Saturday, January 22, 2011

Food artisans create local flavor

Remember that old saying, Keep Austin Weird? A fun and charming recent article in the Washington Post travel section set out to determine whether the city’s weirdness has kept pace with its growth. (You can substitute the word “weird” with distinctive, countercultural or non-corporatized and probably get a more accurate idea of what's at stake.) Austin’s “weirdness protection program” is being copied by other cities that want to do things like keep big chain bookstores away from local independent favorites. Red Wassenich, the local college professor who “uttered the phrase that launched a thousand bumper stickers,” summarizes the current situation in Austin by saying that his main concern is that weirdness requires a cost of living that artists and musicians and other creative types can afford. "Now we have the highest cost of living in Texas," the professor says. "Most weirdos don't have a lot of money."

Attribute its popularity to the lure of the local… local flavor is appealing and it contributes to greater life satisfaction. In the winter issue of Yes! Magazine (Theme: What Happy Families Know: The Good Life? It’s Close to Home) “radical homemaker” Shannon Hayes recounts her own story of trading a high-powered career for a simpler one raising grass-fed meat on her family’s multi-generational ranch (and discovering that the good life costs far less than she anticipated it would.) And in his book Deep Economy, Bill McKibben reflects on what it would mean to create an economy that honors emotional, spiritual, social and human values as well as purely financial ones.

There's also a new documentary making the rounds that explores this idea that localizing economies leads to greater happiness. McKibben is one of the modern thinkers and philosophers who make an appearance. Take a moment to watch the trailer at

Liz Rosenbaum believes in creating a local food economy. A former history teacher, this month she started selling homemade soups through a cooperative agreement with Gotta Love It, the new commercial kitchen in Old Colorado City. She’ll be offering a soup-making class at Ranch Foods Direct on Saturday, Feb. 12 at 10 a.m. Call the store at 473-2306 to sign up.

Gotta Love It is working energetically to get several new small businesses like the one Liz is starting off the ground and thriving. They’ve already had 22 individuals sign up as part of their gourmet food cooperative. Hethyr Pletsch — a faithful Ranch Foods Direct customer who has led cooking classes at the store and provided recipes for the newsletter — is now partnering with them in order to streamline and expand her business. Her deliciously creamy homemade ice creams are already being sold in the Gotta Love It retail space and have a wonderfully different texture from commercial versions. (She was also recently featured in an article in the Colorado Springs Gazette, “Think you can’t afford a personal chef? Think again.” If you’re by chance someone who doesn’t love to cook or doesn’t have time for it, I’d recommend Hethyr: she is creative, neat, organized, particular about ingredients, and health conscious, but in a common-sense way… all the qualities you want in a person preparing your food.)

Gotta Love It’s been hosting weekend “street fairs” in front of 2521 West Colorado Avenue, inviting people to stop by, sample the products and meet the artisans. What a great way to discover some local food artists, the kind of people who give a community its flavor and make it a one-of-a-kind place to live.