Back in 1788, when Century Inn was built, local produce was the name of the game. A day was likely the limit for perishable items (especially in the summer). Boat, cart, and foot were the means of shipping; relegating “local” to a day’s float, ride, or walk. Many of the historic stops on the National Pike are 12 miles apart. This is the distance that a cart could reasonably travel in a day. So for all intents and purposes local was within that distance. I wonder if the first cooks, antsy about the upcoming service, peered out of the windows waiting for the cart like I do for the truck.
With the invention and expansion of the railroad, the radius of availability expanded. Additionally, the refrigerated rail car extended the life of perishables and widened the availability of regional items. The modern trucking industry and our expansive roadway infrastructure further extended the specific reach providing virtual door to door service. Now we can have seafood from around the world flown overnight by jet. It seems that a single day is still the magic number; technology has just greatly expanded our one day reach.
I think the definition of local really depends upon which way you come to it. The term is arbitrary and everyone’s definition probably incorporates elements of both space and time. If we use only time and call “local” anything a day away, than most of the globe is local. The Tokyo fish market is in my back yard. Space, as is often the case, is a little more elusive. Our produce company determines “local” as 150 miles away or less. This is, in some ways, more narrow than the 1 day definition. A truck can travel much further than that in a day. This also doesn’t feel right to me. If we expanded that definition to other aspects of life it seems preposterous: I wouldn’t drive 150 miles one way to have a beer at my “local” pub (though State College, PA has some fine establishments).
As is often the case, the more unattainable something is, the more desirable it becomes. Historically, exotic meant hard to get, and hard to get meant expensive. So, by the transit of properties, the possession or consumption of exotic goods was an expression of one’s wealth. I think this has historically been one of the drivers for food to trend in the direction of the exotic. We also can’t overlook the simple pleasure of variety that exotic items contribute to. With exotic items so readily available perhaps the focus has shifted and now there is a trend toward fresh, pure, and local being desirable. I hope, as modern technology has given us the globe we have come to realize more value in our back yard. This, in some ways, brings us full circle back to the early days of Century Inn.
A luxury that we have here is our country setting. In some ways I consider local our zip code or immediate area, tending more toward the old ox-cart definition. It would certainly be difficult for me to consider something that came from out of state as local. There is a lot of agriculture very near to us and my intent is to utilize as much of it as I can. So, when we say that something is local, there is a degree of intimacy that cannot be delivered in a truck (at least not a box truck).