Locavore (noun) – A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles usually for ecological reasons. — http://www.urbandictionary.com

I’m a locavore and I’m not saying this to state my ascendancy over non-locavores such as yourself (possibly). I’m saying this because unlike my other contemporaries (who are mostly high-brow and condescending) I admit to my sins…

  1. I don’t always know if the food I’m eating is locally produced or not.
  2. I sometimes willingly eat food that is not locally produced.

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I learned how to be a locavore here in Italy. I chose to be a locavore here in Italy. Some would say Italy imposed being a locavore in me – I won’t disagree.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

I’m a locavore for two reasons: ecological and cultural (often the latter more than the former).

Eating local, for me, is respecting the culinary tradition of the place where I’m at (whether living or visiting). Food is an important transmitter of culture and eating food of that place brings you much closer to their culture – it is an avenue for a more intimate participation in their lifestyle (as intimate as putting things into your mouth!). This lifestyle is conditioned and fine-tuned by their history, by their beliefs and, ultimately, by their local environs.

This practice is perhaps most exemplified in Italy where cooking is distinctly regional and food philosophy revolves around three words: “seasonal, local, fresh“. Most people (indeed, even people who have been to Italy!) know Italian food as pizza and pasta – the popular versions of which derive from Italo-American practice rather than the more authentic ways of Italia. Beyond this difference, however, people don’t have to look closely to notice that Italian food is by no means homogeneous across its various regions. There’s obvious difference between il mare e la montagna (the sea and the mountain) with the latter having more emphasis on game, land and forest produce (like wild mushrooms and truffles) and the former highlighting the bounty of the sea (fish and seafood) and the various flavors complimenting them. There are also some aesthetic and cultural choices: while the main starch source in central and southern Italy would be pasta, more often than not, the same cannot be said of northern Italy as polenta and risotto figure in more in their diets. The northeastern corner would have strong Austrian influences in their food while food all the way “down the boot” in the extreme south would have similarities with that of the Greeks. The islands of Sicily and Sardinia each has a turbulent past and this history has been reflected in their rich cooking traditions as well (I’ve heard people as to which region has the best Italian food but none contest the fact that Sicily and Sardinia have good food!). [Phew! Explaining Italian food culture in just one paragraph.]

So yeah, I don’t eat pizza anywhere else other than here in Naples (unless I’m forced to); I don’t look for spaghetti bolognese (it really should be tagliatelle) in Venice and I’ll cringe if you’ll prohibit me from trying focaccia while in Genoa (an austere bread that matches the austere culture of the people). I don’t look for fish in land-locked Milan nor do I insist on having artichokes in the middle of summer. And I buy figs whenever I see them (they’re in season now and they’re just so yum!).

I try to make carbonara the way the Romans do it!

As traveling, for me, is immersion into a culture and a lifestyle more than breezing through sights, I try to “go local” in all ways possible especially with food. As living in another country, for me, is perpetual traveling, I try to “live like a local” in all ways possible especially with food.

… In principle.

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And yes, I falter. I did not grow up being a locavore (our tropical country has everything available most of the year and we have so much coastline that the sea-mountain distinction is very narrow). Whilst I seldom eat Italian food outside of Italy (both because I want to eat the food of THAT country as well as to avoid getting BAD quality Italian food… yes, I’m now as picky as an Italian!), I have sinned here and there…

  • I’ve been to Barcelona for quite a few times and I know very little about Catalan cuisine. I find that Barcelona has a host of good Chinese and Japanese restaurants and, as these food are often bad elsewhere in Europe, I try to get it nice and hot whenever I can in this city.
  • After having tried currywurst in Dusseldorf (and not finding it appealing), I made all efforts to avoid German food in lunch the following day (instead opting for a random Korean place that I saw).
  • I ordered huitres (oysters) in a Parisian bistro even when I knew that they were caught somewhere else (but yeah, the Parisians do it… they have a thing with oysters and New Year). I regretted it as they were not as good as they should have be and they felt a little gritty.
  • I enjoyed the nice food culture up in the Basque country in Spain and, after crossing the border into the nearby province of Cantabria which has less spectacular food, I willingly opted for Indian food.

So yeah, I’m a locavore only when it’s “largely pleasant” to be a locavore – i.e. only when the local food seems exciting.

Huîtres à Paris… a locavore no-no!

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And, perhaps a latent sin which I should also admit to is the fact that I cook Filipino and Asian food at home using Asian products from an Asian store (but come on, forgive the Filipino guy for missing food from his country). I willingly ignore the fact that the Lee Kum Kee sauces, Mang Tomas and coconut milk that I’m using had to be shipped here to be used… Well, one can reasonably ignore the ecological value of this fact (forget about ecological footprint and these sorts of things) and simply focus on the cultural: I become more and more Filipino each time I cook and eat ginataan and adobo. I share culture from our home country by cooking Filipino food and sharing them with others who have never tried it. I offer a window where they can peer into the soul of our country – to possibly see how we are, as a people, as reflected by our food.

And well, at least I don’t put mozzarella di bufala in my adobo.

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I’m a locavore and I’m not saying this to state my ascendancy over non-locavores such as yourself. I’m saying this because unlike my other contemporaries I admit to my sins. Like most of my other contemporaries, I also recognize that food is one of the important modes of human connection — both at the level of personal fellowship as well as at the level of cultural transmission. It is also an important mode for natural connection — it reminds us of our place in nature, of the impact of our choices in nature as well as an avenue on how we could align ourselves towards what nature provide.

I recognize that so long as we consider both of these tenets – not strictly as rules to struggle with but as directions with which to grow with that we are in a path towards righting our relationships as humans… both our relationship to other humans and our common culture as well as our relationship with nature.

[In a future article, I shall explore this human-nature connection in discussing how our food choices affect nature and how our food choices should be informed by nature.]