i have been thinking lately that the world is on this local kick (from which i benefit of course). however, within the farming community there are great variations in quality. for instance, XXXXXXX and XXXXXXXX produce by far the best stuff. they never water and fertilize and the result is smaller vegetables with way more flavor. i try and use these guys all the time. the strawberries are small and nutty with twice as much sugar. the larger local farms produce stuff that is similar to stuff from texas. isn't it time we start to think about quality and not just "local". XXXXXXX farms already has heirloom cherry tomatoes. that's just wrong.It got me thinking...
The qualities of our food can be measured in various ways, many of which apply differently to different food types.
We have heard all about "local" vs. "distant", although we don't agree on what they mean. For greens, "local" might be a 50-mile radius, while for meat and dairy and seafood it might be wider. When you are talking about processed foods, like bread, charcuterie, and canned goods, you may want to consider not only the points of origin of the ingredients, but also the point of processing. Local vs. distant has economic implications, as well as implications with respect to the energy used for transportation. And it also affects the next measure:
"Young" vs. "old" matters greatly for some things, and not at all for others. For some things, "young" is crucial; for others, "old" is better (some cheeses, wines, meats, etc.).
Consider the chef's comments above. What he's talking about is, roughly, the spectrum from "wild" to "farmed". The small tasty strawberries, receiving no additional fertilizer or water, are much closer to being wild strawberries. So "wild" might be better for strawberries. On the other hand, for some kinds of fish and shellfish (tilapia, catfish, oysters, mussels), "farmed" can be great. (Click here for more about seafood.)
For things that are farmed, we have the spectrum from "natural inputs" to "unnatural inputs". I'm not going to try to define "natural" right now. "Organic" and "conventional" lie on this continuum.
We have the spectrum from "primeval" to "domesticated". Wild and heritage animals, heirloom vegetables, and so on, move towards one end of the spectrum; hybrid, genetically-modified, and cloned species move towards the other. Note that careful breeding is sometimes necessary to maintain lines of heritage animals, so it's not fair to say that they aren't selectively bred. And cloned is not necessarily bad; almost all apples and many oranges are cloned.
There are other attributes to consider, like "plentiful" vs. "endangered". And harder-to-measure measures, like "nutrient-dense" vs. "nutrient-deficient".
Sometimes we're hungry, we simply want something to eat, and all of this can be overwhelming.
But for those times when we are thinking about food, for professional reasons, philosophical reasons, or whatever, it can be useful to have frames of reference like these.
And if you want to grow the sweetest strawberries, you now know how.