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On and Off Ramps

April 13, 2018

Human beings. I don’t think we are herd animals. But maybe we are. I mean, have you ever been to a food truck festival?

Whatever it is that drives us to be influenced by our peers, there is no doubt that trends come and trends go. Right now we have acai bowls, but it seems like just yesterday that it was frozen yogurt. And before that, it was cupcakes. Amazingly, the whole cupcake thing happened back in the dark ages before there was Instagram.

It’s a miracle people even knew they were cool. You had to talk to other human beings, sometimes at a water cooler, in an office. I mention the last part, because of the rise of the decentralized gig economy.

Which, amazingly, has something to do with what I wanted to talk about today.

When a new food gets trendy, like sushi burritos or rolled ice cream, I don’t get angry or upset. It’s a curiosity. I’ll try it out, and maybe if I like it, attempt to find the best of its ilk before everyone packs up their things and goes home. The high water mark for that recently was the activated charcoal frozen yogurt from Ayelada.

We shouldn’t weep for its departure. We should be thankful for the pleasures it brought.

The big problem with food trends is when they strike an ingredient. Because typically, there are super delicious things hiding in plain sight under the radar that nobody wants. And as a result, they are a tremendous value.

We’ve seen this happen with odd shaped steaks that if overcooked get impossibly tough. The cockroach of the sea is protected by a hard exoskeleton and was historically only eaten by the underclasses, but lobster has become a luxury ingredient. It’s happening right now with something as humble as an onion that only grows in the wild, and you need someone to haul it out of the woods for you to enjoy.

So this deliciousness gets discovered.
At some point it’s heralded to the masses.
Then as demand surges, prices rise.

When prices rise, bad things happen. There are production pressures, and it draws people who are looking to make a quick buck. A couple of years ago, ramps were reportedly selling for $22 per pound. Let that sink in for a second.

Did you know that wild ramp populations are being decimated by unsustainable foraging practices? While ramps may be wild, it still takes them many years to grow and reach maturity.

There’s a way to take part of a plant so it grows back, so if you know your forager is committed to sustainable practices you can eat ramps without any guilt. However, ramps are showing up on menus all over the place. Where did the restaurant get them? Who did the foodservice company buy them from?

These production pressures are real. If you’re in food sales, and a chef calls you asking for ramps, you need to have some to sell. Otherwise, that client may take the account elsewhere. How much as a food distributor do you care about the harvesting practices of your foragers?

Is it even a question that chefs ask when placing their orders? Because if they don’t have ramps on their menu, the foodies will find another restaurant that does.

So I’m calling shenanigans.

When wild onions that should be free start selling at over $20 a pound, it’s time to move on to something else. For the sake of comparison, at Whole Foods an animal welfare rated, bone in rib eye costs only $13 a pound. And this week it’s on sale for $11.

I’m off ramps.

Sure, they are delicious. But I’m not going to make a fuss over them. I’m not going to seek them out. Nor am I going to pay the outrageous sum their popularity has demanded. And maybe if more people do the same, there may be a chance to restore some of the wild abundance ramps enjoyed for future generations.

But what about celebrating spring?

Well, last week on WAMC’s Vox Pop Food Friday, Peter Barrett made the case for garlic chives. So at the risk of starting this entire process anew with some other ingredient, I’m going to be on the lookout for these sustainable harbingers of spring produce.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2018 10:13 am

    I am attempting to start a ramp patch in a shady leaf covered corner of my dinky yard. Put the seeds down last year, hoping they peek through this spring. I don’t intend on eating them for years, if at all. If they get going I may try to guerilla transplant them places. I already am propagating some other wild onions that I found growing in Delmar. These are the issues that get me going.

  2. April 13, 2018 11:45 am

    Hey, thanks for the shoutout. Here’s a post I wrote about field garlic a few years ago: http://www.acookblog.com/2011/04/its-beginning-to-look-a-lot-like-arbor-day.html.
    I started a ramp patch at my old house; I was by recently and it’s thriving. They like to be under deciduous trees—not conifers—and near water if possible. They’re adapted to forest floors, so let the fallen leaves mulch them. They won’t grow in full sun.

  3. April 16, 2018 7:17 pm

    One of the things I miss about the Hudson Valley (an actually, Chicago too, considering the ramp is the city’s namesake plant) is the arrival of ramps in the spring. Last year I treated myself to one somewhat overpriced bunch from the Ferry Building Marketplace. I enjoyed the greens just gently sauteed and then pickled the bulbs so I could make my treat last longer.

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  1. 7 and 7 on Saturday, April 14, 2018 – Chuck The Writer

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