With the successful conclusion of Lowcountry Local First's Eat Local Month and a record-breaking crowd at the April 27 Chef's Potluck farm fundraiser at Middleton Place, it would appear eating locally has never been more popular.
Few would argue that it is not healthier, better for our local economy and essential for sustaining our unique agricultural landscape. But beneath the broad agreement that local equals good, skepticism still exists, most often in denials of any working definition of what it means to eat locally.
In reality, the definition of eating local is as simple as the definition of eating healthy - do the best you can every day within your means and abilities.
The Post and Courier's Hanna Raskin pondered this question ("Getting closer to a definition of local food," April 1) without arriving at any firm answers.
While I agree that eating locally may defy a simple definition, that does not mean it is an impossible concept. For Lowcountry residents who aim to eat local, there's no puzzle to solve or obstacle to overcome. We can incorporate local elements into our lifestyle on a realistic and sustainable level when we bring an additional level of awareness to the table - 215 people pledged to do just that throughout the month of April with our Eat Local Challenge.
The days of arguing over the benefits of healthy living are obsolete. There is no "debate" over cigarettes; high-fructose corn syrup is, at best, a guilty pleasure; and we all know our country faces an obesity epidemic. Like eating locally, there isn't an overwhelming consensus about what the be-all-end-all definition of health is. Fortunately, we've been able to move beyond these semantics and agree that being healthier is the ultimate goal.
Eating locally should be the same. Our focus should be about how we can incorporate local elements into our lifestyle on a realistic and sustainable level.
Can't afford to transform your pantry to local-only overnight? Not enough time to plan a week of all-local meals for your entire household? Added an exotic spice to your backyard garden salad?
It doesn't negate the commitment or intention to be more local. As a community we need to support neighbors and establishments and celebrate their curiosity rather than measure their validity.
In Charleston County alone, there are 24 community supported agriculture (CSA) programs that take the guesswork and effort out of selecting local and in-season ingredients. There are 16 farmers markets in the Charleston metro area, supported systems for farm-to-school programs, emerging food hubs, and interested chefs looking to engage local farmers and fishermen.
Clearly, there is no shortage of options for Lowcountry residents to consider and enjoy; these programs and initiatives obliterate the excuse that local food isn't accessible.
Despite these enormous gains in accessibility, affordability and variety, some would have you believe that eating locally is a theoretical, subjective and totally undefinable activity. They couldn't be further from the truth.
Moreover, suggesting that there is no definition for eating locally subtly undermines the entire movement. Why bother to participate in something that cannot be measured, understood or appreciated?
The answer, very often, is in the small choices right in front of our noses. It's the locally-caught sea bass instead of the South American mahi mahi, it's the in-season kiwi instead of the out-of-season oranges, it's onions from Rooted Down Farms instead of onions from God knows where.
So let's continue the momentum by committing ourselves to eat locally and to clearing up the so-called "confusion" whenever we hear it.
In other words, let's encourage our neighbors and colleagues and friends to drop the semantics and pick up a locally grown heirloom potato.
Jamee Haley is executive director of Lowcountry Local First.