Regional—and Sustainable—Cuisine on the Road

In a time when “going green,” “carbon footprints” and “sustainable” are key phrases in almost everything we do, dining is no exception. How can we ensure that our eating habits are low-impact on the global environment? There are many answers to that question but one is to shop and eat locally. That means purchasing foods from local producers and eating at restaurants that are locally sourced.

Why is this important? For one, you support local farmers and producers, keeping the economy of your regional community alive and keeping the little guys in business. For another, the less traveling products have to do, the less pollution in the air and the less fuel is consumed. For example, I live in New York City. If I buy apples harvested from a farm upstate or even New Jersey, it’s hasn’t come from that far away. So, less gas and less emissions in the air. And my neighbor gets to feed his family for one more week. It’s both ethical and environmentally responsible.

People who adhere to this practice are called “locavores.” Yes, that’s an actual word. If you don’t believe me, flip open the pages of the New Oxford American Dictionary (yeah, that’s old school, but there’s nothing like riffling through the thin, crisp pages of a dictionary), which chose “locavore” as its Word of the Year in 2007.

For foodies on the road, there’s a special treat in eating locally. It’s not hard to figure out what that is: It’s the opportunity to sample the regional cuisine, the stuff the local people eat, which is—logically—based on whatever grew/grows in the area.

I’ve done a lot of research on global cuisine for my cookbooks and articles and realized something: What distinguishes one country’s or region’s dish from another’s can be one little ingredient, something as simple as a spice or the type of noodle used or the ratio of meat to vegetables.

Cultures around the world have more in common than they realize, but that one little ingredient difference is what makes food unique from one part of the world to another. And travelers are no longer content with dining in four- and five-star restaurants, or the latest venue written up in a swanky magazine. They want to experience real, true, honest local cuisine. And that, to me, is what travel is really about. Not just seeing the sights or hanging out in the hippest lounge with a fancy-schmantzy cocktail. It’s about experiencing the culture, and the most intrinsic element of any culture is its cuisine.

Travel agents and tour operators have caught onto this fact and culinary tours that feature meals at local eateries or lessons in local cooking techniques with local ingredients are all the rage. Hotel restaurants are jumping on this trend as well. Four properties whose restaurants are catering to locavores recently came to my attention:

Cotswold House in Chipping Campden, UK; Windham Hill Inn in West Townshend, VT; Caneel Bay, A Rosewood Resort on St. John, U.S.V.I.; and Hotel Caesar Augustus on Capri, Italy. All of these properties source the ingredients for their restaurants locally. The Windham Hill and Hotel Caesar Augustus both have their own herb and vegetable gardens as well. Additionally, Windham Hill is a member of the Vermont Fresh Network, which “builds innovative partnerships among farmers, chefs and consumers to strengthen Vermont’s agriculture.”

For travelers who want to go green for environmental reasons, or simply feel that when in Rome, eat what the Romans eat, hotels and restaurants that follow the locavore philosophy are the way to go. They’re not as difficult to find as it might seem—more and more properties are doing it. Who knows, our planet might just survive yet.