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The Author Speaks

Lost Customs and Recipes From a Time When All Eating Was Local

Lost Customs and Recipes From a Time When All Eating Was Local

Q. You note that food writers tend not to write about how people really eat, but instead focus on food trends. What would you like to read more of in food writing?

A. What isn’t done very much is looking at what people eat in their homes, and that’s really important. That’s how you find out about the relationship of food to a society. Do Manhattanites cook at all anymore? What does my wife cook when I’m out of town? I don’t even know that, because I usually do all the cooking! What do people have for Sunday dinners? For get-togethers? You know, modern food ways.

Q. Is the current movement toward eating organically, eating locally, a step toward reestablishing regional cuisine?

A. Well, there is a movement to go back to regional cuisine. But in the Northeast, for example, if you just want to live off of local products, you’d better learn the art of canning because there’s no fresh produce between November and April.

I like the fact that we can now get fresh food all year round, but I also miss the sense of seasons. Some things start showing up, and you say, “Oh yeah, it’s getting to be May.”

But also it’s important to keep in mind that eating locally is an optional thing now. Back then it wasn’t optional; it was the only food available. Now people are trying to use more local products, which isn’t a bad thing. But the current trend toward regionalism is kind of artificial—it’s an intellectual thing that people have chosen, and it doesn’t reflect the realities of economics or agriculture. You can do it if you want to, and you don’t have to if you don’t want to. I suspect people do a little of both. If you want asparagus for dinner but no asparagus is in season, go out to a grocery and there you have it: It’s on your menu!

Krista Walton is an assistant editor of Preservation magazine.

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