I am Not a Locavore

January 14, 2011 at 8:16 am

Editor’s Note: At the Local Beet, we believe, utmost, in a “Practical Approach to Local Eating.” It means we eschew labels, eat citrus (especially when in season), and try our best to live the local life. Some people, like our friend Sharon, don’t want to be shoe-horned into a lifestyle. We don’t agree with everything she says, but we know she has some good points.

Shwarma - resized 

I am not a locavore.

During warmer months, I visit Green City Market weekly for produce, dairy, eggs and meat and prepare meals almost exclusively from my what I buy there. If I miss a week of shopping during summer, it’s because I’m running my business, leading culinary bicycle tours, which have involved Green City Market vendors and regularly showcase Chicago establishments with locavore philosophies. I’d grow my own food if plants liked me more.

For fun, I visit other farmers markets and community gardens around the city, read The Local Beet and Michael Pollan and subscribe to the blogs and tweets of passionate locavores. If I’m eating out or someone asks me for a restaurant recommendation, more often than not my choices are establishments with chefs dedicated to sourcing ingredients from Midwestern farms.

In colder months, I’ve made due with frozen summer bounty, biking over to the Notebaert Nature Museum, Irv & Shelly’s deliveries and visits to Green Grocer. I see canning in my future.

Yet I am not a locavore, and, of late, I have locavore fatigue.

Perhaps it’s because I generally shun labels; I don’t like to be called names. Moreover, “locavore” strikes me as an ugly word. There’s a vulgarity and ostentation to that mouth full of vowels. Like a roar, the word begs to be heard, which leads me to my fatigue.

I hear and see “eat local” proclamations everywhere: in grocery stores and magazines, on tote bags and t-shirts, on menus and public transportation. Most locavores I’ve encountered insist that eating local isn’t stringent. It is not, after all, about giving up citrus. 

Though isn’t propaganda inherently pedantic? Guides to local eating abound, often in the prescriptive form of lists. I eat for pleasure and would fail miserably if I ever had to diet. While I often create and consult lists of what I’d like to eat, I am by my nature simply not able to digest programs for how to eat.

The current interest in local food strikes me as part political movement, part lifestyle trend with a constituency that is primarily white and upper-middle class. I fit neither demographic, which might also be why I don’t identify as a locavore. The propaganda and marketing don’t speak to me.   Rarely do I see other people of color on my trips to Green City Market, and I am acutely aware that most people of my income bracket could not sustain my local-centric food ways. I choose to spend what means I have almost exclusively on food because it is at once sustenance, profession, hobby, entertainment, travel, education and passion. I could live in a larger place for what I spend on sausage; it just wouldn’t be as happy a home. I am, however, not the norm and if being a locavore requires that level of sacrifice, then it should afford people the bounty of the whole world rather than just their own backyard.
I was born in Montreal–one of the most international food cities in the world–to Filipino immigrants, and I grew up eating French pastry and shawarma from up the street, jerk chicken made by my Jamaican godmother and ropa vieja from my Cuban godfather. My mom prepared traditional Filipino fare at home, but she worked two jobs, and when she didn’t have time to cook, she brought home Portuguese rotisserie chicken or smoked meat sandwiches. 

In other words, I have a uniquely amalgamated food pedigree. I think it’s in my genes to love French cheese, Ecuadorian chocolate, meat from Australia and New Zealand, Spanish wine, Belgian beer and Japanese tea. Food is how I’ve explored distant places, and one of the reasons I have made Chicago my home is because I can eat the world here. 

Sure, I’ve enjoyed learning about southwestern Michigan when I buy fruit from Mick Klug or downstate Illinois when I buy goat cheese from Prairie Fruits Farm, but more than sometimes I just want to experience on my plate a place that’s exotic and far away. My appetite is too big for local.
Sharon Bautista is a contributor to LTH Forum and Gapers Block and Co-owner of Fork and the Road.
Schwarma picture provided via flickr from Yummy Porky via Creative Commons


  1. Lee says:

    Agree! I stop eating a number of veggies in winter, but not because they are not local, but because tomatoes & peppers & cucumbers shipped in from CA lack the TASTE I enjoy them for in the first place and I still have to find a banana that is worth buying. But I love my olive oil, sea fish, wine, cheeses and other goodies that taste of their terroir and their food culture – outside the Midwest, outside of the US. Nonetheless there is one parameter that guides me in my choices: knowing it is not produced in industrial dimensions, and has been produced following sustainable methods. In that sense, local is “as far as you heart can reach”.

  2. Bo-Lero says:

    Not to be too harsh, but isn’t any article using the word “pedantic” pedantic?

    Everyone knows you are what you eat. People of all walks of life decide to put bad food in their bodies. Pegging locavores as rich white folks is small minded, especially in the same breath crowing about eschewing labels. Do those folks of color have cable or HD TV or other items that cost money? One may see where the trade off is. Most of the people I know that are Locavores aren’t even close to wealthy, they are what I would call granola. If one values their health, if one values the environment, if one values their local economies, they are likely willing to trade off other things. What is it that the author trades off? No way “French cheese, Ecuadorian chocolate, meat from Australia and New Zealand, Spanish wine, Belgian beer and Japanese tea.” is less expensive than local food, so it isn’t food budget.

    As for lists, here’s a suggestion, the author doesn’t have to read them.

    And furthermore “amalmagamted food pedigree” is way more elitist than “locavore” and contains 3x as many vowels.

    This article strikes me as someone who is trying very hard to use nonconformity slash worldliness to justify doing whatever it is the writer pleases. I don’t think the author is absolved by this disaster of logic.

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