You Are Where You Eat
Photo and text by Mandolyna Theodoracopulos
I never much thought about ordering regional specialties until an American friend of mine brought her Italian husband to a roadside diner in Rhode Island, where he was ridiculed for requesting the local wine. Despite his absurd request, it makes perfect sense to order the local fare. That is of course unless you live in a mindless urban bubble or enjoy flying lobster on your private jet from Maine to Gstaad.
Eating local and organic produce isn’t so difficult if you have a garden or make the effort not to shop in ginormous chain supermarkets. Yet so-called “food-conscious” people still go nuts about organic produce and are willing to pay double for it. Never mind where it comes from so long as it is labeled “organic.” Everyone is up in arms about Monsanto, but I am more concerned with people thinking they can eat anything they want at any time of year.
The idea that we have to eat food with horrendous chemicals or genetic modifications grown on another continent is absurd, even for people who can’t necessarily afford anything that hasn’t been touched by Monsanto. Even in most cities, local farmers bring in regional fruits and vegetables and sell them at farmers’ markets. Pesticide-free products are widely available because people and farmers grow them just about everywhere. The trick is patronizing small farms, growing your own if you have a bit of soil, learning how to preserve things for consumption out of season, and not wanting to eat an avocado in Europe in the middle of winter.
Growing your own seems the most reasonable. According to Cicero, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” I have both and I couldn’t be happier. My garden is recently acquired, and thanks to Maria my Ibicenco caretaker and expert gardener, I have it all: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, radishes, lettuce, potatoes, onions, figs, almonds, asparagus, lemons, oranges, olives and cherries. All this is in addition to the rosemary, sage, thyme, bay, oregano and basil that grow wild or in pots. Everything is absolutely delicious and a far cry from the tasteless tomatoes one gets in America.
I have a 100-year-old outdoor stone oven and can make bread, pizza and just about anything else – much like people used to do before eating out in fancy restaurants became the epitome of luxury. I have spent much of this summer eating directly from my garden and canning tomatoes, peppers and zucchini for the winter. I have become somewhat of an expert in recipes that include zucchini. Fried zucchini flowers are my favorite. My tomato sauce is outstanding and can be used in pastas, soups, on bread and much more. I dare you to challenge it! Sometimes I even eat it by itself straight out of the jar after it has been chopped and reduced in a big pot. I have also made basil oil, pesto and have turned my peppers into a variety of salsas which can be frozen and later eaten with almost anything.
The beauty of having a garden, even a very small one, is that it allows you to eat healthfully without really needing anything but the occasional fish or hunk of beef. This is what I call luxury! It is also very healthy without being obsessively vegetarian. Now I scoff at every “organic” sign I pass along the road and curse the savvy food salesmen that have encouraged people to forget that old slogan, “Think globally, act locally.”
Here in Gstaad my mother grows her own organic vegetables on a minuscule patch of land outside her kitchen. For everything else we need, the list of amazing local foods is long. Switzerland has cheese, chocolate and almost everything in between. My favorite is the local wine from grapes grown by a friend near Lake Geneva. Need a spot of protein? There is no shortage of beef. Plus we have our local trout farmer. To hell with tropical fruits and some Atlantic delicacy; we are in the Alps!
They say you are what you eat. Perhaps it is more apt to say you are where you eat. And right now I feel distinctly Swiss.