When Local is Not That Local

Here in LA, we’re spoiled.

100% grass fed meat, wild fish and humanely sourced poultry are all not too tough to find and if we plan our schedules accordingly, we can get to a plethora of farmer’s markets where we can find the best of the best from avocados to zucchini and from antelope to wild board (couldn’t think of a protein that began with Z… not so sure about wild zebra here in the US!).

We have loads of fresh, organic produce year round, even at many grocery stores and often, if we are mindful about making sure we are looking at the source of our veggies and proteins, we can come up with at least a handful of options to fit all our real, whole food needs.

On top of that, we have speciality stores.

One of my favorites is Bel Campo.

Per their website, “Belcampo is a lot of things: a farm, a processing plant, a neighborhood butcher shop, a restaurant. What unites everything we do is our singular commitment to provide you with delicious, organic, and compassionately raised meat you can feel good about buying and eating. We got started on our mission in 2012, and we’ve been working ever since to build a sustainable and resilient company that will be here for our great-grandkids. It’s not always easy to do the right thing, the right way, every time, but we’re passionate about taking good care of our land, our animals, our team, and you.

And then there is another local favorite, Santa Monica Seafood, which is where I decided to stop into Tuesday afternoon on my way home.

My typical shopping regime of the Wednesday Farmer’s Market on the promenade is such that I plan just the amount of food I need to last our family for a week, give or take, keeping in mind there will very likely be the requisite filler in trip to Whole Foods as the produce runs out, as well as any catering clients or cooking classes for which I may be gathering.

If there’s ever a time when I find myself beginning to run low, it’s a Tuesday, which is precisely why I thought I’d simply pop in, look at the choices for fresh, wild and local and choose from an array of sustainable fish.

What I ended up learning, however, was eye opening, to say the least.

I grabbed my customer number from the ticket machine and waited for 48 to be called.

The friendly man behind the counter asked what I’d like.

I asked for a recommendation; what looked the best, the most fresh, which fit the bill of local, fresh and wild caught?

I thought about what I’d purchase the previous week from the fish vendor at the market; wild, CA landed Ahi, halibut and salmon, and began thinking how I’d prepare one of those three, in the event there was nothing else to consider.

He said that he’d recommend the wild halibut, skin off.

(What? I love the skin!! )

I said ok, what else?

The conversation continued:

Man: nothing
Me: pardon?
Man: nothing else fresh, wild and local
Me: oh, ok, may I please have a moment?

Man waits while I look.

Sure enough, lots of beautiful looking fish, most of which did not look as they’d been frozen, but upon looking at the tags next to each one, I saw they’d come from places far and wide and some were wild and some were farmed.

I was in two minds about whether I wanted anything, but it would be dinner time soon enough, so I went ahead and got the halibut.

When I got home, I felt compelled to learn more. I called the store and asked to speak to the manager, and sent an email as well.

My email was answered quite promptly:

Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding local caught fish.  We make every effort to carry local caught fish when available.  However, weather plays an extremely vital role in the availability of fresh fish.  Most recently ( not just local ), fish in general has been subject to mother nature, limiting catch on a number of species.

In terms of previously frozen fish, we carry less than three selections and that is due to availability and or the off season ( salmon/halibut ).

If there is something specific you are looking for locally ( say from Morro Bay ), please let me know and I can speak with our suppliers and see what the catch is like and if we can bring something in for you.

But how could it be that local caught fish is not available to them, but it is available to the vendor who brings their fresh, wild fish to the market, just 8 blocks away?

Don’t get me wrong: this post is not an anti Santa Monica Seafood post. I’ve bought plenty of nice fish there before and the service is always friendly and prompt.

Rather, it’s a commentary that we all need to be uber mindful wherever we go.

Not only do we need to look at ingredients if we buy packaged items, we need to read tags and ask questions.

And then we need to buy the proteins and produce that reflect what we’d like to see more of, and not buy the frozen / farmed / flown.

Positive and pro-active is the way to go.

No need to take an angry position and boycott outside with a picket sign… just keep asking and keep learning.