After being away for over 2 weeks, I have a greater appreciation of the kind of food I have access to. I live 2 blocks from a weekly farmer’s market where I can get seasonal produce, pasture-raised beef and chicken, humanely raised pork, fresh dairy, good breads, etc. There are countless supermarkets and gourmet shops selling amazing food products. In the parts of NYC that I frequent, organic is just as accessible as conventional. I can go to restaurants that sell local, market ingredients not mystery meat from a mass distributor like Sysco. I don’t have to rely on Wal-Mart for all of my shopping (more on that in a later post).
Being away from this cornucopia is eye-opening. In and around the national parks, from Wyoming to Canada, it was mostly the same menu no matter where we ate. One night we went to a place just north of Yellowstone that served trout. I asked the young waiter if it was caught locally. “Oh I don’t know, it’s from Sysco.” That’s as far as the provenance went, the largest nationwide food distributor. My boyfriend ordered something I wouldn’t go near: chicken fried steak. I’m not sure you could call what was on his plate “steak,” it was indeed mystery meat. Outside of Glacier, 400 miles north, we went to another place and I swear the menu was the same, barring a few personal twists. I wonder if the people living out there think about where their food comes from.
We did find a few exceptions to the homogeneous dining rule. In West Yellowstone, a cute little cafe with some Thai-inspired dishes. Even within Yellowstone itself, wild Alaskan Salmon and locally caught whitefish that’s Marine Stewardship Council certified; plus fair-trade, organic coffee from Green Mountain (which my boyfriend said was delicious). On the way to Glacier, a cute little sandwich shop in a town called Ovando (pop. ~71). In St Mary’s, Montana, a great little cafe with lots of vegetarian options and good local food. In Waterton, Canada, a restaurant we went back to twice just because it was rare to find well-prepared, quality food elsewhere.
While we did find these rare gems — in most cases at the recommendation of park rangers (don’t worry, we won’t mention your names!) — they were few and far between. What I need to keep in mind is that these were seasonal places we visited. The parks aren’t fully functional for most of the year. They get most of their visitors from July to August with some coming in mid-June and September. And I’m sure most folks who live out there don’t eat out that often — if they do I’d hope there are some local hidden gems the tourists don’t know about yet. Somehow, I doubt it.