The New Oxford American Dictionary announced this week that “locavore” is its 2007 Word of the Year. I have just one question: Shouldn’t the winning word actually have a foothold in reality? I mean, shouldn’t you be able to point to someone and say, “That person is a locavore”?
Don’t believe me? Well, let’s say you had scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee this morning for breakfast. In fact, let’s say you bought the coffee from a local roaster and the bread and eggs from a nearby farmers’ market, which is fantastic. I’m right there with you. But where did the wheat for the flour come from? I almost guarantee it wasn’t from around here. Those coffee beans definitely weren’t grown locally, and the salt and pepper for your eggs? They were produced far from here.
Used as term to signify the overall movement toward local/seasonal/sustainable eating, locavore is great. I’m behind it all the way. But used as a term to identify someone as a locavore, the word is deceptive, even perhaps alienating, much like “carnivore” is alienating to non-meat eaters.
What’s more, the word underscores a hulking contradiction about our eating and dining habits. While some folks crave local foodstuffs—-both to help the environment and to improve their health—-other foodies are demanding authenticity from the ever-increasing number of ethnic and fusion restaurants in the area. You want real Peruvian? You need the peppers and potatoes grown in Peru. You want authentic Szechwan? You need those numbing peppercorns from China. Hell, even Philly cheesesteak fans get bent out of shape unless the bread is trucked from the Amoroso Baking Co. in the City of Brotherly Love.
Locavore is a terrific idea, but I think for the movement to succeed, it needs to be realistic about its limitations. Let people keep their coffee, and see if they don’t embrace the idea.