What does it mean to be local? | Column

by | May 11, 2019 5:00 am

Last Updated: May 8, 2019 at 2:08 pm

With the blessing of the Imperial Senate and Darth Vader himself, the 2019 Colleton Farmers Market began its season on May 4. Following through with the Star Wars theme, decorations and live characters peppered the landscape. What was really out of this world was the bounty of local products to be found within the market. But the word local. What does it really mean?
Local is a term I find myself throwing around quite a lot. It’s more than just a simple word — it has become a mantra and symbol of my culinary quest. A reverence for local foods was fostered during my childhood in New York and solidified as a traveling adult. Until opening day of the farmers market, I hadn’t put much thought into what it truly means to be local.
While roaming the market, I ran into a coordinator from the Colleton County Clemson Cooperative Extension office. She chatted me up about the work the office does, and the initiatives it’s involved with. After I told her a bit about myself, she eagerly handed me a clipboard with a survey pertaining to local food systems. I happily took the survey, but truth be told, I don’t recall but one question. My mind must have been wandering down the aisle to Ms. Deb’s brownies.
The question that had a profound effect on me pertained to where the survey-taker considered local food to be from. The multiple choice answers of South Carolina, Colleton County and neighboring states provided no help. I struggled with the answer, thinking to myself that this is what I do, I should know this off the top of my head.
The USDA, according to its website, doesn’t list an official geographical distance that defines what local food means to consumers. Rather, it leaves interpretation up to local governments or individuals to determine what local food is. Ultimately, I went with circling all three answers as being what I consider local.
I spent the better part of the next 24 hours reflecting on the subject, still wrestling with my answer. Was it enough that I purchased the vast majority of my produce, meat and eggs within the county where I lived? I buy my shrimp from the person that harvests it at sea. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the concept of local was intangible. Local is a state of mind.
Local is sitting down to a meal at an immigrant’s house and having them cook the specialties of their small remote town for you. Local is visiting your farmers market and educating yourself on what is available when and how to use items in meal preparation. Local is learning your grandparents’ cooking methods, and passing them down to your grandchildren. The iterations are endless.
So remember, the next time you’re at the farmers market buying shockingly red tomatoes grown using aquaponics in Cottageville, or making a delightful borscht from beets grown in Walterboro dirt, you are what it means to be local.

(Josh Taylor, who has a shirt that reads: “Don’t Hassle Me I’m Local” can be reached at culinaryanthropology@gmail.com)

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