Sunday, March 29, 2009

When in Florida...

You hear the phrase everywhere. It’s on bumper stickers, the side panels of cereal boxes, on the Food Network; over the past few years, it’s become absolutely omnipresent: “Eat locally.” An organic and local food enthusiast myself, I strive to select my food according to this mantra, but on a recent vacation, the phrase took on completely new meaning for me.

South Florida in early March. It’s a hit or miss time with the weather in this area of Florida at this time of year, but somehow “in like a lion” missed its mark, and a week of perfectly clear skies and shining sun proceeded. There was no reason not to be outside, and I found myself constantly walking the streets and sand of Delray Beach, a small town near Boca Raton hosting a mix of well-tanned snow birds and fully-burned Spring Breakers. In this town, there’s no such thing as rushing—and this easy lifestyle is most present in the lunch crowd, which takes its time savoring the experience of eating.

My family had visited this location several times, and we’d fallen into a food rut—eating at the same main-street restaurant nearly each afternoon. On this trip, however, something changed; perhaps the perfect weather inspired us to explore the area one morning, and so we walked for hours, perusing the streets of gorgeous villas with amazing views of the turquoise Atlantic… and inevitably, all of this walking left us hungry… and a bit off the beaten path. We encountered a small restaurant we’d never seen before. It had only a few outdoor tables, each shaded by a simple umbrella. “Locally grown food” a sign said. I looked beyond the restaurant and spotted a small garden, full of various types of produce growing naturally from the ground. No kidding—this was a local as it got.

The meal that followed was incredible: fresh produce, homemade pasta, and smoothies made with berries picked in the backyard. I could have sworn the food was some of the most delicious I’d ever had. Maybe it was that the lettuce on my plate hadn’t been flown thousands of miles from the field in which it was grown to the plate on which it was served. Maybe the food contained more vitamins and phytochemicals because the crop hadn’t been sprayed with pesticide, and that resulted in better taste. Perhaps the fresher ingredients yielded a better final product. Or perhaps I was convincing myself that local food truly is better. But in any case, for me personally, the experience of eating locally is significantly more fulfilling than doing otherwise. Knowing that there was no convoluted process to get the food to the plate made the meal so incredible and rush-free; and that’s what this beach town was all about.

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