There are few things more essential to human life than food. And in a city with a dizzying array of options and philosophies, opinions are diverse — and sometimes vehemently held.
Xpress spoke with three local foodies offering different takes on how to eat well — and sustainably.
“I grew up in north Florida, and I was around really poor quality meat for many years,” says Karen Fowler of The Chop Shop. “All it took was a taste” of high-quality, local meat to turn it into a passion, she reports, talking through a headset since her “hands are covered in meat.”
“Fat content is a lot lower on a lot of this local meat. It's higher in B vitamins, it has omega-3s — people associate that with fish, but a lot of grass-fed meat has it,” notes Fowler. “Offal has a lot of benefits too: The bones are good for your bones; the liver is really good for B vitamins; much of it helps give you energy.”
And while price remains a challenge for people wanting good, local meat, she concedes, it’s not insurmountable.
“You're going to spend less money if you get a high-quality piece of meat and cook it than if you go out and obtain it from a restaurant, and only the nicer ones even offer that option,” says Fowler. “I actually save money in the long run, because I think about how I eat, and I don't eat out as much.”
Learning to prepare cheaper cuts helps too, she notes. “You have to have adventures constantly based on season and availability.”
Fowler also touts meat’s environmental benefits.
“I'm not trying to get onto vegans,” she explains, praising “people that are adamant in what they believe about eating. They do a really good job of keeping to a diet, which I wish more carnivores could do. But on a lot of vegetables, like soybeans, the carbon footprint is huge. Everything we have comes from three hours away at most.”
And whatever one’s preferences, “Knowing where your food comes from has a huge benefit for your mind and your soul.”
For Plant co-owner/chef Jason Sellers, becoming vegan was an ethical decision. “People do it for all kind of reasons,” he adds. “For me, I just don't look at animals as food; it was an evolution of vegetarianism.”
In the process, “I said goodbye to a bunch of sinus problems I had growing up. I believe it means eating cleaner and avoiding whatever sets you off.”
He also appreciates “the fact that you can suss out certain foods and choose what to eat [instead of relying] on just what's available to you here in the First World.”
Still, vegetarian food “takes a lot more time to prep: You're always breaking down vegetables or making things from nuts and seeds. You have to think, ‘OK, it's time to eat — how much time do I have?’”
Travel, too, is more challenging for vegans and vegetarians. “You just don't know what you're going to run into.” In general, however, “Becoming vegetarian is not any sort of setback,” Sellers maintains, though it does require more “thinking about what you're eating.”
Far from feeling deprived, he notes, “I eat almost nonstop. I love food; it's satisfying.”
And whatever people choose to eat, “When you think about the food that’s meaningful to you in some way beyond just sustenance, you become more connected to it.”
“When you buy from a local source, you're shaking hands with the farmer that grew it,” says Walter Harrill of Imladris Farm. “You can pin down exactly what it is you're eating, how it's produced and are you comfortable with the answers you get.”
That, he maintains, is a far cry from “just getting it off a shelf where it's been passed through 10 sets of hands.”
Eating local also has substantial economic impact, Harrill points out: “You're benefiting the people around you.”
As for health, it “depends on what your eating paradigm is,” he notes, though direct communication with the producer helps people make informed decisions.
One big challenge, says Harrill, is “figuring out what's in season in your area. You're not going to get a lot of pineapples in Fairview; you're not going to get a lot of corn in February.”
Local farmers have responded by increasing production and teaching people “what the heck to do with winter squash.
“It's a really cool thing,” he adds. “It pushes you beyond your steak and potatoes: You realize there are some incredible options out there.”
— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at email@example.com.