The Food Connections
How food defines our lives and our community
(page 5 of 5)
Local Food: Pipe Dream or Reality?
In the Valley, it’s a gradual awakening
By Walker Nosworthy
The excitement is everywhere—television, movies, literature—and by now it is safe to say that most people have heard about the benefits of local food. With the advent of organizations like Idaho’s Bounty and the Wood River Farmer’s Market Association, the Valley is becoming aware of the numerous benefits connected with eating locally, and some are choosing to do so.
Along with private consumers, some restaurants are joining the effort to provide local, sustainably grown food. However, out of sixty restaurants in the Wood River Valley, only a slight number provide a substantial amount of local food on their menus. Because of the countless virtues of locally grown food, it is hard to imagine why all of the restaurants in the Wood River Valley don’t serve completely local fare. However, when it comes down to logistics, there are many obstacles. Is it possible for these challenges to be overcome? Can any restaurant serve a completely locally grown meal, and still function as a business?
Many of the Valley’s restaurants are striving to provide local food to their customers. However, there are a few difficulties associated with using local suppliers. One of the major problems is consistent supply. Because local suppliers are often small, it is difficult to ensure that the needs of any restaurant are met. Also, with our climate, the number of options shrinks immensely from winter to summer. Scott Mason, owner and founder of the Ketchum Grill, estimates 75 percent of the food served at the Ketchum Grill during the summer comes from local farmers, while only 30 percent of winter fare is local.
Another big complication with small suppliers is purchasing processed meat. In order for any company to sell processed meat to a restaurant, they have to meet USDA food processing regulations. This can be too expensive for a small farm. Finally, with local suppliers comes the burden of higher costs. Many local companies know that their product is of good quality, so they raise the price on their food.
This presents difficulty for both restaurants and customers, especially during the hard times of the economy. Because of the difficulties associated with using local suppliers, many restaurants choose to ignore the benefits of local food in order to keep their business running smoothly.
However, when compared to the virtues of using local food, the few detriments that come with it seem significantly less important. The importance of using local food and suppliers is immense—despite the detriments. As Scott Mason stated simply, “I like to know where my food comes from.” There is a certain aspect to eating locally that is guilt free; you know who’s growing it or who’s slaughtering it. In the modern age of giant food producing corporations, like Tyson and ConAgra, knowing the origins of the food you eat has become a privilege.
It shouldn’t be this way, and many individuals are beginning to realize this. Restaurateurs are working around the obstacles involved with serving local cuisine and are trying some once-common kitchen techniques like canning, freezing summer products for use in winter, or working with multiple suppliers to ensure a full supply. Furthermore, in serving local food, many restaurants in the Wood River Valley have found success. Most restaurants providing local food advertise it, and say that it helps their business—despite the perhaps higher prices. As owner and founder of CK’s, Chris Kastner, expressed, “for people that know good food, and care about what they eat, it makes a huge difference.”
Serving local food takes a certain amount of dedication. The costs can be higher, and it may be difficult to provide the consistent supply of food any restaurant needs through local means. However, the benefits far exceed the detriments. When it comes down to the total cost—long distance travel, health, awareness or lack thereof about food—monetary amounts seem less important. Many restaurants are starting to realize this. They are getting closer and closer to being completely local; some are already serving 75 to 80 percent local fare.
While it may be difficult to run a business on completely local, sustainable means, it is not impossible. As more and more individuals are becoming aware of the benefits concerning local food, restaurants are getting closer and closer to possessing a 100 percent local menu.
There is no question: it is possible, and it is happening.