New York chefs are staging a mass exodus, according to an Atlantic story published Monday. What used to be the nation’s “epicenter for all things culinary” is now a shrinking relic of bygone gastronomic glory.
Why are they leaving? Cities like Portland and Austin offer chefs lower rent and fewer business expenses. They have vibrant food cultures without the price tag. NPR’s Jane Black said the going rate for Manhattan cooks is $10 an hour, $12 “if you are lucky.”
But Atlantic reporter Alexander Abad-Santos mentions another motive “underscoring” the chefs’ exodus: namely, New York’s chefs have become locavores, and are looking for better stomping ground.
New York City, despite its urban farming ventures, doesn’t have a flourishing farm culture. For locavore chefs, a city like Portland offers excellent farmer’s markets and greater local resources.
In light of the escalating locavore trend and its effects, reporters are wondering – is eating “locavore” really worth it? What are its drawbacks?
NY Times columnist Stephen Budiansky has some good thoughts on the limits of locavorism. He points out that locavore-ism can become extreme and impractical: “You’ll get no argument from me about the pleasures and advantages to the palate and the spirit of eating what’s local, fresh and in season. But the local food movement now threatens to devolve into another one of those self-indulgent — and self-defeating — do-gooder dogmas.”
Abad-Santos points out that locavorism is largely a movement for the affluent. Urbanites “pay top dollar for the food, meaning more profit for chefs who can get those local ingredients cheaper; all of which results in more money in the pockets of these chefs.”
Authors Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu agree: they call locavorism “a niche product for upper-crust consumers.” However, they also note that “good food has to be produced somewhere, and some of that could be in your neighborhood. But don’t make it mandatory, and don’t make a religion out of it… You should stick to what you’re doing best, and then trade with others, and that way everybody will be better off.”
There are some practical advantages to the locavore movement: first, it emphasizes the need for fresh and organic ingredients. All restaurant patrons – locavore or no – appreciate fresh-tasting food.
In addition, locavorism has encouraged healthy trends in America’s food culture. You won’t (or at least shouldn’t) see locavores guzzling down Twinkies with Coke. “Food eaten closer to where it is grown will be fresher and require less processing, making it more nutritious,” said food journalist Michael Pollan in a 2008 letter to the president.
Finally, locavorism helps regionalize our food system. There are numerous advantages to this, when approached practically. Pollan highlights some of these advantages in his letter.
In the case of New York chefs, the locavore exodus seems to be a simple case of supply and demand. Smaller, more farm-centric cities offer chefs better rent, less expenses, and better ingredients. They can try new locavore ventures at a fraction of the cost. It’s a smart business move, and one that Portlanders will appreciate.