What does “local” mean to you?
The Oxford Dictionary defines local as “relating or restricted to a particular area or one’s neighbourhood”. That’s fairly inconclusive. Other dictionaries are equally obtuse.
I’m just as bad. I merely have a sense of “local”. It feels local if it’s within a 20-minute drive. More or less.
That makes it hard to talk about local food. Where do you draw the boundary between local and regional?
It’s not like we don’t have enough issues with labelling as it is. Let’s not get into what “Irish” food is.
Kevin Aherne, who owns Sage Restaurant in Midleton, Co. Cork, has provided his own answer. For him, local falls within a 12-mile radius of the restaurant. It’s an arbitrary line, but as good as any I think. It gives him an anchor for his menu at any rate.
Going this route is a huge commitment. Kevin has to get to know all of his suppliers individually and build a relationship with each in turn. Instead of a single centralized delivery, he has many. It is a time-consuming process.
His approach has advantages though. Buying from suppliers within 12 miles of the restaurant enhances accountability. He knows exactly where each ingredient has come from. He can vet it, keeping standards high. He can ask questions of his suppliers.
He can also get their stories and pass those on to his own customers. These days, there is benefit in being able to name the farmer who raised your beef or your pork, and being able to tell you about the man who runs the abattoir where the animals were slaughtered. Through stories, trust is built. Trust that what Kevin puts on a plate for you is wholesome as well as delicious.
Maybe that’s something local gives us: trust. We trust it because we know where it came from and we know who produced it.