Sunday, January 11, 2004

Local dining

In today's NY Times Magazine is this article (free registration required): "A Short-Order Revolutionary," by Russell Shorto, about a diner in Vermont run by Tod Murphy.
The diner has a purpose: to support nearby family farms, or rather to demonstrate the conviction that -- economically, historically, naturally, logically -- food is supposed to be local, and that it can be again. Its business model is to swim directly against the globalization current. To that end, being a diner -- an icon of the American culinary and cultural landscape -- underscores the point: Remember what we used to be? Remember when taste and tradition mattered? Real food for regular people.
The article explains the challenges, not only of finding local sources of vegetables and meat, but also of figuring out a delivery system—"the challenge of recreating his great-grandmother's distribution system in the global age is difficult almost to the point of absurdity, as Murphy cheerfully admits"—and finding local meat processing facilities.
''The first thing I learned about trying to source local food is, meat is the issue,'' Murphy said. ''Vegetables are easy. A restaurant that uses locally grown vegetables, that's nice, but so what? If you're a diner, you need a steady supply of bacon, sausage and ham. Maybe you can find a small farmer to supply you, but he doesn't have the facilities for slaughtering. And who's going to smoke the meat? I couldn't find a processor in the state who wanted to do it. I didn't see how we'd be able to demonstrate the model without meat processing. So I bit the bullet and realized I was going to have to do that myself.''
Murphy wants to expand his model and has interested investors. However, as one analyst noted,
''The Farmers Diner works because Tod is willing to do the incredible amount of legwork and network-building,'' said Brian Halweil, a WorldWatch Institute researcher who made a study of the diner last year. ''He's really committed. Plus, it's a tight-knit community. It remains to be seen if what he's done can be duplicated elsewhere.''
(Via Meg's Food and Wine Page.)

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