Nosh Pit

Nosh Pit: Hometown pride vs. freedom to eat broadly

This simple shot of tomato and avocado on whole grain toast caused a mini-scandal on social media.
This simple shot of tomato and avocado on whole grain toast caused a mini-scandal on social media.

So it’s come to this in Sacramento: Tomato shaming on social media.

Take for example a picture posted on the Facebook page of Michelle Logsdon, a former cook who’s a familiar presence at local food events. She’d shopped earlier in the day at the Capitol Mall farmers market and snapped a shot of “vine-ripened” tomato and avocado on whole-grain bread – all ingredients that she’d just sourced at the farmers market.

Then came a slew of skeptical and snarky comments, noting it was wayyyy too early for local tomatoes. They were likely plucked from vines in Southern California’s Imperial County, where the tomato season is in full swing. The mere idea of showcasing nonlocal tomatoes was sniffed at like Sacramento sacrilege.

“It’s farm-core, it’s the new norm,” said Logsdon. “In our food community, there’s an expectation that you follow the local lines. I don’t mind that, but for me to get called out for my questionable tomato purchase cracks me up.”

It’s tough to be a Northern California farm product, as drought continues to parch the land and locals are ever territorial about their bounty. “Almond shaming” has already become part of the state’s lexicon, following an infographic from Mother Jones noting that it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond.

And here in Sacramento, the self-branded “Farm-to-Fork Capital of America,” pride in local goods and produce is turning into a kind of tyranny. In some circles of local chefs and devout local foodies, posting a picture of asparagus in the winter would get the same reaction as showing off an order of Chicken McNuggets.

“There’s a new social contract about buying local,” said Logsdon. “Even going to Trader Joe’s now is considered being a sellout.”

But there’s also a double standard when it comes to this more-Sacramento-than-thou stuff. Show up with imported Parma prosciutto that costs $29.99 per pound, and you’re the hero of the dinner party. Admit you’re using Mexican limes that cost 30 cents each, and that won’t fly so much in staunch locavore circles.

Or, consider the preliminary beer list at Empress Tavern, the upcoming restaurant in the Crest Theatre’s basement. The Bee shared a sneak peek at the beer list on Twitter, and the reaction was immediate. What, no locals whatsoever?

But no reason to get your suds in a bunch. While the bulk of Empress Tavern’s beer list will include options from far beyond the 916 area code, four of the 12 taps at Empress Tavern – one-third of them – will in fact be local. Proceeds from one of those local taps, a Sacramento beer created in conjunction with Empress, will also be donated to a rotating charity, starting with Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

Still, yikes – such sensitivity in Sacramento.

Maybe the overall taste of a beer is more important than its simple provenance. The good news is that plenty of quality ale can be found in Sacramento and its thriving craft beer scene. But it’s also a huge world of beer out there.

Sacramento is a great city for food and drink because so many fine products and ingredients come from here: Silk Road sodas, Delta asparagus, Preservation and Co. bloody mary mix, Darjeeling gin, Puur chocolates and Placer County mandarins, just for starters. But that’s not reason enough to squash local consumer choices within the confines of a CSA box.

“Just because it’s local, it doesn’t mean it’s good,” said Logsdon. “Usually I get my wines from Amador and El Dorado Hills. That’s local and I’m doing my part. But I also don’t happen to like New Helvetia beer. It’s too hoppy for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with hometown pride. But maybe it’s time to lighten up a bit on the hypervigilant localism, where a picture of a questionably seasonal ingredient can make you a pariah of local produce.

“Oh geez, it’s just a tomato, people,” said Logsdon.

Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253, @chris_macias.