The Locavore’s Dilemma

In San Francisco, many people are striving to be locavores and their goal is to eat food that has been locally produced. To many this is also an opportunity to practice sustainability and eco-consciousness. Sounds simple, right? If it’s not grown locally, don’t eat it. The reality, at least for me, is not so simple.

A few months ago, I made an important choice regarding the food I consume. I decided to sign up for a CSA instead of getting all my produce at the grocery store. So now, once a week, I pick up a bag of fruits and vegetables that a) are in season, and b) were grown locally. But for the Peruvian shrimp chowder recipe, I used tomatoes, and tomatoes are not in season right now. So I faced dilemma number one. Should I make a soup that is perfect for winter but that has ingredients that are out of season? What is the impact of going to the store and picking up a few tomatoes? If they are out of season, where do they come from and how are they grown?

Then, after last week’s post on Peruvian spices, I faced dilemma number two. What about ingredients that are imported from Peru to San Francisco? Without aji amarillo and aji panca — two key ingredients in Peruvian cuisine — the dishes I presented so far would loose their authentic flavor. But since those ingredients aren’t grown locally, should I use them?

These are important questions and they apply to many other areas. For example, we are not even considering Pisco. To be called Pisco it has to be made in Peru, and to enjoy it here, it has to be imported.

As in many things in life, the answer involves finding a conscious balance. So for now, my choice is to do my best to use local produce and ingredients but I also choose to use imported spices from Peru. What do you do when you cook ethnic food from other countries? Do you use local or imported spices? Please share your thoughts by commenting below.