Devouring Our State of Deliciousness

How Oregon's edible bounty unites a state of transplants and loyal locals at the dinner table

By Zach Dundas September 2, 2014 Published in the September 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Geographic identity can be tricky for me. I often (after a few beers) proclaim allegiance to my birth-land of Montana, with the accompanying use of Carhartts as a fashion statement. On the other hand, I’m a liberal-artsy rootless cosmopolitan, full of opinions about European cities I’ve never visited and Brooklyn neighborhoods I will never live in. Citizen of the world, right? Or something?

But when I visit the Portland Farmers Market on Saturdays at Portland State University, say, blissful simplicity reigns. I become a rabid Oregonian patriot, ready to wrap myself in our ungainly beaver-adorned flag and belt out the state song. “Land of the Empire Builders / Land of the Golden West / Conquered and held by free men / Fairest and the best” ... well, it’s not very politically correct, but a pint of blueberries or a handful of padron peppers brings it out of me. Our farmers markets and locavore food movement may, in fact, be the last strongholds of indivisible Oregon. 

Thanks to that familiar urban-rural divide, Oregon can feel less like one big happy family than a mismatched brood that periodically gathers in Salem to feud over the old man’s will. Not at the markets. Amid bountiful stalls, we see a gathering of tribes, a United Nations of Oregon. Welcome, beef ranchers of the far Wallowas! Hail, kimchi entrepreneurs and kombucha purveyors of crunchy Southeast Portland! Lamb from Baker County sells alongside the fruit cornucopia of the Hood River Valley. Wild-harvested fungi from the Coast Range exist in harmony with mushrooms grown in Portland shipping containers. We even embrace agricultural refugees from the secessionist regime of Washington (or, as I like to call it, Northern Oregon). The real product is community.

Our “Food Lover’s Guide to Oregon” is Portland Monthly’s tribute to this vibrant version of our state, dedicated to the awesome farmers, fascinating issues, and compelling flavors that shape Oregon food culture. This is not the only hotbed of the farm-to-table ideal (Alice Waters blah blah blah—we hear you, California). But our growers, cooks, and dedicated eaters might represent the most heartfelt realization of the concept. Here, local food doesn’t just satisfy a trendy demand. It binds together a fragile but precious union: Oregon, the Land of the Golden West, rallying around grass-fed meats. 

Being an expansive state—19th-century borders, 21st-century problems—isn’t getting any easier. A bite of Oregon bounty, however, testifies to a place worth our loyalty, and maybe even an a cappella anthem. All together!

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