Splitting his time between Guerneville and Manhattan, acclaimed consultant Clark Wolf graces these pages with Napkin Notes, the occasional diatribe from the periodic local.
The locavore life is lovely, especially if you live in the middle of temperate farmland and are in good health with an engaging life and plenty of resources. But let’s face it: absolute locavorism is a stunt, a fetish and sometimes a book deal, but it’s not the best, tastiest or most thoughtful way to live in the natural world, in a true balance of sustainable living.
Sometimes I think that Slow Food USA is an oxymoron, a battleground of core conflict. You put 100,000 Italians together to talk food, and they’ll tussle passionately, but mostly about detail and nuance because the basics are a market basket of deeply treasured givens: fresh vegetables, good cheeses, cured pork, protein in small amounts, some fish, lots of passed-on recipes and a dedication to the importance and pleasures of every morsel.
You put 30 Americans in a room to talk about food, and in 20 minutes half of them have run off to start a new company to make and sell what’s been discussed or disclosed.
Each has its place and value but, with all of our (and certainly my own) serious dedication to American artisan foodways, sometimes you just need Parmigiano Reggiano. Some real-deal benchmarks and standard bearers deserve to enjoy our support as part of the world’s pantry. Sometimes a slow boat across a large ocean is in fact the most efficient and thoughtful way to move food and other important goods.
I love some of the locally roasted coffees in the region, from Peet’s to Flying Goat, Taylor Maid to Stumptown, but I’m guessing we won’t be pulling up vines to plant a rainforest (except maybe in Cazadero), so the beans need to be brought. I’m thrilled that little acai berries are building a world of antioxidation and a stronger economy for Brazil, but I don’t want to lose persimmons and Gravensteins, even if the acai palms would live happily along the Russian River.
I certainly want people to know the joy of Sonoma-grown goodness (even if it winds up in a bottle), Marin County beef and dairy, our brilliant black pig bacon. I want folks to hear about and taste our favorite treats, not only buying them wherever they live, but perhaps deciding to pay us a visit to discover the other priceless free stuff along the North Bay region that makes us so happy and well-regarded: the orchards and redwoods, rivers and meadows, dramatic coast and dreamy grasslands, charming towns and some of the best bakers, cheese makers, organic and dry farm folks anywhere.
Sometimes we need to send it, sometimes go—or welcome someone—for a visit to nibble the blarney stone of timeless foodways. So support the local, but don’t be a loca-bore. We have a lot to share and it’d be selfish, a shame and economically devastating if we thought for a moment of keeping it all to ourselves.
Clark Wolf is a Sonoma County&– and New York&–based food and restaurant consultant, the author of ‘American Cheeses: The Best Regional, Artisan, and Farmhouse Cheeses’ and a regular contributor on KSRO’s ‘The Drive’ with Steve Jaxon.
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