I am writing in response to your “Notable Edibles” column in the Fall 2012 issue. I was discouraged to see that you gave print to a statement that accuses the majority of restaurants who advertise local food on their menus as liars or exaggerators. This is particularly hard to swallow once you view the text of the many advertisers who pay to grace your pages, touting the growth of and support of local foods. I also find it surprising that the young chef-entrepreneurs featured in the piece apprenticed at some of the most wonderful places to experience a true farm-to-table meal, and then appear to collectively throw their mentors under the bus along with the establishments who are trying to follow in those same footsteps.
Everyone in the food business with two feet firmly planted in reality knows that producing a totally local menu for sale to the public is a near impossibility. Consider that the minute you put an olive into your martini, or cinnamon into your apple pie, you have stepped away from truly local foods. The regional foods that we cannot grow here literally add spice to our lives, and I have yet to meet someone who wants to live without them. Increasing local offerings on our plates is a practice we must take one step at a time. Yes, there will always be frauds in the world, but educating the public to recognize what they are eating and to ask where it came from is the way to proceed, without discouraging those establishments who are trying to participate and may not yet fully “get it.”
I also want to point out that while it is exciting to find foraged foods on your dinner plate, this trend may lead us down a slippery slope. While I don’t know where the featured chefs procure their foraged foods, it is my hope that they are foraging only on private lands with permission from the owners. There are a handful of folks who have been responsibly foraging East End fields and farms for decades, and most of those people know to preserve the land while gently sampling what nature has to offer. Does that same restraint come into play when there is a deadline for a Saturday night event with 200 plates to fill?
We need to literally tread with caution when it comes to foraging, or these same ecosystems that we have paid precious tax dollars to preserve will lose the diversity that was the reason we saved them in the first place. I am hopeful that chefs Doug, Kyle and Dan agree with me when I say that I don’t wish to see the last beach plum preserved under glass in a museum. It is our responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen.
With each bite we make a choice. Farmers, chefs and foodies all must choose restraint, education and a spirit of cooperation within the industry as we make small steps to reduce our reliance on distant foods that can be grown and found here, while preserving what we have that is unique. If it is true that a rising tide lifts all ships, surely Edible East End is one of the groups standing at the helm. I implore you to help keep us on the right course as you have done so well in the past.
Shelter Island, NY
December 18, 2012