Gradations of Integrity

I’ve noticed a little something happening in the wake of the many changes in consciousness that we are currently having with respect to food.  And I thought that perhaps the mighty keyboard might have some influence on the subject.  I’ll be honest, I’ve been having a case of the blues the past couple days which may be tainting my thoughts on the topic.  Which is both why I turned to writing and why I feel obliged to make a full disclosure.

First a little background.  Here in the bay area, we enjoy a delicious bounty of food year round.  Given my frequent visits to the farmers’ market and our membership in Full Belly’s CSA program, I have a pretty good sense of what is available throughout the seasons a local level.  I am a fairly conscientious eater, I have been choosing organic for years, local now almost entirely, and my methods of food preparation are becoming more deliberate thanks to having read this book, and this one.  And here I live in the heart of the slow food movement, where folks who once worked at Alice Water’s pioneering eatery open up shop quite often.  As with food stuff, we enjoy a bounty of dining options.

Here’s the rub:  not all these establishments are holding themselves to the same high standards that words like local, organic, in season, sustainably raised, etc evoke.  And I find that a little frustrating (especially when my mood isn’t super light, sure.  But the point stands).  Case in point:  yesterday we sat down at Mintleaf  in Berkeley’s “gourmet ghetto”.  I was at first comforted by the chalkboard above their kitchen area that has most of the words I listed above artfully displayed.  On quite another tangent, my husband thought to inquire about the origin of their rice because he recently read about this worrisome fact.

After inquiring, the waitress came back to report that the restaurant uses rice imported from India.  So much for local.  Our inquiry stopped there, because when dining with a toddler, there is precious little time for deliberation.  We mostly eat in, so the occasional exposure to foods of questionable quality – but definite convenience – remains one of those “grey areas” in my choices as a parent (yes yes yes to all super nutritious high quality foods, no no no to the unending rigor of in-house-food-preparation-for-3-meals-a-day-7-days-a-week).  But given these two facts, California produces A LOT of riceand we in the bay area even have an organically and locally grown optionI felt compelled to raise the question for restauranteurs:  why not go local when it comes to rice?  Now, I realize that there are most certainly other factors that go into choosing rice, all sorts of varieties and costs and that sort of thing.  I reckon that this may be a variation on the substance versus form debate:  taste and preparation qualities versus origin qualities.  For me origin qualities trump all else, but that’s just me.

When I go to a place that touts al the qualities that I love about the local food movement and I end up eating rice from India and summer squash and bell peppers in April, I get a sort of uncomfortable feeling.  It is at these points that I realize I am assuming something very different from the proprietors about the quality of the food they are offering me.  And that I really have no idea what I’m actually eating.  That’s a hard pill to swallow for a control freak foodie who is in a crabby mood.  But the good news is, that the food tastes good, and savoring the overall experience (live guitar music, friendly staff, tasty food, happy hubs and kid) is enough to eclipse my reservations.  Unless of course I go ahead and write a blog post about the whole thing.  As an aside, we ate out twice on the same day (it was our wedding anniversary and we were feeling the inclination to step out), and the first place that fed us purports the same high quality of food and yet serves heinz ketchup.  Ick!  It would seem that considering gradations of integrity was a theme for our day out.

Long story short, having high standards can be complicated.  Worth it?  I don’t think that I could do it any other way.  But I must keep the whole picture in focus so as not to drive myself and those around me batty.  So that’s me.  But I don’t see why restaurants couldn’t do with a nudge in the direction of upping their standards.  After all, this is the bay area.  People come from all over with the expectation of enjoying some truly fabulous food!  Why not give it ’em?

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