Monday, June 27, 2011
Orcas Tour: Doe Bay, Salmon and Oysters, Becoming an Infovore
On the drive out to Doe Bay, we turn down a tiny gravel road and stop at the salmon hatchery.
Hatchery is a step towards a sustainable middle ground for fisheries--instead of trapping the salmon in pens until ready for harvesting, a hatchery nurtures the salmon's natural lifecycle, making sure that the fish get a full period of growing fresh, swimming to sea, and coming home again before being fished. It's a little like being a free-range chicken: the salmon are watched and nurtured, but never contained. Using the techniques first developed by the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest, hatcheries use man-made channels built into the natural landscape to easily funnel the fish to and from freshwater ponds. During the first part of their lives, in which they grow in freshwater, the hatchery workers clip the adipose fin (the little nubbin near the fish's tail, a vestigal fin that doesn't affect their swimming) to identify the future grown fish as wild hatchery fish.
Harvested but sustainable food is not an oxymoron--what it requires is a deliberate practice of living one's life in harmony with the natural rhythms of the world. As Chris explains to me over breakfast at Doe Bay, the resort on this end of the Island, living on Orcas often means being more in touch with your surroundings. I slurp up my breakfast (a ridiculously flavorful duck egg poached in olive oil, served over spicy greens, tomatoes, smoked mushrooms, and grits), and envy his early morning patterns: wake up, go for a walk, swim, sweat, eat a good breakfast, work on his garden and boat. All this before coming into work, where he crafts beautiful ingredients into gorgeous dishes for the community to enjoy. The last few years have been rough for Chris, with a series of personal setbacks, but he's actively pursuing a more balanced, happy life, and it shows in the way he carries himself in the kitchen. If someone has made something he loves, he'll bound over to them, eyes wide with glee, and say, "What's in this?" He brings energy and joy to his work, and it's not clear if that's a byproduct of the Island or just one of his natural traits.
It's something that's in full swing as we walk around the resort after breakfast--unlike the space at Rosario, replete with gorgeous architecture and luxurious amenities, Doe Bay is more like an adult summer camp (with more youth-friendly pricing). Cabins and yurts cover the property, which looks out over the gorgeous Otter Cove and a small private beach, and there are open-air hot tubs, saunas, and massage and yoga studios.
WWOOF program, which connects people to local farms for seasonal work. They receive a small stipend, room and board, and in return work in gardens and in the local community. It's a great educational experience, as well as great enthusiastic staff for the summer season.
George emerges from the trees and gives us a hearty hello on his way out to town. He points out his ducks as we make our way to the exit--it's a good thing he pointed, because otherwise I'd never have spotted them, perfectly camouflaged as they are against the tool shed...
But I have my doubts: could this engagement with food's origin story continue to a more remote location? Would people really like to know where their food comes from, if they can't easily get to the farm, the fishery, the picked-over woods? Can you call yourself a locavore if your ingredients are local, but not your information? Surely thrilling at a flavorful seafood dish sits at one end of the foodie spectrum, and way at the other end is those who know all about the salmon's life cycle, from the freshwater krill to the saltwater growth to the suicidal mission towards reproduction. But I have to believe that being a foodie means, at least for a good chunk of those who would claim the title, having an investment in food's backstory, being interested in how dishes and culinary experiences come together over a long period of time. At tonight's pizza, which sold like crazy, a little boy was so fascinated by Annie's rolling out the dough and decorating the pizzas that he had to literally be dragged back to his parents' side to select his choice of soda. (He went with Jamaican Ginger Ale.) Another little girl said, when she approached the table with her parents, "I'm not hungry, so I don't want one," but came back with dustings of flour and tomato sauce on her face, saying "I'm still hungry--it was yummy!"
There are many stages to being a locavore: you can buy regionally, buy locally, buy neighborly. On an island like Orcas, much more so than an island like Manhattan, you can buy your greens from one farmer, your fruits from another, your eggs from your neighbor's coop, your fish from your local fishermen, and your oysters from the beach a mile away. If you go one step farther, where buying food is tantamount to buying information, you might as well be an "infovore" as well--someone whose experience of food comes from knowing it intimately. There's a reason New Englanders will pay $8 per person to go picking at the height of berry or apple season--they like the proximity to the experience of getting their food. They pay to know the heft of a bag of freshly picked apples, the finger pricks of a raspberry bush, the heatstroke of a day spent in fruit fields. They live vicariously through their food.
At your moment of deepest involvement and immersion, food transforms your state of mind--not just what you know, but how much you determine is worth knowing. There is a vast difference between picking over fillets of salmon at a good grocery store, and learning the science of how a fish should live and die. Knowing that tomatoes and strawberries withstand Bikram-level heat for months in a greenhouse makes you savor the ripe sweetness of the fruit even more. Munching on tonight's pizza--carrying the last seven oysters, a juicy, salty addition to the sweet tomato and herb crust--I know that my mind has been changed by what I've learned, what I've seen goes into the food I eat. A dish tastes richer because I know not only where its components have come from, but also what stories it contains.