Press-Republican

February 5, 2013

Editorial: Capitalize on food trends

--
Press-Republican

---- — Some of the top food trends for 2013 could have a meaningful economic benefit in our area, if producers and restaurants are motivated enough to act on them.

The National Restaurant Association interviewed about 1,800 leading chefs from around the nation to see what to expect for this year. Based on these discussions, the Restaurant Association’s new report is predicting a 3.8 percent increase in sales over last year. That, in itself, is good news, but a look at what’s hot in the food world uncovers even more potential.

The top 5 culinary trends identified in the Restaurant Association’s research can all be developed in the North Country. They are: locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce, healthful kids’ meals, environmental sustainability as a culinary theme and children’s nutrition as a culinary theme.

We are sitting right in the heart of a food production mecca, surrounded by fertile farmlands, productive dairy operations and bountiful orchards. We produce all the fixings to create meals that would make a New York Times critic rave.

So why do so few restaurants use local produce? And why don’t those who do make sure everyone knows?

Buying from local producers means restaurants are serving the freshest food available instead of items that are processed with preservatives or frozen and shipped from out of the area.

Diners who care about their health — and more and more people do — are attracted to menus that mention local vegetables, cheeses and meats. To them, it evokes mental descriptions like crisp, fresh, natural.

It also signals a loyalty to neighbors and friends that can be reciprocal. If you read on a menu that the restaurant is buying tomatoes from that nice farmer who is married to your cousin, you feel almost like you are doing something for your community when you eat there. You are likely to recommend the restaurant to others based on the local food ties.

It is also, of course, better for our economy if the food is purchased here, rather than trucked in. It keeps the spending in our region.

Some forward-thinking food cooperatives and producers and restaurants around here have already sponsored events that match the Restaurant Association’s trends, such as dinners being hosted jointly by farms and chefs.

The trend related to children’s cuisine hasn’t been developed much locally, so wouldn’t it be smart for farmers and restaurants or even nonprofits to get ahead of the game on that idea?

The national food trends would be a homegrown hit in the North Country. We hope restaurants and producers will serve up some innovation along those lines this year.