescent to use drugs was not difficult for me, etc.–I would chalk that up to crippling anxiety rather than any sort of aversion to pleasure.  After all, what is a “foodie” if not a pleasure seeker?

And that’s sort of the point here: eating food is a pleasurable thing.  What’s more, eating a diet comprised primarily of whole foods you purchase directly from local producers is the most pleasurable eating you can do, in this writer’s humble opinion.  This might sound heretical, in that it conflicts with two pieces of conventional wisdom: 1) eating local is synonymous with eating “healthy” or dieting, and is therefore not enjoyable, and 2) eating local is strictly for the environmentally conscious.  And yet, it’s true.

Let’s start with the first piece of conventional wisdom–eating local means eating healthy and eating healthy means eating tasteless food.  If you’ve seen any of the (mostly terrible) food docs available on Netflix, you’ve probably noticed that for all the praises being sung of eating a whole foods (lowercase) diet, nobody seems particularly excited about it.  The folks in these documentaries are usually Bill Clinton-type characters, having been forced into vegan or similar diets because of obesity, diabetes, quadruple bypass surgery, etc.  They’ve got a second lease on life, so they’re perfectly content eating unseasoned quinoa topped with mushy vegetables, but none of them is saying “I F***ING LOVE BOILED SWEET POTATOES!!!!!!!!” Instead, the filmmakers use their stories as case studies to help drive home a single point: start eating this way or perish.  Quantity of life, not quality, is the goal.

This is, of course, total bullshit, and as Michael Ruhlman and countless others have pointed out, cutting out entire food groups from your diet is generally not a necessary (or even beneficial) approach to eating healthy.  More importantly–for the sake of my argument, at least–I’m here to tell you that meals I’ve made entirely with ingredients purchased that day from the farmer’s market have easily been the most pleasurable of my life, and not in some abstract, self-righteous way, but in the good ol’ fashioned way of just tasting really good.  Eating local does not have to mean eating vegan, fat-free, gluten-free, and flavor-free.  In fact, one of the most compelling reasons to shop local is the above-standard quality of the food, speaking entirely from a flavor perspective.  When I buy bacon at the farmer’s market, it’s not because of some misguided fear of nitrites, but because it’s yummier than Oscar Meyer.


Big boy burger.

Big boy burger.

And that leads me to case study #1: Saturday night’s house-ground 70/30 beef/bacon burger served with fresh corn and potato salad dressed with a ballpark mustard vinaigrette.  If there was anything conventionally “healthy” about this meal, I assure you it was by accident.  The burgers were 1/2 pound each, juicy and a touch smoky from the bacon ground in with the beef, topped with the works and served on a fat, freshly made bun.  The ears of corn were slathered in local butter and showered with salt.  The potato salad, though not one of those too-heavy, mayo-based versions, still had its share of fat from the vinaigrette, which I made from EVOO and Bertman’s ballpark mustard, and the potatoes, also local, were pure starchy goodness.  Preparing the meal–which included washing and freezing my grinder parts, cutting the beef and bacon, freezing it, grinding it, re-freezing it, re-grinding it, shaping it into patties, grilling the patties, all the while assembling the potato salad, husking and boiling the corn, and preparing the toppings–took me the better part of my Saturday afternoon, but culminated with one of the most succulent bites of burger I’ve ever had in my life.

I could talk at length here about the relative ethical merits of eating beef from cows fed on grass rather than grain, about the lack of antibiotics and growth hormones in the animals whose meat I bought, about the animals’ “happiness” relative to animals raised on feedlots, and I think it would make a pretty compelling case for eating local.  But–and I’m getting to conventional nugget o’ wisdom #2–these are not the only reasons for doing so, and I think that people who love to eat but don’t care one way or the other about what their beef is fed think that shopping local is not for them or a total waste of time.  I certainly can’t judge them for not getting fired up about this particular issue, especially when there are countless social issues I know and do exactly nothing about, but this post is an attempt to frame shopping at the farmers’ market in a way they might find more intriguing.  The food just tastes better.  Making and eating it is so much more rewarding, even on a purely carnal level.  And even if you don’t geek out over it enough to grind your own meat twice, or even once, the ground beef you buy from the farmer is going to taste a thousand times better than the log o’ beef you get at Kroger.  The fresh bacon and pastured eggs will be eye-opening.  The bread, a revelation.  There’s a reason restaurants get their food direct from the source, and in most cases, it’s not because it’s better for the environment, or the animals, or the local economy, or public health, though these are not inconsequential.  It’s because it tastes better.  And there’s no reason the average (or below average) home cook with a hankerin’ for a bacon burger with some corn can’t get in on that as well.

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