Seeking local food at tourist destinations…

Here it is, Monday morning, and as of 4am, I am just back from a trip to Ocean City, Maryland, a popular summer destination, which is a 4.6 square mile barrier spit along the Delaware/Maryland coast. It was a family event, which may not seem relevant to you all, but it required me to eat mainstream for several days in a row, which re-opened my eyes to the eating habits of the majority of Americans.

The thin strip of land is packed full of restaurants, bars, hotels, motels, condos, tourist shops, amusement parks, and hoards of beach-goers. Despite being bordered on one side by a bay, and on the other by the Atlantic, my queries into the origins of the food I encountered all culminated with the same response, “I don’t know”. I thought at least the seafood would be from local fisherman, but most restaurants and wait-staff knew nothing of the source of the food they were peddling as they recounted the daily specials to throngs of hungry sun-drenched customers.

Everywhere people lined up to get food, and it seemed not one spent a moment concerning themselves with the details of food production. Even the family condo I stayed in had a full working kitchen that, shy of the refrigerator, which often was filled with doggie bags, was showing signs of neglect. My family chose to eat every meal at restaurants, chosen not for the freshness or high quality of the raw materials used in the kitchen, but for the convenience, trendiness, or popularity of the social scene surrounding the place. The nostalgia of long-time OC fixtures, which once used local cream to make their famous homemade ice cream, and local seafood to fill out the menu options, gave way to a high volume lifestyle. They chose to prioritize quantity over quality, giving the customer what they want.

To be fair, there were signs asking people to respect and protect the beaches and water, but most people seemed too busy to be conscious eaters, which I found both stressful and eye opening. The bay has lost many vibrant and fruitful fish, oyster, clam, and crab habitats due to human activity, and many livelihoods along with them. Even those pleas seemed to be more about saving jobs than protecting the health of the bay for its own sake, which resonates with Americans more than environmental causes.

But… when I looked past all that, I still found the cool ocean breezes, the sound of waves crashing endlessly on the shore, and the smell of salt air. After just a few minutes at the beach, my glasses were dotted with salt spray, which I found to be delightful. The sand in my toes was just as pleasurable as when I was a child, and battling the waves reminded me of just how small our lives are. There were many plants to discover and sea birds to watch as they fished the shallows, placing me in a contemplative frame of mind, and captivating my imagination. I realized, this CSA is my sheltered cove of food issues.

This Week’s Harvest: Beets, Garlic, Green Onions, Swiss Chard, Celery, parsley, Basil

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