The 30 mile meal is a pledge, of sorts, that a restaurant, or other establishment involving food, makes guaranteeing that they will try their darndest to use only ingredients produced within a 30 mile radius of their location (hence the nomenclature). The cool part about this agreement is that it is Athens specific. Restaurants all over the nation have utilized the concept of the 100 mile meal, but Athens is the trailblazer of this new and improved push for even more locavore awareness.
Athens' sustainable food culture has been picking up a lot of press lately - good press in which the press are actually impressed. You get it, I'll stop. But in all seriousness, to Athenians, Casa, Village Bakery, or Fluff are just typical eateries we pass daily without giving them a second thought. We are so lucky to live in a community that is so active and concerned with localizing the food industry.
You may be asking, "Why food, why now, why care?" Well, truthfully, I'm on a bit of a Michael Pollan kick as well as being in the midst of a nutrition class which touches on the importance of knowing where our food comes from. So, after reading the A-News article about the locavore sensation Athens has become, something dawned on me. I think that we, as consumers, put too much trust in, not only those that grow our food but, those that actually prepare it. Sustainable consumerism is not a new idea and I think that the more popular notions of this practice are going to the farmers market, for example, or purchasing material items locally when possible. What really hit me, though, was that there has been this push for the awareness of where our food comes from when we grocery shop for it and when we are cooking it ourselves, but do we think like this in terms of food we don't prepare?
Now, I'm not talking about places like McDonald's when I think of places not to go, if you consider yourself an informed consumer, because I'm hoping you already know the cat is out of the bag in terms of their lack of healthfulness and sustainable practices. I'm talking about local restaurants that are just as bad as McDonald's in the way they obtain ingredients, which involves driving them 2,000 miles by truck to their destination. Often times people don't think of local restaurants as the big bad Wal-marts or McDonald's, and often times people don't think of restaurants as places where they need to be smart and sustainable consumers. Just because a local restaurant isn't a part of a franchise doesn't mean it's sustainable and just because it's a restaurant and you weren't responsible for purchasing the ingredients doesn't mean you should let your consumer guard down. Yes, you are helping the local economy (which is very important and I'm not trying to discredit that aspect), but are you being an informed consumer when it comes to the "behind the scenes" of said local restaurant?
Say, for example, that a local mom-and-pop restaurant buys locally and you eat there; you are being sustainable beyond just supporting the local economy through that one restaurant. It's a chain reaction, and that's why it's important because you are helping local produce farmers, dairy farmers, cattle farmers, etc. The belief that dining at a local non-franchise restaurant is always a sustainable choice may be a common misconception because of the fact that, unless specified, they are more likely than not buying ingredients locally. It seems to me that if you are conscientious while grocery shopping, and try to be as sustainable of a consumer as possible, yet proceed to eat lunch at Applebee's and you are negating your efforts. I'm not saying you'll be damned to the depths of a hell where unsustainable people go, but a lot of folks think a salad is a sustainable choice no matter what establishment it's prepared in.
Now while we're somewhat on the topic of chain restaurants, I want to add a bit about sustainable franchises, which are few and far between (don't worry, it'll all come together, forgive my digression). Places like Chipotle advertise and employ the use of antibiotic-free meat as well as support local farmers' produce. This may come as a shock to those who consider it fast food. It is "fast food" but it's an attempt at the fusion of "fast food" and "slow food". Chipotle is an example of a franchise which tries to use local ingredients, when possible. This is a noteworthy push for the franchises of the world to break into the sustainable food arena. I really like the idea of chain restaurants utilizing local food and it's sad that it isn't more common. If you think about the millions of people that consume fast food each day and then think if those fast food restaurants purchased locally, imagine how that would change everything local.
I got a little off topic, but it makes sense when you think about any restaurant in the world in terms of Athens' locavore culture. If one little city in Ohio can be such an attraction to foodies and have such an influence on sustainably concerned individuals all over, why not switch to local everywhere? Why not use the Chipotle philosophy, if you are a fast food chain? It seems to make all too much sense, perhaps that's why it hasn't happened yet? The point is that we should be proud of our community and local restaurants, and support the 30 mile meal when we can. It never ceases to amaze me how cool it is to live in a town that is not so Cali-dependent (what I like to call places that get all their food, unsustainably, from across the country) as the rest of the country. So take advantage of it while you can, while you're here. The next time you pass Casa, stop in and try it, or if you're looking for something to do on a beautiful day, bike down to Village Bakery, it's not that far and it's worth the trip!
Becca in Athens
Here's a few links to a few 30 mile meal partners in case you want to check them out: