Modern American cuisine borrows from and mixes up foods and food traditions from all over the world. We value eating local, but don’t let that dictate our menus. We’ll sit in northern New York and happily wash down with coconut milk our crusty bread baked just down the road from Champlain valley flour. We choose our foods with an eye to what science tells us are its health benefits as well as what it means to us. That is, if we can afford it.
In “Food for Thought” historian Hallie Bond uses photographs, works of art, agricultural data, and contemporary accounts of hunting, gathering, farming, and homemaking to explore the long tradition of eating local in the Adirondack mountains of northern New York. Promotional materials written for tourists and accounts written by visitors document the ways in which fresh and wild foods were an essential part of the visitor experience, and ways in which the region’s promotors used that association.
And what about the “locals?” What about the folks who couldn’t afford to eat at the palatial Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake where you could get oysters for dinner in 1890? The history of “eating local” in the Adirondacks illuminates broader concepts. The ways in which Adirondackers throve in spite of the short growing season and the thin, rocky soil which made farming difficult can inspire today’s gardeners and locavores. Asking why many people eat less well in the region since WWII prompts discussion of the industrialization of food production and the separation of home and work, not to mention today’s Adirondacker children whose main meal comes from the free and reduced price school lunch program. Samples of traditional liquid yeast and the bread made from it, French-Canadian buckwheat pancakes, and spruce beer help make this heavy discussion palatable.