I heard a new word the other day -- the word is "locaphore."
It doesn't turn up in any dictionary that I know of (yet), but it's easy enough to understand the meaning. A spinoff from "carnivore" and "omnivore," the word is said to have been coined in San Francisco. It refers to eating the food that grows (in season) in your own neighborhood, maybe within a 100-mile radius.
The concept was expanded on at a dinner of an organization that calls itself the Upstate New York Culinarians (another coined word). This dinner was held earlier this month at Suzanne's Restaurant in Lodi to showcase food of the Finger Lakes. There was much delicious emphasis on locally made artisanal cheese and locally raised vegetables, I am told.
Everything tasted terrific, and no wonder. Here's why:
Food raised on local soil almost always tastes better. Much is made of the fact that we can buy and eat any food at any time of the year and that can be an advantage, but surely not all of the time.
Some of the shipped-in stuff is good enough; some is even very good. But nothing beats the excitement and juiciness of, say, a peach raised in an orchard in Niagara County. It's nice they finally decided to serve local peaches at this year's Lewiston Peach Festival, but why did it take so long?
And nothing beats the taste of a strawberry grown in Burt, or a tomato grown in your garden. The anticipation probably contributes to that -- waiting for the first local strawberries or asparagus builds hunger -- but I also think that shipped-in or manufactured food can never attain that moment of perfection.
And I worry that there's a whole generation of kids out there who will never know what a really fresh apple tastes like or a melon that didn't get dragged halfway across the country.
Food raised by our neighbors can also be more economical. In the light of our constantly escalating gas prices, does it not make sense to buy the stuff that carries lower transportation costs? Also, consider the cost of all those plastic wrappings made from oil.
Local food helps keep local growers and producers at work -- and that helps all of us in the end.
Why then, do we continue to see so much shipped-in, over-manufactured food in grocery stores? Because of distribution problems. Not enough local food to keep the pipelines filled -- it's easier and cheaper to buy big lots. Many of the foods are fragile, too.
Then there's the climate. San Franciscans are lucky. They have fresh vegetables and fruit 12 months a year.
Unless New Yorkers want to confine themselves to a steady diet of root vegetables like they did in the old days, there's a limited selection here when the snow begins to fly.
So we have to do the best we can to deal with that: Buy locally in-season foods as often as we are able to. And while the farmers' markets and stands are still operating this harvest season, take advantage of them.
I'm a card-carrying locaphore and hope you are, too.