Home & Design July 29, 2008
Slow Food Seduction

The process by which man has brought sustenance to the table has endured extensive experimentation. Early hunter-gatherer and carnivore alike moved from a find-and-capture scenario to agricultural scientist to industrial producer. Enter fast food.

Mechanized industrial techniques designed to deliver uniform food products have severed the connection between man and meal, making food preparation more about the cardboard container than the beauty of the bounty itself. One can purchase onions or garlic, peeled, chopped and packaged, ready for use, without ever seeing the parent form from which it came. Similar processing occurs for just about every food product harvested by man, whether it is formed and processed protein, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, or a combination meal of several standardized products.

Such conveniences are appreciated when chefs find themselves pinched for time, but the price paid for circumventing selection and preparation is something many have found to be too dear. The re-discovery of foods in their natural state, fresh from earth or farm, has led a growing number of chefs, from five-star restaurants to five-person families, to seek sources that supply more natural choices, encouraging appreciation of what the earth can provide.

Economic and environmental concern over the effects of transporting food products thousands of miles using fuel and manpower comes into play. Not only are calories of the actual meal something to consider, but energy calories tallied in getting the product from producer to consumer weigh in as chefs look to local ingredients for inspiration.

Farmers’ markets in the Wood River Valley have become increasingly popular for those reasons, bringing fruits, vegetables, eggs, flowers, breads and a growing list of simple products to shoppers in a format that encourages chefs to get to know their food. Walking among the booths of the bustling markets in Hailey and Ketchum, taking in the visuals of a variety of greens grown, eggs laid and breads baked that day, the palate of color and range of scent begin to entice.

“Getting to know the farmers at the market who grew the food in their nearby fields, and finding out how these foods were grown, empowers people to make informed decisions about the food they buy,” Hailey Farmer’s Market Coordinator Kaz Thea offers, highlighting that education accompanies a trip to the market as shoppers learn how a food becomes certified organic and how natural methods produce nutritious foods without the use of pesticides and hormones.

The desire to select food sources produced close to one’s home has inspired the formation of Idaho’s Bounty, like-minded locals working to connect producers and consumers in an online market. Idaho’s Bounty is nurturing the relationship between food and palate, bringing fresh, high-quality local products to Valley residents. Why buy a waxy January tomato, shipped before ripening, from Mexico, when a colorful, flavorful, local variety grown in a nearby greenhouse can practically land in your lap with the click of a button?

“Idaho’s Bounty has arranged to grow food in a geothermal greenhouse in Hagerman, Idaho. We look forward to learning skills that can be replicated at other sites throughout our food shed, providing locally-grown greens this winter,” Judy Hall of Idaho’s Bounty explained.

The Idaho’s Bounty website at www.idahosbounty.org is ready to view and is scheduled to open online ordering sometime this fall. They have been working with about 100 families, putting the system through its paces to ensure a smooth launch.

Commercial food markets are also providing more whole and organic products due to consumer demand. As is evident with a tour of Atkinsons’ produce aisles, organic choices of fruits and vegetables in whole, raw, unprocessed simplicity are filling a growing number of bins.

“We carry a large selection of organic and local produce in our stores,” Atkinsons’ Produce Manager Brad Boushele commented, noting that, whenever he can, he buys from local suppliers. He looks to regional Idaho suppliers for watermelon, cantaloupe, potatoes, peaches, greens and vegetables.

Seduced by the purity, freshness and nutrition of such beautiful food, shoppers carry away sumptuous suede peaches and sweet, juicy cherries to countertops throughout the Valley as the real culinary romance begins. The delicate scent of ripe strawberry that comes with each bite, the pungent and gustatory aroma of sweet onions caramelizing for a main dish accent, the tactile and visual presentation of crisp greens and luscious tomatoes all pour into the rich sensory experience that becomes detoured when dining on canned or frozen cuisine. 

With hands-on preparation, intense flavors and vibrant colors add to the anticipation of sitting down to a delicious moment shared with friends and family. There is no substitute.

Connecting your children and family to the food network can have effects far beyond the dinner table. Putting them to work, investing their opinions and time in preparing what they eat sparks a flow of creative ideas. Don’t be surprised if children ask “what’s this?” as they inspect a whole potato when assigned the task of scrubbing skins, or express wonder at how a normal-sized carrot “got so big” after being served uniformly carved, snack-sized baby varieties. Many have not been exposed to the appearance, or taste, of whole, natural foods. The experience can be enlightening. Buono appetito!

This article appears in the Fall 2007 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.