Having posted an item or two in the past about food, I am newly inspired to indulge my interest; inspired by a recent visit to Portland, Oregon. It was my first time to this city, a city that seemed to care more about its food than any other city I’d been to. (A bold statement I qualify with the varied ways in which a people can “care” about its food.)
Good food is a social backbone of many a metropolis.
They cultivate their gardens of superstar restaurants, or food trucks, whatever the case may be. The big and advanced cities have their bevies of bloggers and critics, evaluating the experience that comes with each bite. Each person I’ve met in each town I’ve been to, no doubt, cares to a certain extent about their food, but only in Portland did I feel the caring resemble something like the way a person cares about family. Like a pet-owner, plant-keeper, or passionate professional, the people of Portland appeared to feel invested in their food as an essential way of being good not only to themselves, but to some “other.”
In addition to listing prices, menus were marked with the origins of each item’s ingredients. In most cases the meat was local, the produce was local, bread was fresh baked and coffee was certified, and certifiably delicious. Distilleries, breweries and wineries abound in the region, lubricating a social scene that seems to put the phrase “down to Earth” into a uniquely appropriate context. It spoke to this part of me, which I feel is very human, that ultimately just wants to know my food and feel connected to its provenance in a way that feels healthy, basic and natural. Participating in a city that feels like an ecosystem just feels good.
Portland has a high per-capita ratio of vegetarian and vegan restaurants and gluten free-style specialty shops. It has a comforting message communicated through its food culture; a message of community and compassion. And that’s how I justify my “caring” assertion.
In many of America’s urban concentrations, it is difficult to feel connected to one’s food. The day-to-day doesn’t really allow for a handshake between consumer and supplier; the average Joe couldn’t tell you which farm, or state, the average chicken sandwich he is eating came from. But Portland operates by a different paradigm. People know where their produce grew, where their meat was reared. Diners can choose their meals and beverages based on region of origin.
“Keep Portland weird” is the slogan (borrowed from Austin, TX) that the city uses to solidify that je ne sais quoi that attracts the socially innovative and artistic inhabitants that it does. The widespread awareness of the benefits of local, sustainable supply chains makes for a seemingly enlightened populace. If I’m to follow the urbanization trend of today, I wouldn’t mind it if Portland were the city I “urbanize” to.