Agriculture | Sustainability | Ecotrope

Portlandia's three degrees of organic chicken

Ecotrope | Jan. 19, 2011 1:18 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:42 p.m.

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OK, it’s official. Everyone – even my good friend in Lincoln, Nebraska – is talking about Portlandia. Apparently there have been commercials on TV leading up to the show’s Friday premier on the Independent Film Channel, and the first episode (see above) is already up on the Web.

As you’ll see, the show pokes fun at Portlanders’ fixation on making sure their food is local, ethical and environmentally sustainable. It actually takes one of the show’s couples five years to consider – and then decide against – ordering chicken at Portland’s Gilt Club. And that’s after the server presents a dossier on the dead chicken, Colin, who was raised on an organic farm 30 miles south of Portland on sheep’s milk, soy and hazelnuts with 4 acres of range to roam. Is it USDA organic, Oregon organic, Portland organic? Who knew there were three degrees of organic?

So, now I have to admit I’ve grilled a few servers to that degree before ordering seafood. I stopped short of a visit to the actual fishing boat that caught the restaurant’s fish, but if I could’ve gone I probably would’ve.

I’ve learned so much about commercial fisheries as a reporter that now I can hardly stand not knowing where my fish came from. Atlantic farm-raised salmon? Forget it! Chinese tilapia? Yeah right. As Carrie Brownstein told David Miller on OPB’s Think Out Loud last week, the sketches in Portlandia start out in reality, move into the absurd and end in the surreal. I can vouch for the first part.

I interviewed Portland chef Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place Bistro and Bar after Oregon’s first certified sustainable Dungeness crab dinner last month. I asked him how important sustainability is to his customers, expecting he would say it was important, yada-yada. But I was surprised by the level of detail he gave me in response. People want to know where their food comes from, how it was grown, who grew it, how it got to the restaurant, and how it was prepared: “It’s not just a hot topic,” he said, “it’s a heated subject.” So Paley does his homework on the food in his restaurant. Local, sustainable food? “I don’t know any other kind,” he said.

How much attention do you give to eating local, sustainable and ethically raised food? Do you pay more for food with certifications and traceability? I’ve heard debates over whether it’s better to eat locally grown food even if it’s not organic because of the energy expended in transporting organic foods longer distances. I’ve read stories about how it’s more energy efficient to eat frozen fish than fresh because fresh fish is often flown in while frozen can be trucked. When do you care, and when do you stop caring?

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