Thursday, June 16, 2011

Local Sourcing 1

The summertime lobster sandwich from McDonald's is back! Yes, Micky D's serving a lobster which is only available in New England and the Atlantic provinces. Apparently the lobster is being sourced from lobster-men in Escuminac, New Brunswick in a move to try sourcing and selling a local sandwich.
Now, this feels really strange, but I have to compliment McDonald's on this move. Locally sourced for local consumption,these are the actions we need to see in the food world. If we could add “sustainably harvested” to the list, we'd have the whole trifecta.
Honestly, do we really need to eat the same things everywhere in the world? I know that this is the concept behind food outlets like McDonalds. You serve the same thing everywhere, standardizing production, preparation, and service across your chain in order to present the same experience to every consumer on every visit. But we've done that, and it's killing us.
Regardless of what we've been teaching ourselves for the last century, people are not all the same everywhere. Motivations may be, general needs may be, but that doesn't make us identical. Just as an example, cow's milk isn't great for everyone (often, goat's milk is a better fit). So force feeding everyone a burger and shake combination may not be the best idea.
We, as humans, have spent thousands of years developing local and regional cuisines. This food is one of the ways we define ourselves. I know most Canadians don't get it (other than poutine, we really have no national cuisine), but most places aren't Canada. Provence, Tuscany, Ethiopia, all of these places have things they eat or ways they eat that are particular to themselves. Parmesan cheese is not the white grainy food-like substance we consume in North America; rather it is particular to the Parma region of Italy. And when you feed pigs on the waste whey from making Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, you get a specifically-flavoured pig that, when you've butchered and salt-cured it, makes prosciutto. Salt-curing a ham doesn't make prosciutto, terroir makes prosciutto. And that terrior is place-specific. Techniques are transferable (thus you can cure a prosciutto-style ham), but place isn't transferable. If I cure a ham from a Berkshire hog on a farm north of Sudbury which I raised on whey from milk from Jersey cows made into a Cheddar style cheese, what I get is not prosciutto, but a salt-cured ham that represents the place in which it was produced. And no one can copy that terroir—which is why I shouldn't be trying to represent that ham as being something its not. Call it Tondalayo Ham produced using adapted Parman techniques, which would explain what it was better than simply calling it prosciutto.
Eating local isn't about sourcing the same items everywhere, it's about letting farmers do what they've done for fifteen thousand years—figure out what grows well and grow it. And just because something exists doesn't mean everyone should be able to get it. Total gratification of every whim is not just killing us, its killing the planet.

BTW, there's actually an ad for the McLobster....

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