Personal pride may eclipse economic and health concerns in driving the local food movement, but so could participation by corporate America, chef Tim Love said Friday during a discussion of food geography at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
Though terms like "artisanal" and "natural" have been all-but co-opted by big food companies, Love said authentic local food will grow in appeal because it ties people to their communities.
"It's something to be proud of," said Love, who also said unlike "artisanal," the notion of local or authentic has greater staying power. "You can't erase new Orleans off the map. You can't erase Texas off the map. I think that will inherently protect itself," said Love, who specializes in what he calls "urban Western" cooking at his flagship Lonesome Dove restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas.
The goal is to make people at least think about it, Love said, and if that has to happen through Wal-Mart or Target, so be it. He said residents of small towns would be the toughest to reach, but predicted they eventually would realize that seeking out local food makes sense not only because it is often healthier and cheaper.
New Orleans chef John Besh, who joined Love for the first in a series of Associated Press interviews at the festival, said what has started as a trend among top chefs looking for high-quality ingredients eventually will spread to everyday consumers, but it won't happen until families start spending more time cooking and eating at home.
"I come from a place that's never really lost its identity," said Besh, who has been a key player in revitalizing the New Orleans restaurant industry following Hurricane Katrina. "I think there's always been an idea in New Orleans that this is one part of our culture that we can hang onto, something tangible we can pass on to the next generation _ our food and music."
Besh also predicted that rising gas prices will spur consumers to think about local food, and to pressure Congress to change the way it supports the agriculture industry.
"Until that happens ... we won't see profound impact," he said. "It will take years before it makes it way down."
J.M. Hirsch is food editor of The Associated Press. To see all of the videos from AP's coverage of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, go to: http://bit.ly/f4lFT6