I caught a great talk this weekend on Atlanta's international cuisine with a smattering of local food predictions and suppositions thrown in by the panel's moderator. The lecture went down at the Decatur Book Festival, a two-day event filled with talks, book signings and many mulling page-browsers.
While most of the talk focused on Atlanta's "arterial corridors" of international cuisine, one audience member steered the speakers toward the topic of local agriculture and the farm-to-table initiative. Moderator John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and a columnist for the New York Times, spoke up on this one, noting that he hopes local food will eventually become democratized enough to allow widespread access.
I've always been puzzled by the irony that eating locally often means spending more: You'd think the saved shipping money would somehow end up in your pocketbook, but that's rarely the case. Of course community supported agriculture programs give you a leg up on price for your gamble, but the cost can still seem prohibitive to someone who doesn't cook bulk amounts of veggies on a daily basis.
But Edge speculated that this local democratization was most likely to happen first in the South. His reasoning? Because the southern United States has been intensely agricultural longer than other parts of the country, the connection to the local farm or dairy might be easier to repair. I'd also guess that a cuisine heavy on vegetables (whether steamed, roasted, or yes, even fried) would favor the fresh, seasonal and local.
The closing observation, however, was my favorite: One Edge's trek through Buford Highway's countless international restaurants and grocery stores with Knife and Fork publisher Christiane Lauterbach, he noticed shops carrying seeds alongside their bulk rice and hot sauces. A quick search let me know this trend was not restricted to Atlanta's multi-ethnic communities: According to Fast Company, U.S. seed sales are up 75 percent this year. It's good to know that as community and backyard gardens abound, cherry eggplants, tomatillos and winter melons aren't being left out of the mix.