Philadelphia Metropolis


The Foodie's Dilemma

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By Jessica Banta

I'm a foodie. I know that word gets thrown around a lot these days but I think it's the only term that properly describes how I feel about food. To me, food is about more than just nourishment. It is about adventure, education and culture.

When I walk into a market I experience pure happiness. And with every new country I visit or city I enter, one of the first things I do is seek out their local markets and their local food. As I try more types of food I am beginning to realize how much of that food is grown or produced in places far away from my home. If I want to make my famous fresh fig compote to take with me to parties I'm going to need those figs to be flown in from the Mediterranean.

But even foods I know can be grown or produced regionally come from far off places. The carrots in my crisper drawer are from Bakersfield, California. I'm sure it's a lovely town, but I'm also sure that carrots grow in Pennsylvania.

So I went on a mission to seek out Philly's local food scene and get on the buy-local bandwagon. The farms of Lancaster are just a hop skip and a jump away and the gardens of the Garden State are right across the river.

You would think that local food would be abundant and inexpensive. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case. When I tried to find more locally produced food I also found high prices. As much as I want to get my food from one town over and not one continent over, the dollar signs have been persuading me otherwise.


Puny watercress

So where exactly does most of our produce come from? I was in line at the Reading Terminal Market the other day, buying a bunch of watercress that was disappointingly small. The manager told me that unfortunately they would be out of watercress for a while because of the cold spell that hit southern California recently and damaged many of the crops. I knew exactly what area of southern California he was talking about. It's called the Salad Bowl because it supplies the USA with most of its greens, and an enormous amount of other produce. My husband and I had just driven through it a few months back on our way from Los Angeles to San Francisco. As I walked down Race street with my jet-setting watercress in hand I thought to myself, "Did I really need watercress this badly?"

Why can't I be content eating the locally grown broccoli or kale that I passed over at the Northern Liberties farmer's market this weekend? Even if I crave for a variety in my food that can't be satisfied with local food, I can surely replace my carrots, apples, onions and alike with local fare. Right? Apparently I can't -- if I still want to put away for retirement. I found on average the price of local produce to be 2 to3 times what I pay for those carrots that flew across three time zones. The meat was about twice as expensive as well. The in-season local veggies were still more expensive than my out-of -season California watercress.


Taking a guilt trip

I told myself that I should buy that nice farmer's produce because in order for him to make a profit he needs to charge that much. Then, I smiled and walked right on by.

I did buy some local artisan bread and cheese because the prices were reasonable, but that didn't help ease my guilt of eating watercress that took the same plane ride from California to Pennsylvania that my husband and I took on our vacation.

It looks like the simple answer of eating locally isn't so simple. Please don't tell me I should pay more for the locally produced stuff and just buy less of it. The waistband on my pants won't like that very much.

And if I were to splurge on local fare how far should I take it? True local-food followers would say I should only eat local. Wild Alaskan Salmon, I'll miss you! Perhaps, for me it's all about baby steps. It's hard to pass up those dirt-cheap California carrots for some Fair Trade ones at a price that my pocketbook doesn't think is very fair at all.

But perhaps that's a sacrifice I must make to keep local food from disappearing. So my New Year's resolution is to buy two locally produced food items a week and see if I my pocket book and my frugal nature can handle it.


Jessica Banta eats her California-grown produce in her apartment in Old City.



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