The Foodies Invade

Got back last night from a weekend of getting the cottage ready for the summer. Got the dock in without anyone drowning, which is always a good sign. The weather was too cold to go swimming or to eat outside, unless the sun was pounding directly on you. Nevertheless, I’m so very ready to chuck everything around here and relocate for a summer of reading, napping, fishing, and martini-drinking. We won’t really be up there until July 4, due to other commitments and a road trip we’re trying to take to the east coast. I won’t be able to take the wait. I need to catch me some fat bluegill NOW!

Our cottage is near the town of Fennville, which has two gas stations, one grocery store, a video store and a pharmacy. It also has a Mexican restaurant that’s hands-down the best in three counties. But the newest restaurants there have brought with them a strange phenomenon: Fennville is becoming a destination spot for foodies.

A few years ago, this started happening in my Chicago neighborhood, when a few eateries got written up in the New York Times (I think all of them have closed in the meantime except one). The foodies were conspicuous by the expensive casual clothes they wore, and the sweaters tied around their shoulders (60-somethings trying to look like they just stepped off the green). The wives always walked in front, wearing eager expressions for their urban adventure, with the husbands four paces back, bemused and patient and thinking life is supremely good as long as the Viagra holds out. They’re not so much around anymore, maybe they’ve moved on to Logan Square or West Town or Joliet. Which is good. Sated with food and too much South African shiraz, they were clogging up the sidewalks with their meanderings.

But now the town near my cottage is getting them. Their destination is the Journeyman Cafe, which opened on Main Street two years ago. The restaurant features only locally grown food, part of that whole locavore idea, which I think is a fine and dandy one as long as I don’t have to eat too much squash or give up coffee and bananas. The foodies arrive there, clutching their purses and peering into the place like a cave–“So THIS is the place everyone’s talking about?”

I’m not knocking the food, which is good to excellent, nor the idea of eating local. The angle of it I find most interesting, from a global socioeconomic viewpoint, is that the locals can’t afford to eat local. Few if any of the year-round residents can afford a $17 plate of lamb chops, however well intentioned the food is. Will this always be the case, or will the practice of locavorism make the area economically viable to the point that the former factory hands and farmers around there will be able to afford it? What’s more than likely is that the spread between the haves and the havenots will continue to grow until we begin to resemble Mexican resort towns, where the locals get only a glimpse of the good life.

Of course, I’m a fine one to talk, being a summer resident visiting my second home in my Illinois license plates conspicuous on the Volvo wagon. And I like a good meal as much as anyone. But any trip to Michigan will give you a quick view of the economic disparities in the country, and I’ve only seen it get worse in my time up there. Let’s hope those $17 lamb chops will do some good in the long run, and not just be a tasty curio of an era of decline.

5 Replies to “The Foodies Invade”

  1. Restaurants where the locals cannot afford to eat? Now we’re building condos that the locals cannot afford to buy: Expectations are that most owners for units in the Calatrava Spire in your hometown will “come from overseas”; Americans cannot afford the place!

  2. So that’s the inevitable result of globalization? Then again, I feel queasy complaining about it, since that’s how a lot of the world overseas is.

  3. I hate sounding like a predictable republican (especially when I’m not sure I am one)… but Journeyman’s does employ 15 or more people and occupy two previously empty storefronts. Not only that but i know that some of that staff has been with them since the beginning… which is a sign they are doing what they can to pay living wages to people. And don’t forget the local farm that provided the lamb. Shouldn’t they get paid a decent price for the lamb? Or would you rather drive past a feed lot on your way into your lake home instead of the family orchard… and you thought the algea was bad now… what if you had a global size ba ba factory just to the north of the lake? At least everyone could afford a lamb chop then. =)

    See you down there soon… i understand a visit to su casa is being discussed? Remind me to leave the summer sweater at home.

  4. You should know by now that I’m all in favor of eating local. Those exotic varieties of apples, fr instance, that they grow around there and don’t ship out–I like to eat em and I like their anachronistic status. And I’m glad that Journeyman is doing their bit to help the local guys. They’ve always seemed sincere to me.

    I guess I was merely speculating on the scale of the locavore enterprise, and whether it is really sustainable and rejuvenating for the earth and region, or just a green fad. I trust economists will have some numbers soon. In my nightmare scenario, oil continues to rocket in price, causing the locals to cut back on just about everything, while the haves who travel around West Michigan to find the perfect pork chop (you and me excluded, of course) will not be affected. The disparity of wealth in the country is enormous and possibly unsustainable, and with services and labor being whisked around the earth in the global economy, I’m not convinced all boats will rise. We might end up with a strange hybrid economy of international manufacturing employing a small fraction of our locals, and beneath that canopy, local economies will develop like little fiefdoms by necessity (no oil for gas, no cars being sold, too hard to commute like we have been). Maybe that will be the best of both worlds, and sustainable too. I’m just speculating. It’s going to be an interesting quarter-century coming up.

  5. Interesting that picture you paint “beneath the canopy”, seems a lot like what rural chianti felt to me last month. And I have to admit being torn between staying there or returning to the race that allowed me to go there in the first place. Either way… both the “pesant” and the “castle owner” seemed very happy there in central Italy.

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