The Telluride Farmers Market, which finishes its season this week, is a showcase for regional abundance. Its farmers sell everything from organic honey to grass-fed beef and lamb to organic baked goods, goat cheese and seasonal fruit and vegetables. I decided to pick my favorite items and then dig deeper, by visiting the farms that grow these foods, and maybe even get my hands dirty in the process.
My current shop-locally bible is Coming Home to Eat, the Pleasures and Politics of Local Food , by Gary Paul Nabhan. In it, he recounts his attempts to eat only what he can grow, harvest and forage within a 250-mile radius of his home in southern Arizona. He grows only indigenous plants and takes a great deal of knowledge from the indigenous people of his region. In eloquent prose, Nabhan weaves together stories that are a thick and colorful blend of food and culture, filled with mouthwatering surprises. The book is also an informative and mind boggling account of the globalized food economy and the politics that drive that economy.
Nabhan warns his readers that "if we no longer believe that the earth is sacred, or that we are blessed by the bounty around us, or that we have a care taking responsibility given to us by the Creator-Yahweh, Earth Mother, Gaia, Tata Dios, Cave Bear, Raven, or whatever you care to call him or her - then it does not really matter to most folks how much ecological and cultural damage is done by the way we eat."
Nabhan sheds light on the juxtaposed fine dining habits of humans, such as Midwesterners gorging on gastric delights such as sushi and New Zealand lamb (made possible by world trade organizations such as NAFTA) while discussing their latest business ventures.
And then, there are those who dine for hours on local fare sharing news, family lore and recipes over meals tenderly harvested and ceremoniously prepared.
Nabhan's book is a great literary pick for those hopping onboard the rapidly growing Slow Food movement.
Slow Food, in case you haven't heard, is an international effort, with over 80,000 members, determined to bring back regionally grown, wholesome food and longstanding culinary traditions. To that end, Slow Food implies food that is seasonal, locally grown, sustainably harvested and enjoyed in good company. The organization hosts a website and monthly 'zine, as well as local, national and global events that celebrate Slow Food.
What transpires in Coming Home to Eat is a delicious exploration of food that leaves Nabhan reeling from such exquisite flavors as mesquite-roasted agave, otherwise known as mescal (not the intoxicating drink made from cactus, but rather a sticky, sweet, bread-like substance he pronounces the oldest baked good from the desert borderlands known to man). He goes on to share with readers his adventures with everything from rattlesnake as a main course to road-kill quail stuffed with garlic and wild oregano basted in prickly pear syrup glaze. The list goes on and on. Yet what is most important about his book is that Nabhan inspires his readers not so much to replicate his personal menu as to create menus from their own nearby fields, farms, gardens and mountains.
For anyone who finds a trip to their local farmers market an uplifting experience, I highly recommend beginning to tour of the nearby farms where your favorite foods are grown. In many cases the farmers welcome a helping hand, so not only can you see what it takes to produce food, you can participate in the process as well.
I recently prepared a dinner of baby beets and baby carrots lightly steamed and tossed in red wine vinegar and olive oil. To accompany these marvels from our Ophir garden, we enjoyed elk steaks, also harvested in the Ophir valley and some chanterelles from the woods nearby, sautéed in butter. The French fingerling potatoes were purchased from a western slope organic farmer at the Telluride Farmers Market. And so our meal was not only a source of nourishment, but a sacrament. Hallelujah, I told the dogs as I fed them scraps of meet from the table, an offering I had to make as I contemplated the slippery beets and sweet ripe potatoes that had melted in my mouth.
Food, and the quest for it, has become my favorite high. I am fanatic in my search for culinary elation, which finds me wandering up steep slopes of nearby mountains gathering raspberries and currants for pie, searching out local farmers for poultry, cheese and even herbal remedies.
Inspired by Coming Home to Eat , I have set out on a quest to get to know my local food, firsthand. Unlike Nabhan, I am not a diehard minimalist in the food world, and happily indulge in sushi now and then. But these days I am a devotee of farmers markets. Now when I travel I search out the local food markets to get better aquatinted with the culture. There is so much we can learn about a culture by exploring its food shed. For example, a Maine lobsterman tells a much different tale than does, say, a Utah pig farmer, the Western Colorado potato farmer or even the Ophir elk hunter. All carry with them an elemental pride and a humble respect from bearing witness to the life cycle of the food chain.