As New York Magazine’s “Insatiable Food Critic” Gael Greene cleverly asserts: “Great food is like great sex, the more you have, the more you want.” Evidently, Greene has never been to Ithaca, or else she would be suffering from chronic exhaustion.
Aside from having more restaurants per capita than New York City, Ithaca is one of the few communities that can credit its fine cuisine not only to the gourmet chefs who prepare it, but also to the farmers who provide them with the freshest locally grown ingredients — making “local food” much more of a delicacy than a convenience.
As Mike Ludgate, general manager of Ludgate Farms, a natural market in Ithaca that specializes in selling local foods, explained, “People have begun to realize and accept the fact that food is as much an environmental issue as it is a culinary item. Having avocados shipped thousands of miles to Ithaca is not an efficient use of energy or environmentally sound way to eat. There is a large movement away from the exotic food items towards the local.”
Ludgate Farms has been a family-owned and operated business in the Ithaca area for over 33 years. Among its lengthy inventory, it sells locally grown items like apples, blueberries, raspberries, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, grapes, cilantro, dill, parsley, as well as local dairy and cheese.
“It has been increasingly popular to use organic ingredients in cooking. Even though this decreases the demand for goods shipped from overseas and can lead other countries to think Americans are greedy,” Ludgate said.
Debbie Lazinsky, produce manager of GreenStar Cooperative Market, a member-owned co-op that has been in Ithaca for over 30 years, also said that there has been a surge in popularity of local foods over the last few years.
“The fact that we sell local products is definitely a draw,” she said. “Not only are they the freshest food items available, but supplying local products enables people to keep their money within the city of Ithaca, and supporting our neighbors and community is an important aspect of our co-op.”
Lazinsky credited some of the increase in popularity of organic foods to the actions of Alice Waters, Berkeley restaurateur and developer of California Cuisine, a culinary form categorized by a fusion technique in which the chef uses a variety cooking styles and fresh ingredients with a special emphasis on presentation.
“Local food tastes better, and even though it can be more expensive, I will definitely support any restaurant or vendor who is selling it,” Lazinsky said.
Finding a restaurant that supports local foods is an easy task in Ithaca. Many local restaurants make it their duty to give farmers all the business they can get.
Just A Taste Wine & Tapas Bar, for example, uses local fruits and vegetables to prepare their menu options with.
“Supporting local products is especially important because it provides the farmers with some income for the winter when business can get slower,” said Jen Irwin, owner of the restaurant. “But we also use them because they are incredibly high quality and fresh.”
And does it help business? “We don’t specifically advertise that we use local products,” Irwin said, “but anything that attracts attention is a plus.”
Pangea, a popular restaurant in Ithaca, also uses an array of local produce in its dishes.
“We chose to use the local items because they are handled less,” owner and chef Paul Andrews said. “Also, if we help the farmers, they will continue to prosper and produce more goods for everybody — there are huge mutual benefits in supporting local foods.”
But no restaurant celebrates local foods quite like the ABC Café, a relaxed vegetarian restaurant on Stewart Avenue. Every Sunday night, as long as the crops are in season, ABC Café offers a special menu comprised of only local foods.
“Local Food Night is in keeping with our restaurant’s philosophy,” Amelia Rosenthal, a waitress of two months at the Café, said. “We are not into big corporations and what they’re doing to the world.”
As the word “local” next to “food” continues to attract people to produce isles everywhere across Ithaca, the growing trend of finding the freshest potato or juiciest peach is not expected to slow down any time soon. “Local is the new organic,” said Lazinsky.