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Abandoning Local Food For Seasonal Treats

January 26, 2016

Surely, you are now well versed in the mantra of better food. Say it with me as I say it aloud, “Local, seasonal, and sustainable.” There are a lot of things that get wrapped up in the banner of sustainability. At one point that word used to be “Organic” but let’s not quibble over particulars right now.

The idea is that food raised with care and brought to market at its peak flavor is going to be the very best food you can find. And local is important, because it supports the sustainable local economy objectives, plays into issues with environmental stewardship incluing the greenhouse gasses of shipping things from around the world, and also insures that the food is being grown for flavor and not transportability.

Whew. Did you get all of that? It’s exhausting. It really, really is. And I’m a true believer in this ideology as well. I insist that not only is it totally possible to provide a local and seasonal menu 12 months a year in upstate New York, but that it could be absolutely delicious.

Now watch as I walk the highwire and make the contrarian claim while still preserving my integrity.

Yesterday at the grocery store I saw a fellow taking a shrink wrapped wedge of watermelon off the shelf and into his cart. In January. In Albany, New York. Sure, compared to some winters this might feel like summer, but summer it’s not. I have no idea where that watermelon came from, but I can guarantee you it won’t be good.

Heck, even watermelon that doesn’t have to travel from the southern hemisphere at the earlier part of the summer season is bland and uninspiring. I’d argue that it’s not even worth eating.

Last week I tried the new Blaze Fast-Fired pizza place out a couple of times, trying to triangulate my way to a tasty pie. And there, I was reminded of a few things regarding seasonality. Mostly, the cherry tomatoes are simply awful right now. More than anything else, they are bitter and dull. Do yourself a favor and skip them entirely.

Honestly, I don’t even know what inspired me to try them. Perhaps it was their vibrant color and a misplaced sense of optimism. That said, the basil wasn’t bad at all. So who’s to say. The truth of the matter is that during the dark cold months of winter, there are indeed seasonal treats from far away that are absolutely delicious.

You know, like winter citrus.

It’s not local. Not one little bit. Even if you’re getting something from Florida, Texas, or California, the best you can say is that it’s domestic. And when push comes to shove, you all know that I’m not above buying food from around the world. I drink coffee like it’s going out of style, and unless there is some kind of global catastrophe you’ll never get me to stop enjoying European wines and cheeses.

And citrus is just something that happens to travel quite well.

Winter citrus is as much a part of winter as the crappy salad greens that restaurants pay top dollar to get delivered this time of year. The only difference is that one of them is delicious and cheap, and the other is terrible and outrageously expensive. For me, that’s what it means for something to be in season. It’s both plentiful and at its peak of quality.

Could you make it through and Albany winter without winter citrus? Sure. But luckily, we don’t have to do that. And unless you’re willing to give up your Italian olive oil, vanilla extract, and most of your spice cabinet, I say it’s okay.

What’s not okay is having winter citrus on the menu if you make any claims of being a farm-to-table restaurant. Because the whole point of that is the absence of a supply chain.

Now I’m going to go and enjoy another clementine before I have to sit down and eat samples of ten different burgers. Wish me luck. I’ll tell you all about it as soon as I recover.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2016 11:14 am

    Daniel, did you happen to see my Yelp review of 15 Church? When I was there 2 weeks ago, they were featuring a pasta dish that had corn in it.

    I can forgive a chain for serving out of season veggies and fruits. But one of the supposedly best restaurants in Saratoga is doing it.

  2. January 26, 2016 11:23 am

    I often blame pineapple and grapefruits for the utter futility in my having a “local” diet. Ruby red grapefruit gets me through long winters in upstate NY!

  3. Grrrr permalink
    January 26, 2016 4:47 pm

    If you’re not anti-Walmart this is the place to shop for ridiculously low priced bags of amazing seasonal citrus.
    Some of my favorites are priced at about $3.99 a bag for the same product from the same growers sold in mainstream grocery stores.
    I buy bags of my favorites this time of year such as Tangelos, Mineola and red Texas Grapefruit.
    Their organic produce, the same brands as anywhere, are much less expensive.
    BTW & FYI- If you’ve been following the news about the guy Walmart fired for redeeming bottles left by customers… his sole job was to retrieve shopping carts from the lot. He was earning over $10 hr, not minimum wage. Everyone makes Walmart out to be the enemy…

  4. -R. permalink
    January 27, 2016 1:05 pm

    Grrr — I really don’t care if Walmart is cheaper on EVERYTHING. I flatly refuse to patronize any branch of Walmart/Sam’s Club as they are a drain on small local businesses, are staunchly anti-labor and treat their employees like a pile of shit. Really, a rah-rah Walmart chant every morning? F**k that (and them).

  5. January 28, 2016 2:18 am

    Always enjoy reading your posts. I order citrus from family owned farms in CA in spring to make marmalade. Delicious!

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