Opinion: Food and Community
By Claire Fitts Georges
If you buy local food, chances are you know many of the people who grow, make, or raise what you are feeding your family. Because, here in Vermont, local generally means your neighbors. But when you move to more populated cities, defining local gets a lot trickier. Does local apply to the Coca Cola bottling plant down the road or the factory chicken farm that’s the closest place providing chicken in your grocery aisle? Maybe yes, because they offer jobs to your friends and family or because it’s the fewest number of miles away. Or maybe no, because they send a lot of their money to far away executives and respond to shareholders outside of the community. As we become more globally connected and more aware of the food we put in our mouths, it becomes important to think about how everyone - urban or rural - can choose the foods that will best benefit the people of our community as well as the other communities where our food is grown.
This summer I received a grant from the Vermont Fresh Network to attend the Slow Food Nations conference in Denver and I was SO excited to eat -- I mean, to learn about how other communities were making these choices.
Many of the artisanal foods in New England come from Vermont, so when I travel anywhere nearby I usually see some farms and breweries that I recognize on the menus. This is absolutely fantastic for us as a state, but sometimes can be boring for me as a traveler. So going all the way out Denver meant that I got to see a totally different spread of farms, ingredients and habits, and that was pretty darn cool. I’m still obsessed with the cucumber hard cider that I had from Stem Cider. I’ve been making cucumber gin maple lemonades to satisfy my thirst, but it’s just not the same.
At Slow Food Nations, the goal is not only to enjoy a range of foods but also to engage in a conversation about how these foods trace back to their community. Slow Food as a movement is known for its international “Ark of Taste” designed to preserve unique flavors that have been produced for many generations in specific places around the world. In Denver speakers encouraged us to ask a broader question that can apply to any food: when you choose to purchase something like a pound of meat at the store, is it coming from a farm that is making its community better or worse? A farm might bring jobs to a community, but are those good jobs for the workers who take them? If a farm leaves, what does it leave behind - destroyed land or land that’s ready for the next generation? And when the farm is operating, how do they treat their neighbors - do they respond to concerns like air quality or water pollution? In Vermont we’re used to being the neighbors, and perhaps the employees, of the farms we buy from - but these community questions can be asked about any food from anywhere.
It’s valuable for us to build relationships beyond our “local” Vermont borders so we can learn, network, and expand the amount of sustainable food available to everyone. We can also simply learn what cool things other people are doing so that we can do them here, for our folks. It helps when delicious new flavors are involved.
Inspired by the cucumber hard cider that I sampled alongside oysters in Denver, I created a new hot sauce with cucumbers, lemon juice, and serrano peppers when I returned from the Slow Nations gathering. It’s called Partners and Pairings (#1781). The sauce is not very hot, designed to show how different flavors complement each other and to provide a nuanced boost to a wide variety of dishes. And 100% of the proceeds are donated back into the Vermont Fresh Network’s Conference Grant Program - helping to grow even more sets of connections as we build our food communities.
Bonus Recipe: Cheese Crackers with Partners & Pairings Hot Sauce
This recipe is contributed by the Vermont Fresh Network. The base recipe is not new, it's been used in different forms for. . . probably for a very long time, certainly for as long as online recipes have been around. Perhaps the best known version is from Dorie Greenspan. (It is, of course, only a matter of time before this becomes the best known version).
8 Tb very cold, unsalted butter cut into chunks
1/2 pound Cabot Creamery Co-operative Alpine or Seriously Sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 tsp kosher salt
a pinch finely ground black pepper
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tb Butterfly Bakery Partners & Pairings Hot Sauce
Put butter, cheese, salt, spices in a food processor and pulse until butter is well broken up. Add flour and pulse until well combined (cous cous sized pieces). Add hot sauce and blend just until the dough pulls together.
Turn onto a work surface and knead enough to bring together into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for an hour.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Warm the dough on the counter just enough to be able to roll it (if you chill it for more than an hour). Roll out to scant 1/4 inch thick. Using a fluted wheel cutter or knife (I use a bench knife) cut into 1" strips one way, then the other, to make squares. Make a hole in the middle of each with a BBQ skewer (or something similar - bigger around than a toothpick, this step isn't as tedious as it sounds and it does make a difference).
Put squares onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, until the crackers darken a smidge. Cool on a cookie rack.