Vermont's Remarkable Food Culture
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Here's to keeping it local all winter long!
Acclaimed food writer, and James Beard Award-winning author Rowan Jacobsen, praises Vermont's remarkable food culture during this week's VPR Table. We salute the innovative farmers and the passionate artisans who continue to bring the fruits of their labor to market, even in the dead of winter. And we give accolades to the robust support of Vermonters who put their money where their mouth is when it comes to localvore ethics.
One recent December morning I stepped out of the Montpelier Winter Farmer's Market clutching breads and cheeses and bags of fresh spinach, an unlikely prize so close to the Solstice. I got in my car, drove down State Street, and caught a glimpse of the sign above Main Street Grill-the one that says, in huge, blocky letters, RESTAURANT.
Suddenly I flashed back to the 1970s, when that red RESTAURANT sign glowed above The Lobster Pot. Back then, the sign didn't have the kitschy, retro feel it does today. Instead, it had a whiff of Soviet-style despair to it. If you wanted to go to dinner in those days, The Lobster Pot was pretty much the only game in town. It was the RESTAURANT. It served FOOD. And the food sure as heck wasn't local.
Sitting there with my crisp and verdant spinach beside me, a profusion of eateries stretching away on State and Main, I was struck by how drastically Vermont's food culture has changed. It's hard to find a restaurant in the state that doesn't use local ingredients. Practically every town has a farmer's market. And many of those farmers are embracing new crops and innovative techniques that enable us to enjoy dazzling produce year-round without the need for veggie airlifts from Chile.
These farmers, cheese-makers, and bakers are willing to make the investment of time, energy, and money in their products because they know the market is there. If they produce fantastic foods, Vermonters will buy them. That makes all the difference.
It simply isn't like this many other places. Sure, farmer's markets are on the rise across the country, but only a handful-usually those in the most affluent cities-have the vitality and diversity of Vermont's. Something remarkable has happened in the Green Mountain State.
Was it the amount of open land? The post-hippie vibe? It can't be that simple, because lots of other places have these things, yet their local food systems have atrophied like unused muscles. This is happening in Europe right now, leaving Vermont as one of the leading examples of the European fantasy of small towns, small farms, and small cafes. I don't think anyone can say for certain why Vermont's food culture has spontaneously come alive, but I know that we shouldn't take this gift for granted. So keep in mind the old rule: Use it or lose it.
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