Took my wife out for a birthday dinner last night at Latah Bistro. David Blaine, who runs the restaurant and writes a great blogon the local restaurant scene, is one of the important advocates for nurturing local food systems in Spokane. The restaurant was slammed when we arrived but things settled down after our meal and we had a great chat with David and the sue chef Matt. A couple of things from our conversation that caught my attention;
- David mentioned that while he used to source many foods through farmers’ market farmers, the retail dynamics have improved so much for many of these farmers that they are no longer selling wholesale to Latah Bitro or other restaurants. In our conversation I recognized that we all have a different seat at the table and a perspective that comes with that. Consumers, farmers, wholesalers, grocers, restaurateurs and chefs all bring different challenges and priorities. The trick is to nurture a food system that is shaped by the multiplicity of these voices, not just one or two dominating the conversation, and not just everyone only concerned with what works for them.
- He described the local food movement as an effort to preserve culture. We talked about the fast growing legend around a study about how farmers driving to a farmers’ market have a larger carbon footprint than a big semi transporting produce from California. There actually is such a study, but David’s (and my) response is to say, “So what, it’s not about that.” This trope is floated by advoctes of industrial ag as if that ends the conversation. There is more to the conversation than carbon footprint metrics. It’s culture, community, relationships, philosophy, and I would add theology.
- He said the next big trend in the Spokane food scene is going to be small restaurants. As he described it, the super-sizing of restaurants has been a major effort and exertion that has gained nothing. The economics of very large restaurants with all of the staff and overhead is problematic in these economic times. I took note that not only were Matt and David cooking the food, they were also doing the dishes. I wonder if the small sizing of many aspects of food systems will follow suit, from biggie to boutique. The economics might demand it.
By the way, the food was excellent. We sat at the “Zoo” bar where we could watch the chefs do their thing. They even took our order. The Mokie cheese Mac & Cheese was amazing as was the trout.