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More thoughts on food trends for 2014

Locally grown food has many positives.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 12:01 am

To follow up on my last column about food trends I hope to see go away forever, here are the predictions of 2014 food trends that I have gathered from various readings. I am not saying by any means that I like these or I want these. I do like some of them, so I am not a wicked witch.

1. Locally sourced food. It's cool to see Thomas Keller in his chef whites, standing in his own organic garden in California, talking about all freshly grown and organic. But how many can wait six months for a reservation and then spend $200 without wine for a meal? Not many. Or the current movement of foraging that began in Norway. (OK, it really began with the cavemen, but Norway is onto it right now.) I cannot get up the appetite to pay $40 for a salad made of lichens and edible ferns.

This being said, it is preferable to eat local and pesticide-free as possible. It is good for your body and great for the environment. Why is eating food grown and raised locally better? There is not the shipping cost tagged on, it is fresher and less fossil fuels were used to transport it, among other reasons. I try to get as much as I can from farmers markets, Tanglewood Berry Farm, Amish free-range chicken and my egg lady. I grow herbs in the summer and tomatoes.

But I want you to be realistic when you read things. For example: I grow hundreds of pears. I was super stoked because I had one more year before I could call them USDA certified organic. Then wooly aphids descended upon them. Wooly aphids eat the tree, not the pears. If I did not take care of them, all my trees would perish. I had to spray all of them. Yes, it washes off and I only have to spray them a few times a year. Yes, by the time harvest time arrives, it has been weeks since they were sprayed. But now I could no longer say those beautiful pears were organic.

It is easy to proclaim about locally sourced, organic and fair trade or whatever other groovy word of the month magazines, newspapers and menus are saying. Unless they have a garden, special farmers, egg person, meat person, they are going to get some of that from their food purveyors, who are going to buy them from the cheapest source. If you are buying peaches, oranges, etc., you know they aren't coming from Fort Wayne. Don't flog yourself over this; just do the best you can.

2. As an amendment to No. 1, I would love to see more small eateries use locally grown food and fewer restaurant chains lining the roadsides. Chain restaurant food is cheaper because many of the ingredients are made from Lord knows what. The taste is off, the consistency is off and the color is too bright.

I just returned from a class in Manhattan, Kan., where I learned a thing or two about mass production. We students were taught what all the unpronounceable ingredients in baked goods are. They are for crumb softening, longer shelf life and mold retardation, all that stuff that makes your Hostess Cupcakes last six weeks. The olive oil you eat in a chain restaurant is mostly vegetable oil with a little olive oil added so they can legally call it olive oil. Even when you order steamed broccoli, they brush it with a fake butter to add flavor. They must do these things to keep costs down. Please keep this in mind when you order in a chain restaurant. Your healthiest bet would be to order a plain food, such as a steak or chicken. Most of the fish comes from fish farms. Have you ever been to a fish farm? You'll never eat salmon raised in one again, trust me.

3. Charcuterie. I love charcuterie, or a platter of various meats to serve at a party. Yum yum. Beside that I might put a cheese platter, then a crudities platter or a big plate of beautiful grapes. It is very easy to serve this instead of time-consuming, fattening and salty hors d'oeuvres. It is also a good thing to serve at a cocktail party to offset some of the alcohol and sugar of the drinks. There are really delicious meats, and I hope you explore some for your next gathering.

4. Ancient grains. I am so loving this idea and hope it is not a trend, but stays forever. High in fiber and nutrients, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, spelt and farro are a few ancient grains that I think are delicious. These grains are hearty because the whole grain is generally used, so while not suitable for a pain au mie or brioche, they are perfect for hearty soups, bread, and served in lieu of rice and potatoes. While several of these are actually members of the wheat family, many people with gluten intolerance are able to eat them.

5. Gluten-free. I do not think this trend is going anywhere soon. Every eatery, health magazine and grocery is capitalizing on it. But when a grocery puts gluten-free signs by orange juice and all over the produce sections, they are dumbing down their consumers, and that makes me crazy.

6. Midwestern food. Well, it is about time, isn't it? Here in the Heartland, we have fertile soil, hard-working farmers, flat land and plenty of sunshine in the summer. We can grow better corn and tomatoes and raise quality beef, pork and poultry than anywhere else. I am crossing my fingers that the Midwest's time has arrived and we get well-deserved recognition for supplying food to most of the nation and the world. But I also hope we can step up to the plate and offer these fabulous agricultural products served in a modern, healthy way.

7. City chickens and bees. One thing that makes me bust my buttons (besides overeating) is how Americans still have the can-do spirit of our forefathers. My pride comes from statistics as well as spending time overseas, so I believe Americans will rise up to any occasion and beat the odds.

One example is the bluebird. The beautiful bluebird was on the verge of extinction. Without tax spending government programs, many residents (yours truly is one of them) began erecting bluebird houses in the right places and with sparrow guards. Happily, the bluebird is thriving. Now people are taking the reins and trying to save the honeybee in the city as well as the country.

Urban dwellers are raising “city chickens” for their eggs and sometimes their meat. I love seeing this and I know it is only going to get better.

8. Obesity. Combining the trend toward eating better quality food, making your own food, taking control of what your children are allowed to eat and educating ourselves, I think Americans will get a handle on obesity like they have begun to do with smoking. Smoking is at an all-time low in our country, and I have great faith obesity will follow.

The pounds have slowly crept up on me for the last 15 years until I must do something about this now. Getting my weight down will be my 2014 goal. I am not going to go on any fad diet or restrict foods totally. I plan to do mindful eating and maybe Weight Watchers, where food is not the enemy but not a late-night pastime either! It is time. Would anyone care to join me?

Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Her column appears every other Tuesday in The News-Sentinel. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to clarson@news-sentinel.com or call 461-8284. We'll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.