There are few more informed and articulate spokespeople for the "eat local" movement than Oak Park's Rob Gardner, Editor and Publisher of The Local Beet, a website dedicated to the practical pursuit of locally sourced food.
This weekend at UIC Pavilion, as part of the Good Food Festival and Conference Gardner will moderate a session on "The Art of Fermentation" with Sandor Katz, an equally outspoken spokesperson who has dedicated his life to promoting the health and culinary value of fermented products, like pickles, sauerkraut and kimchee.
I asked Gardner how the goals of The Local Beet aligned with those of the Good Food Festival and Conference, and he explained, "Both The Local Beet and the GFF&C want to see real changes in our food system. We both believe that the path to change comes through the encouragement of eating local. All the activities from workshops to exhibits encourage people to eat better, inspire people to eat better and enable people to eat better."
According to Gardner, "Fermentation is relevant to the goals of The Local Beet in that it produces delicious food with important health benefits. If you want to eat local, you should want to always eat local. To have local food in the cold periods requires putting away and putting up. Fermentation is one of the oldest and best ways to enjoy food grown locally when nothing is coming up from the ground."
Because sourcing food locally now seems like almost an entrance requirement for new restaurants, I wondered if, perhaps, the local food movement had achieved its main goal. Gardner begged to differ with my assumption, adding, "Advertising local food on a restaurant menu or web site is certainly one way of demonstrating your commitment to finding the best local and sustainable products. Still, I think that for all the parading around, we are hardly that much further ahead in achieving our goals. For one thing, so many places that say they use local ingredients do not fully use local ingredients for all their sourcing. And few local restaurants are trying to create a cuisine that is unique to 'Chicago' or the 'Midwest.' Instead, we have places cooking French, Spanish or Mexican food with local ingredients, which is good, but I think we need to move up a level.
In support of such eat local initiatives – some of which are made possible by fermentation – Gardner's The Local Beet provides a regularly updated list of community supported agriculture (CSA) farms and local farmer's markets. Now in its fifth year, these listings, Gardner tells us (and we concur!) "are by far the best guides to those who want to source their food from local, Midwestern farmers."