Eagle County Slow Food members gather for locavore potluck
Eagle County CO, Colorado
The height of my food morality is summer farmers’ markets and organics. From there, it’s a downward spiral of food globalization. I am guilty of slurping down Thai coconut curry almost once a week, and I buy grapefruit during winter months when it’s in season … in Florida.
I know the scary statistic: The average American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. I understand that those miles mean lost nutrition and a huge carbon footprint. I will ride my bicycle to the grocery store, canvas bags in tow, yet I still choose to buy coffee grown in the tropics. I am not alone in seeing the irony.
There is a resistance building in response to our unsustainable, cheap-oil food system. These “locavore” rebels choose to eat food harvested locally, even if it means giving up chocolate. The definition of “local” varies, but most commonly it means within a 100-mile radius of your home, like in the book “Plenty,” by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. In “Plenty,” the authors recount their experience of eating a 100-mile diet for one year in British Columbia. It’s a tale about re-connecting with the people and places that produce what they eat. “Plenty” is this month’s Valley Read, and the authors will visit Vail Christian High School for a book discussion Thursday.
I had read about the 100-mile diet. I thought it sounded romantic ” that is if you live in California, a state with an embarrassment of fresh, local produce year round. At least in British Columbia, the authors had seafood. But I elected to settle in the lettuce capital of the world, or so it seems. Blink and you might miss the growing season here in Eagle County. Had refrigerated freights not been invented, I would have probably continued west.
Mountain folk seem to love a challenge, because on Sunday, in mid November, Slow Food Vail Valley hosted a locavores potluck. All the food and wine had to be grown within 150 miles of Eagle County (organizers stretched the 100-mile rule a bit), and like the authors of “Plenty,” it was a challenging exercise to reconnect with our food sources, especially during the onset of winter.
Slow Food is an international organization of like-minded food lovers who believe food is essential to the pursuit of happiness. The group believes food should be prepared slowly and enjoyed slowly with friends and family. Slow Food USA “envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet.”
So with that vision in mind, about a dozen Slow Food Vail Valley members sat down to a feast of Colorado fare ” well, mostly Colorado fare. Overall, the biggest challenge in preparing a 150-mile meal from Eagle County is the spices.
“We do have wine, which is very important, but we don’t have salt and I live on salt,” Deb Luginbuhl said, who hosted the party.
With no ocean around to make our own salt, as the authors of “Plenty” resorted to, we admittedly grabbed what was in our shakers, which undoubtedly blew the 150-mile curve. My salt alone hails from Ireland. But we didn’t let it stand in our way of celebrating our true local successes.
The meal began with a taste of winter ” pureed soup made from roasted butternut squash, acorn squash, leeks and yellow and orange carrots. Susan Mackin Dolan and Charles Dolan were in Paonia last week visiting Fresh and Wyld Farmhouse Inn and Gardens, and they brought back a box of locally grown, organic goodies. Fresh and Wyld is a group of 10 to 15 different North Fork Valley growers who supply produce to families from Woody Creek to Glenwood Springs. The Farmhouse Inn hosts cooking classes and farm-to-table dinners using produce grown on site.
After licking our bowls clean, we dove into the buffet line: roasted, buttered beets, purple potato gratin, smashed sweet potatoes and a buffalo stew. I prepared a hardy salad of spinach and purple kale from Grant Farms in Wellington, topped with honey roasted pears from First Fruits in Paonia and Haystack goat cheese from Longmont.
My organic produce was delivered right to my door, as it is every week, by Door to Door Organics out of Denver, a company that focuses on local farmers as much as possible.
But the highlight of the evening was the slow-cooked Colorado beef brisket prepared by Foods of Vail owner Tracy Van Curan. Sure, my taste buds appreciated the fact that she marinated it overnight in a sweet-tart savory sauce made from Bilyeu Orchards’ Montmorency cherries, Hermosa Vineyards Syrah and fresh thyme and marjoram grown in her home garden, but it was the beef’s story that made the dish unforgettable.
“The Black Angus steer was grown and raised by 13-year-old Carrie Loststard under the 4-H program in Walden, Colorado. Callie fed the steer by hand and exercised him,” Van Curan said.
Tom Walker, a chef on a ranch in McCoy, gave the brisket to Van Curan.
“Tom bid on the steer because she was the hardest working kid in 4-H. The steer fetched $3,000, half of which went to Callie’s family and the other half to a 4-H college fund.”
The beef and its story reminded me why I want to eat locally and what I miss when I don’t. I crave the connection. Maybe enoying Thai coconut milk should be reserved for when you are in Thailand, when the woman who muddled the coconut meat into a cream is also serving you the curry. Because when you know who grew the food, who raised the meat and how it was produced, nourishment tastes all that much richer.
Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail. E-mail comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who: J.B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith, authors of “Plenty”
What: The authors will discuss their book, which was chosen as the Valley Read selection
When: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Where: Vail Christian High School, Edwards
Cost: $10, $5 for students; available at The Bookworm of Edwards and the libraries in Vail, Avon and Eagle
More information: Call 970-926-READ or visit any of the ticket locations