Community

Slow down and smell the salmon

Recently, I attended a family reunion in North Carolina. Under the oak tree in front of my great grandma’s house my uncle Jimbo prepared breakfast for the men. I got up early and crashed the party. Jimbo fried eggs, bacon, sausage patties and links with biscuits for anyone who came by. He went on to prepare masses of pulled pork for dinner. (That’s right, four kinds of pork in one day.) Eighty-some people showed up and everyone brought a dish. There was watermelon, succotash, biscuits, Indian-pickle relish, Brunswick stew, field peas, sweet potatoes and apple pies. Much of it came from within sight of the homestead.

I moved to the Northwest almost 30 years ago and my tastes have changed to reflect my surroundings. Over the July 4th weekend I got together with friends for a hike on Ebey’s Bluff. We had a picnic with all our regional favorites, wild Alaskan smoked salmon, local cheeses and breads, Rainier cherries, fresh peas and strawberries from my garden. While we ate we enjoyed views of the Prairie, Puget Sound and the Olympics.

It would seem weird to eat salmon at a family reunion in North Carolina and odd to have North Carolina pulled pork on Ebey’s Prairie. Yet most American cities (and a lot overseas) have the same fast food restaurants serving the exact same foods, coast to coast, year round. It’s been that way since I was a kid. It’s fast, cheap, convenient, but what is it doing to our health or the health of our planet? Maybe it’s time to reconsider.

Summer is a great time to slow down and enjoy some of the best regional foods available. Farmer’s Markets are filled with local produce, fresh milk, gourmet cheeses, fish and beef. Local brews are available at many pubs and Whidbey Island wineries are winning national awards. You don’t have to go far for these gastronomical delights.

Last winter I read a book called “Plenty” by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon, about the 100 Mile Diet. The couple, who lived in Vancouver, B.C., ate only food produced within 100 miles of their home for a year. It was easy to find produce, meat and dairy. Wheat was more difficult, but over the course of the year they found what they needed or they learned to do without. Barbara Kingsolver and her family tried a similar experiment back in Kentucky documented in her popular book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” has inspired millions to be more discerning of their food choices.

There is, in fact, a movement afoot. The Slow Food Movement was born in Italy over 20 years ago. Now there are over 100,000 members in 132 countries around the world. Their aim is to bring diversity back into our diets, offer support for sustainable agriculture, and preserve our cultural heritage through food, drink and the pleasure of dining together. This is in direct opposition to fast food, industrial agri-business and the over-processed convenience foods common in grocery stores all around the world.

Locally, the Slow Food Movement has become established through Slow Food Skagit. They’ve helped a Mount Vernon school start a garden and offer support for starting kitchen and community gardens. They post recipes on-line, sponsor wine tastings at local vineyards and spotlight restaurants that use local ingredients.

On Tuesday, July 14, Terry Burkhardt, the president of Slow Food Skagit, will be the guest speaker at a potluck at the Oak Harbor Senior Center. The program will start at 6:30 p.m. with a cooking demonstration by Chef Jess Dowdell. Bring a dish of your favorite locally grown food and enjoy the company and conversation. If you’re interested in starting a community garden, school garden or developing a Slow Food Chapter on Whidbey, please join us. Just don’t talk with your mouth full. For more information or directions, please call 279-4762.

Maribeth Crandell is the city of Oak Harbor’s environmental educator.

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