Chewin’ in Charleston

Noshette and I went down south to Charleston, South Carolina, to attend a wedding of an old childhood friend of hers and we did a little bit of Ethicureanating while we were there. (once the word Ethicurean gets an entry in the dictionary, we’ll have to figure out how to conjugate it.)

A quick bit of Googling got us to a restaurant called FIG, a place that strives to be "an unpretentious neighborhood restaurant, with professional service, a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere, and an affordable regional menu with honest and simple preparations." The food was good, but I was unimpressed with their efforts at maintaining a local menu. None of the meat on the menu that night was local, and when I asked about which vegetables were local, our waiter told us that they try to get as much local food as they can but could not really tell me what was local. This lame answer did not placate my appetite for sustainable food in a supposedly sustainable and local restaurant, so I asked our waiter to inquire to the chef about each vegetable on the menu seperately. Almost none of it was local. The waiter told me that it was too cold in Charleston on October and that they had to import most of their food – but the beets were definitely local. I let him know that I lived in a place much, much colder than Charleston and we weres still eating local vegetables. I don’t know if we were there on a bad week or if the owners are just trying to ride the "local" trend", knowing that most consumers do not ask questions, but they should get their act together. Our meal was tasty but not worth writing much more about, but ultimately, it was more "local" than many Charleston restaurants.

The rest of our trip was shrimp-tastic. I discovered a well-hidden web page on the South Carolina Aquarium website called the Sustainable Seafood Initiative, which has a list of ‘Sustainable Seafood Restaurant Partners’. We ate at several of these restaurants – some of them sugeested by people unawares that we were searching for local, sustainable shrimp. If you are wondering how shrimping can be sustainable, a question that I wanted an answer to, please read their website.

In between wedding receptions, cocktail parties, and other less formal get-togethers, we spent a leisurely Saturday morning at the Charleston Farmers Market, which was more of an outdoor market with some farmers selling their wares. One booth I wanted to find was Alber’s Dairy, which sells raw milk. I had a quick bowl of shrimp and grits, and then did a quick walk-around until I found their stall. To my disappointment, they were out of raw milk. My initial disappointment turned into apprecaition for the situation, because that is the risk of buying real food. Real Food runs out, except for Hellmans, which isn’t actually ‘real food’ in my book, but has patented itself as such.

I wanted a little something to take home with me as a souvenir of our great trip to Charleston, but a key chain or fridge magnet wasn’t going to properly reflect our experience. After so many days of eating sustainable shrimp for breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost every day, what I really wanted to take home was more shrimp. I hopped over to Mount Pleasant Seafood (which is on the list of sustainable seafood vendors) and bought nine pounds of fresh shrimp. I packed each pound seperately in a ziploc bag filled with water and stowed it all in a styrofoam cooler. When I got home, all the shrimp was frozen solid and there wasn’t a drop of water in the cooler. I felt bad about the styrofoam. but I didn’t dare throw it out and I use it to this day to lug food around when I am on a road trip.

3 Responsesto “Chewin’ in Charleston”

  1. Courtney says:

    I’ve also eaten at FIG and other Carolina restaurants that try to be local and sustainable. I live in the Carolinas now but previously lived in the Seattle area. So I feel pretty qualified to tell you that the state of SOLE food in the South is dismal. I don’t blame the chefs at FIG because he’s right, though as you suggest the weather isn’t necessarily to blame. Trying to find local vegetables in the winter and local meat anytime of the year is a heartbreaking process. There are a few rays of hope of course, and it is my sincerest desire that there will be more and more as the South slowly breaks out of her styrofoam shell. I’m glad you found the shrimp though. :)

  2. Lindsay says:

    I love Alber’s Dairy (or Green Grocier as they are called)! I live near their farm and was invited to attend the daily milking when I first started buying their raw milk. I can honestly attest to George and Celeste’s hard work on the farm to make sure they have the happiest cows and chickens around. It is a beautiful thing to see. It’s too bad you didn’t get to try their milk because it is truely a wonderful treat. I believe they raise some beef cattle, and I’m pretty sure they sell the fresh grass-fed beef when it becomes available.

  3. Peter aka Nosher of the North says:

    Courtney – You’re right – it is disappointing. The small-scale farmers seem to be there, but the restaurants just aren’t making an effort. Perhaps the customers need to first be educated as to what is actually happening to their food, and then maybe they will begin to make demands on the people who are feeding them.

    Lindsay – I will one day return to Charleston, and I will taste the Alber’s delicious raw milk.