Local food = good politics and good eatin’ too!
St. Louis chefs enjoy access to a huge cornucopia of food products from all over the world. But the same industrial agriculture and food distribution system that has erased the concept of “seasonal” food has engineered the products it sells us to suit its own needs – peaches hard enough to withstand mechanical picking, tomatoes that can be picked green and gassed to a rosy red color that imitates ripeness, meat pumped with growth hormones and antibiotics to withstand the unnatural rigors of the feedlot, soybeans genetically tinkered to withstand the withering effects of harsh herbicides.
There are public health and safety issues that arise from modern agriculture’s use of chemical inputs and dependence on varieties hybridized or engineered for mass production and long-distance distribution. Ecological problems arise from the use of millions of pounds of petro-chemical based fertilizers and thousands of miles of transportation from farm to table. There are political and sociological implications to the upheaval in farm-based rural populations. For all these reasons, buying locally produced food makes for good politics.
But the bottom line for St. Louis chefs is that industrial agriculture’s dependence on a genetically narrow handful of vegetable and fruit varieties has robbed us of the depth and diversity of flavors once offered by traditional heirloom varieties that were bred for hand harvesting and quick sales to people living nearby the farm. The full flavors of produce allowed to completely ripen in the fields has been replaced by hard skins, dry flesh and longer shelf life that defy the most talented and dedicated chef.
Here in the center of the nation, at the confluence of the great rivers, we can revel in our long heritage of agricultural achievement and support the local agricultural economy or we can opt for the convenience and predictability of the worldwide industrial food distribution system.
More and more St. Louis chefs are looking to source locally because they understand that the most exciting and delicious menus are inspired by the place where we live and the seasons that we enjoy.