Thursday, September 23, 2010

Locavore, Locavorism

It used to be, when I was learning about food and cooking (which I admit I still am), I would occasionally stumble across a term like brunoise that sent me scurrying to my Larousse for a look up. But those were words long a part of the traditional food lexicon. And, as there were a finite number of those words, I knew at some point I would learn them all.

But our twenty first century food scene has morphed into a whole new beast growing rarefied techniques using unapproachably expensive equipment and a peculiar new vocabulary. Case in point locavore and locavorism.

Hailed as “The Best New Food Trend” by Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, locavorism sent me scrambling. Finding nothing in Larousse and nothing in an unabridged Webster’s, I found myself trolling the web.

Along the way, I stumbled on this article published two years ago by William Safire. I guess I really missed the boat on locavorism. Silly me.

“As the economy began its downturn last year and imports became more expensive, localness challenged cleanliness as being next to godliness in the food dodge. The lust for the local is even competing with organic — food grown or raised without a chemical assist but often transported around the world — and Wal-Mart, having joined the organic parade two years ago, is now touting its purchases of produce grown in-state near its supercenters.

Naturally, a name was needed to describe the new anti-exoticism. The word locavore was coined in 2005 on the analogy of carnivore, “flesh eater” (which most dictionaries prefer to “meat eater” because the Latin caro is translated as “flesh,” but nobody eats fattening flesh these days), and herbivore, “plant eater.” The suffix -vorous means “eating, devouring” and spawned the adjective “voracious.”

The coiner is Jessica Prentice, who was challenged to come up with a name for what Prentice had been calling the nearby foodshed, I presume on the analogy of “watershed.” She promptly melded the Latin locus, “place,” with vorare, “swallow, devour” and (gulp!) there was locavore, the noun that became the Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year for 2007.

“The Rise of the ‘Locavore’ ” was a Business Week headline this spring in an article about the spread of farmers’ markets: “Consumers increasingly are seeking out the flavors of fresh, vine-ripened foods grown on local farms rather than those trucked to supermarkets from faraway lands.” Name of the trend (in a recent review in The New York Sun, which lamentably set last month): locavorism.

The trend was also confirmed in a macabre New Yorker cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan. A man-eating shark, munching on a human arm, says to another shark, “I’m trying to eat more locals.”