My wife and I have been traveling along the California coast this past week. One of things we've been impressed by is just how much of this state is devoted to food. We passed through a region calling itself a "salad bowl," and a city proclaiming itself to be "the artichoke center of the world." We visited one city just before it could celebrate its garlic festival, and another on the edge of celebrating an olive festival. We regularly travel down highways that run parallel to cattle farms, and see various forms of grain and produce being grown, and often sold at small wooden roadside vendors. It is hard to escape the reality that food is a large part of California's identity.
One of the things we've made an effort to do when possible has been to try to enjoy some of the food that makes each region we're passing through special. When we were in one particular seaside town, for example, we made sure to stop at a local seafood restaurant. In other area, we stopped by a particular bakery that serveed the most amazing Danish treats. In yet another, we found a unique little pizza place that served a vegetarian pizza unlike any we've ever eaten before (for those who are wondering, no, we're not vegetarian. That doesn't mean we don't enjoy vegetarian food now and again).
I've got to admit, all of this food-based fun does come at a bit of a risk for me. It's not that I have any particular food allergies, as some of my friends have to struggle with. It's just that I'm a creature of habit. I like to go to places that I trust, and trust is built through past experience. Generally speaking, I'd much rather go to a Taco Bell than an independent Mexican food place because I know that, whatever Taco Bell I go to (and Taco Bell's often less-than-stellar reputation notwithstanding), I know what I'm going to get. Going to an independent restaurant that I've never been to before means that all bets are off. Anything could be arriving on that plate! A lot of my friends would (and probably will) point out that there's a justice issue at play here. The money you give to an independent establishment goes much more fully into that community, while the money you give to a fast food restaurant is more likely to go to some faraway business owner who doesn't necessarily care about the well-being of the people in the community of the specific restaurant you were eating at. These are real issues, but they are often trumped for me by my need to know what I'm getting.
So this trip is perhaps an adventure in more ways than one. I'm happy to say that we've been enjoying ourselves so far.