by Harry Matthews
The word “locavore,” for which this column is titled, is not (by any means) an old word. It seems to come tripping off the tongue with ease these days as many of us try to figure out creative ways to live more gently within our environment and to better define efforts we make to be supportive of the places we choose to call home. Often, to be from a place now can just as easily mean to be of a place, that culture and, of course, the food that grows and is produced there.
Some might define the word as eating only what is grown, or produced, within a one-hundred mile radius. That being said, if you have an international palette, or need to eat like you do, it would probably behoove you to get out there and do some traveling.
Here in the Hudson Valley and in the Catskills, we are singularly blessed with an abundance of nature, good weather, rich soil, and inventive farmers and growers. We produce an unending bounty of foods and beverages that enrich our local economies, give work to farmers, and teach all of us about the land that we share.
Being a locavore here, then, is fairly simple work, indeed.
I think I first heard the word from Anthony Bourdain on one of his many wonderful and celebrated television shows, describing some burgeoning scene somewhere across the globe where the locals participated in food consciousness. To learn of his death a few weeks ago left many of us in a state of shock and disbelief that felt, at times, hard to navigate. Why, I wondered, would someone who seemingly has everything to live for take his own life?
For many, Anthony felt like one of us. Not only was he an unrepentant New Yorker with a punk-rock attitude, an endless intellectual curiosity, and the countenance of a world-weary traveller living out of a suitcase, but he also felt, often, like family, speaking to us over late-night drinks or comfort food that knew no politics or boundaries, while constantly regaling us with wild tales of far-flung destinations. Luckily, his suitcase was big enough for him to take us all along for the ride with him.
Like so many I have been a huge and unapologetic fan of his since the first article he wrote for The New Yorker was published way back in 1999. What he wrote then caused such a stir in the restaurant world that, following the success of that one article, he was given a book deal. Kitchen Confidential came out within a year, becoming an overnight best seller, turning the long-struggling chef into a literary sensation. Within another two years, he was given his first television series, “A Cooks Tour” on the Food Network, that saw him traveling to exotic locations and eating the food he found there. Like his first book, it was a big hit. Over the course of the following years, he went on to host three more series, to narrate another, to write more books, as well as to author numerous articles.
Everything he put out into the world always seemed to carry the same message: “[G]et out there, see the world, eat the food, and be a part of something bigger than yourself.” (At least, that’s how I saw it.)
Now you may think that this is the antithesis of what the locavore movement is all about, but I would beg to differ. Every place Anthony travelled to, he went “native” (as it used to be called). In each locale, he sought out the most local things he could find, be it food or drink or culture or whatever, and partook in it in whatever way he could. By doing this, he never felt he needed to keep the place just to himself but, instead, he shared it with the world. What could be more locavore than that?
Now my assignment for this month’s issue was a piece on berries, jams, and preserves, but as this will be my last contribution to this paper, I chose to take some liberties with what I would write. On the subject of the assignment, I will say that our local areas abound with wild and cultivated berries. From the small wild blueberries that cover our mountains and hillsides, to the ever-expanding red raspberry bushes to the blackberries and black-caps, there is much to harvest, to eat, and to turn into delicious jams and preserves for later use. Again, there is little that can be found that is more locavorian than preserves made from wild, or cultivated, berries.
As for our tormented friend, Anthony, I can only imagine how his sudden and heart-breaking loss has left many of us wondering what is wrong with this strange and beautiful (and sometimes, terrible) world. Why is everyone so angry and hateful? I know that I, for one, am comforted by the land we share, that I can disappear into it when the world feels like too much. Isn’t the idea of locavorism about not only eating locally, but healing locally, being renewed locally, finding comfort in nature (as we do in the arms of a loved one or a friend)?
Having dealt with depression myself (and with loved ones, as well), I know firsthand how debilitating it can be, how sometimes it can feel like there is no way out. Please hear me and know that there is a way out. No matter how dark and cold and friendless the world may seem at times, there is always a light at the end of that tunnel, a brighter day to wake up to, perhaps, than today. For Anthony Bourdain, I can only imagine that life at that moment seemed too much to bear and, in choosing to no longer bear it, he left the world a sadder place, for sure.
We can all be locavores, not only in what we take from the earth, but in what we give back to it, as well. If you see a loved one in need, reach out. If you know of a friend who might be suffering, maybe take a moment from your own life and share it with them. As we share our food, our land, and our joys with each other, maybe we can also share hope.
For, in the end, the life we save could be our own.