Serve ‘lovely and cool’
I recently bought a block of ‘organic’, ‘smoked’ tofu from a long-established local wholefood shop. Nothing terribly newsworthy there. But looking at the packaging, where I saw it had been ‘naturally smoked over beech wood chippings’ in their smoking kiln, I was amused to see that it also described itself as ‘locally produced’. How local? I thought. A quick scan of the packaging revealed that its manufacture was on an industrial estate in ….. North Yorkshire. I suppose if I’d bought it in Yorkshire or Cleveland (or whatever that little-lamented county is now called) the claim to localness would have stood up. But its manufacturer Clearspot, distributes nationally, so it can only be local some of the time. But ‘local’ these days means ‘authentic’ ‘trusted’, ‘small scale’, and not made on an industrial estate … unless it is. Its a selling point though. And it seems quite a powerful one in this world of local foods and the artisan small-batch production.
It is a while ago when those directories of local foods first started being produced by the environment departments of local authorities. I well recall an amusing story told by the council officer in Gloucestershire responsible for the production their local food guide, of the huge fuss made by Walls Ice Cream that they weren’t included. After all their factory was just outside Gloucester and they were a food producer – ergo they were a local producer, just like the organic farm down the road and should be included in the directory. Impeccable logic, but they didn’t make it, and I doubt that the omission made much of a dent on their sales. But of course they failed a different unstated, test – authenticity.
This confusion isn’t confined to producers. When I worked for Warwickshire county council a decade ago I used to stay quite regularly in a B&B in the town run by a charming young couple. They too understood the importance of local sourcing for their customers breakfasts. The menu carefully explained where their eggs, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes etc all came from. Locally sourced of course: sausages and bacon from the butchers in town (so far so good), eggs tomatoes and bread from the Sainsbury’s supermarket down the road, and milk from the local garage forecourt shop. All local. What not to like? But probably not what was meant by the term ‘local food’, though there was also a chance that some of the supplies were ‘local’ in the other sense of the word.
So local is one of those ambiguous words freighted with a meaning somewhat heavier than the load it is designed to carry. But it sure isn’t the only one. One of my abiding memories, as a hen-keeper of my one and only visit to Australia over 15 years ago, was being assailed by shops selling ‘gluten-free eggs’. Hey, who knew that most (wicked) eggs had gluten in them? I still refer to Australia, when the subject comes up as ‘the home of the gluten-free egg’. But then, somewhat less controversially I accept, for years Tesco used to promote the joys of its own-brand apple juice as a drink to be consumed ‘lovely and cool’. As opposed to all those horrid juices you could buy in Other Supermarkets, that were warm and nasty? Why on god’s (organic, local, and beech-chip smoked) earth, would anyone buy one of those?