In the first weeks that I started writing the Noshing Around column here at the Tucson Weekly, local food was the hottest thing going. But it wasn’t long before I started to smell bullshit in the air when people talked about it, and that smell lingers even today.
It pains me greatly to say that. I grew up on a small farm where we raised and butchered goats, grew our own vegetables, dried chamomile, made cheese and did all the other things that a family must do to feed six kids, two adults and dozens of animals. I learned to respect food because I saw how much it took to create food, and that respect is something I still feel on a visceral level.
That part of me is listening when a new restaurant proclaims a dedication to local food, and that part of me gets more than a little pissed off when I learn that that restaurant is not being forthright about where most of the food it sells comes from. A suggestion to these restaurants: It would be wise to pay the farmers you reneged on and to tell customers what your actual commitment to local food is. They will eventually find out and they are not going to be happy about it.
This is not to discount the great work being done by the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, River Road Gardens, Dos Manos Farm, Sleeping Frog Farms, Food Conspiracy Co-op and the growing number of people raising food, sharing food and working to try to take back some control over what we eat. You are my heroes and I will support you until the end.
But as I was driving back from a 3 to 11 p.m. shift at my other job last night I got hungry and I finally broke down and got an order of French fries from the Carl’s Jr. on the way home. I was tired – like so many of you are after busting your asses just to make ends meet – and it tasted very good and was very cheap. I suddenly felt guilty for this lingering snobbery I’ve been harboring about industrialized, processed food.
Local food is still a privilege of those who have the time to seek it out and the money to afford it, and often it seems like it's used more as a marketing tool than anything. Maybe that could change someday, but it feels very naïve and snobbish to act – and write – as if local food is going to change the world. When working people can order a grass-fed, local burger topped with locally raised lettuce off a dollar menu, maybe, but until then it's more like a ripe apple dangling high in a tree, beautiful to behold but, alas, out of reach.