Chow Bella

Eating Locally in Phoenix: We're Not Perfect, But We've Come a Long Way

Hey, have you been paying attention out there? Because if so, then you might have noticed that in the period of less than a week we're written about how the Valley is a great place for local food lovers and also a horrible place for eating locally.

Wait, what?

Yeah, I know. That seems a little confusing. Here's the thing: You can make all the scientific calculations you want from afar, but I'm up close and I can tell you firsthand that this city has come a long way. So don't listen to anyone else, Phoenix, you're doing a great job.

See also: Scottsdale Named One of the Top 10 Foodie Cities in the Country and Arizona Named One of the Worst States to Eat Locally

Personal observations aside, it's important to take a second look at each of these national lists. The first, a list of the best cities in the country for foodies, comes from a website that looks specifically at small to mid-sized cities -- which is why you'll also find cities such as Omaha and Traverse City on the list. While I'm sure they're great cities with plenty of good eats, I don't think we need to pretend either is a true culinary destination.

The second list, complied by a Vermont-based local food advocacy group, takes into account the number of farmers markets, CSAs, and food hubs per capita in each state. Look closely at the list and you'll notice almost all of the 10 most populated states fall in the bottom half of the list -- that includes California, where farm to table was practically born. As a former Californian, I have a hard time swallowing that one.

So both lists take a quantitative look at our food scene, but is either giving a truly accurate picture?

What's more telling to me is that this year we have more farmers markets than ever willing to stay open all summer. That means our farmers, food artisans, and organizers believe there are enough people who care about eating local produce to wake up early on weekends and brave the heat. Now that's impressive.

I also find encouragement when I look at restaurants that aren't afraid to use seasonal produce not in just one dish (as if to say, "See? I know what's in season!") but throughout the entire menu, making a true commitment to using what our local farmers have to offer. No, not every restaurant can be as seasonally sensitive as a place like Bink's, but I rarely talk to chefs these days who don't make a conscious effort to source as much as they can from local farmers and artisans.

And that's not because it's cheaper or easier for them, you know. It's because that's what many diners have come to expect. It's all about supply and demand and clearly, there's a demand. In metro Phoenix.

On top of that there are a lot of exciting things going on in our food town, from one of the world's most interesting breweries (which uses plenty of local ingredients, I'd like to add) to one of the country's most unique milling operations.

So the bottom line is that we may not be number one when it comes to eating locally and we probably still aren't on the level of other top-notch dining destinations stateside or beyond. But that shouldn't stop Phoenix and Arizona from being proud of how far we've come and where we're going.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria