My great-grandmother raised me in North Carolina. I grew up in her kitchen and I had the hospitality gene passed on to me. She had a produce stand and cooked from traditional ingredients. Looking to re-create those dishes and memories, I started working in restaurants when I was 15. I have been a professional chef for 10 years - my expertise is in Southern regional cuisine.
This season presents a special challenge for cooking. Without the bounty of the other seasons, I have to be especially creative. I have to think about what people want to eat and then reinvent and innovate recipes for delicious soups, hearty foods, lentils, cassoulets: flavorful, nourishing dishes.
Another challenge to good, nutritious cooking is finding healthy, safe ingredients. In my work reaching out to independent and chef-owned restaurants around the country for Food & Water Watch, I'm talking to people who have the capacity to determine trends in cooking and eating. My goal is education - education on sustainable seafood, on the benefit of using local organic foods over imported factory farm ingredients and on how to find local or regional food sources. The chefs learn they will benefit by serving fresher, better-tasting food that is less expensive because it doesn't have to be hauled from halfway around the world. The public also benefits because local businesses are supported and our food is healthier. Healthier food in restaurants supports the community and improves our quality of life.
In my work, I see the American palate changing. It's changing so fast - the public is leading the demand for better food. My job is to reach out to chefs and help them meet these consumer needs. This effort is gratifying because I advocate for the dining public, the chefs, and local businesses, and in so doing help renew the American relationship to good, nourishing food. . . .
So the answer to my question is that I can still eat meat, and I will continue to eat my usual small portions interspersed with ovo/lacto but non-meat meals. But I will also continue to eat organically produced food, and look for local products as well.
Local Agriculture in the "Inland Empire"
The definition of "local" has to be stretched a little for us in Southern California. They have taken almost all agricultural land in the area and planted houses instead, many of which have not been sold, or are in foreclosure. I pity the people who live in the ones built on former dairy cattle lots, because when the weather is humid, going for rain, and the wind in our direction, it all smells definitely bucolic here, 10 miles away!
I expect the people living on former vineyards are doing better. They are also up the hill in places like Fontana, while the cattle yards are at the bottom of our hill, in Ontario and Chino.
That all reminds me of the international flavor agriculture brought to our area. The dairy farms were mostly owned by farmers from Holland, and there are still a large number of Dutch names in the area. What are left appear to be taken over by new Latinos, taking over where earlier Spanish immigrants had their large ranchos 200 years ago!
On the other hand, Fontana was settled by Italians, who came west from Pennsylvania to work in the Kaiser Steel Mill, which was only recently dismantled. (Now there are malls and office parks there.) But some of them figured they could grow grapes here, just like back in the old country, so this area became the largest wine district in the world, in particular at Guasti, mass-producing wines way before Gallo. But there are few vineyards left, like Joseph Filippi Winery and Galleano Winery in Cucamonga. I understand that the local wines became very sweet in our hot dry climate, which is no longer popular, and now there are other parts of California that have taken on the challenge of world-class wines, leaving us with empty houses! The closest new wine district is in the Temecula area, in the mountains on the way toward San Diego.
Upland, where I live, was an agricultural offshoot of Ontario, founded by the Canadian Chaffey brothers, who later went on to help found the town of Mildura in Australia, which is now our sister city. Upland and other neighboring towns up the hill from Ontario had vast citrus groves. Now there are just small remnants of these groves, mostly as small private plots.