How Locavore Can You Go?

I like the locavore movement — I think in general it is a good thing to eat food grown as near you as possible. I’ve had some spirited debates about whether locavore was an elitist, bourgeois movement and how was it going to help feed huge numbers of starving people in the third world. I don’t have answers to that — and it opens an endless pandora’s box of food production and distribution issues. I just believe we could all benefit from choosing produce in season that comes from a little closer than Chile or New Zealand (unless you live in Chile or New Zealand, that is…). Even if for no other reason than, the food tastes so much better if it hasn’t traveled the globe and ripened in transit.

Extreme locavorism

But it does beg the question, how local can you get? For we Southern Californians, is it still local to eat food grown in the huge agricultural Central Valley, an hour or more away? Or should I be eating food grown even closer? There’s not much to eat in Malibu but sea lettuce.

Speaking of Malibu, we were staying at our friends Nadine & Andrew’s beach house last year (the former home of Steve McQueen, complete with excellent stories of drunken revelry), and I was out beachcombing with the kids. We passed through a rock tunnel accessible only at low tide, and on the other side were some big exposed rocks covered with barnacles. But they weren’t the usual crusty barnacles that cover ship hulls and whale skins — they were delicate and beautiful, crowning the top of a long fleshy tube, and looked familiar… And then I realized: percebes!

Also known as the gooseneck barnacle, percebes are an expensive delicacy in Spain. I’ve never actually had them; they look like one of the strangest things you could possibly eat. But I’ve heard they have a taste and texture reminiscent of crab, scallops and octopus — all of which are right in my culinary wheelhouse. And how cool to eat something you’ve just plucked off the rocks with your bare hands! We’re due to go back in April for another visit with the ghost of Steve McQueen, and all I’m thinking about are those barnacles. I wonder if our hosts would eat them? I’m sure McQueen would’ve — especially if he’d been drinking and you dared him.

Willa beachcombing, north Malibu, 2011

I guess the ultimate locavore would produce everything him or herself. We, of course, keep chickens which give us lots of eggs, we have a garden and fruit trees, we bake bread and we forage for mushrooms in the winter. It’s not self-sustaining, but it’s a start. I know people living within a short walk of our house who make wine, brew beer and preserve foods from their property. There’s one guy who drives the few miles down to the coast with his dive gear and comes back with several spiny Pacific lobsters. I wish everyone in our neighborhood produced something, and we could barter — I’d bring a dozen eggs to the beer maker in exchange for a gallon, and trade bread with the pig butcher for some bacon. It wouldn’t solve the world’s hunger issues. But I’m just one guy on one small piece of land with a dream, trying to make the world a little better one meal at a time.

To my friend on the beach, here’s my recommendation on what to do with your next seagull — they’re tough birds, you gotta cook ’em long and slow. I gave him a buck and told him I liked his sign. He said he liked my accent. Didn’t know I had one.

*   *   *

Braised seagull
serves one, poorly

1 seagull, freshly captured
2 tbsp. oil (not motor oil)
2 bottles cheap red wine (one for cooking, one for drinking)
1 cup sea water
sea salt
2 oz. sea lettuce

Catch a seagull. Remove all its feathers, clean and gut it. Build a fire. Put your pan on the fire, add the oil, and brown the seagull, turning once or twice with a stick. Add the bottle of wine and sea water and cover.

While the seagull is cooking, go down to the water — preferably at low tide. Find a rock with some crystallized salt on it, and collect. Step out onto the exposed rocks and gather some sea lettuce.

Go back to your fire. Some of your friends will likely have gathered around, drawn by the wonderful smell. Tell them to go find their own seagulls. Cook the seagull for 2-3 hours, until braising liquid has reduced by 80% to a thick sauce. Enjoy some wine while the bird is braising. Remove from heat. Adjust seasoning with sea salt from the rock.

Plate pieces of seagull. Add a few sprigs of sea lettuce to the plate for color and texture. Serve with a glass of your red wine. Give the leftovers and bones to your dog.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heather
    Mar 09, 2012 @ 00:44:29

    you totally have an accent… 🙂


  2. Lisa Gaskin
    Mar 09, 2012 @ 01:12:21

    ahahaha…ACCENT? Does that mean I have an accent too? What could it be?

    Jimbo can hunt the seagulls and remove feathers, and gut them 😉


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