I finally had the chance to breathe after returning to Florida from my vacation to my hometown, El Paso. It was wonderful to see the family and old friends, but upon my return to Orlando, a troubling question danced around my mind….. was I returning home? Had I just not left my actual home to come back to the city I am currently living in? Where is my home by the way? What is Home?
Home: as defined by Merriam-Webster is a place of residence, a domicile. Which will then make my home to be Florida. Yet, as I scroll down, I see another definition: a place of origin, which would make far west Texas my home. So which is it?
Before exploring the question of where home is to me, I had to go back and look at myself. What I have become is a chef, passionate about food and empowered to teach those around me about the importance of a local food movement and supporting farmers who provide the freshest ingredients. I believe in the Food Revolution. While to some it may seem like a far fetched idealistic fantasy, I stand by my firm belief that proper food education can cure many of the ailments that we suffer as a society, from staggering obesity numbers to contaminated water sources polluted by CAFOs and other corporations that have turned food into a for-profit commodity. Access to healthy food is a basic human right.
In Orlando, urban gardens in schools and local communities have popped up like wild mushrooms during a rainy tropical season. Edible magazine issues stand proudly stand on the front entrances to many locally owned cafes and health food stores. There are now more farm markets than fingers on both of my hands. These markets, like the wild mushrooms, pop up in vacant lots, university campuses, and public parks. The people of Florida are demanding fresh, local food; chefs, farmers, and local organizers are delivering.
This issue resonated in my head even more as I embarked in the Saturday ritual to buy fresh produce. I did not have trouble finding a farm market, the trouble was trying to decide which one to go to because I seemed to be flooded with choices. During my visit in El Paso, I cooked A LOT! My family wanted me to make pizzas, curries, pastas, salads, everything imaginable. Finding the freshest ingredients to make all that food was not so easy. Of curse, El Paso enjoys the culinary delights of Mexican cuisine. Mini markets are present in almost every neighborhood. They offer chiles, tomatillos, avocados, beans, and other staple Mexican foods. However, the most worrying trend I saw in my beloved border city was the presence of the Wal-Mart. Remember those wild mushrooms? The infamous corporate giant is making its way into every area of El Paso, offering its usual serving of market saturation that causes the closure of locally owned grocery stores. What was even more surprising to me was the permanent promotion that Wal-Mart offers its shoppers. They match the weekly specials of ANY other grocery store when the shopper brings in the weekly special flyer!!!!! And people ( my family included) shop here with so much ease, oblivious to the damage that they are causing other small businesses. This is what was so dissapointing about my trip back home. It seems that I have very strong convictions about food to the point that being in a community that does not value food the way I do is depressing to me.
All of this analyzing brought me to the next question… What do I do about this? Do I stay in a place where I am happily living among those who think just like me? Or do I explore ways to make my HOMEtown a more educated place when it comes to food? Using my platform as a chef and enlisting the help of other chefs in El Paso who might be as passionate as I am on this subject, the latter seems like a great way to help the community. However, with some of the highest grossing chain restaurants in the nation, I doubt the community wants any help. And so I remain undecided as to where home is.