WFAEats
8:00 am
Sun December 9, 2012

Eating Locally... Processed Food

Julie's locally-processed food feast.
Julie's locally-processed food feast.
Credit Julie Rose

Julie Rose reflects on the story behind her investigation of the foods processed in Charlotte. Read her full story here.

I got mostly blank looks when I asked food processors in Charlotte if they consider themselves part of the "local food" movement.  Sure "eat local" has come to mean dining on fresh produce, meat and dairy from nearby farms.  But aren't foods processed in Charlotte just as local?  I was surprised to discover more than 200 companies doing just that in the region - employing more than 15,000 workers and bringing in $5 billion in annual sales.

So, I resolved to round up a feast consisting entirely of locally-processed foods and visit a few of the factories where the foods are made: a small kitchen near uptown Charlotte churning out tubs of coleslaw, potato salad and pimento cheese; a pizza factory on the West side where Johnson & Wales chefs are on a quest for the perfect pizza dough; and a candy factory in Mooresville that makes some of the biggest-name cough drops and antacids around.

Back in middle school, before I decided to be a journalist, I was intent on becoming a "food scientist" (I'd seen a PBS show about the chemists who work to make junk food taste good and last longer.)  Exploring Charlotte's processed food industry made me wish I'd stuck with my original career plan!

Mom trained me to always put a fresh vegetable on my plate, but I set her advice aside for this feast and went processed all-the-way.  I didn't add up the calories, but it was sure and easy meal to serve. A few minutes in the microwave and voila!

Here's the local food feast I ended up with (and shared with some skeptical colleagues):

  • Perdue Chicken Nuggets
  • Stefano Foods Sausage, Ham and Cheese Stromboli
  • Ruth's Salad Coleslaw
  • Lance Crackers
  • Tropical Nut & Fruit trail mix
  • Kellogg Famous Amos Cookies
  • Cheerwine
  • Chewable, cherry-flavored antacids by BestSweet

As I write this, my stomach is still digesting all the fats and starches.  A nice, big salad of locally-grown produce is probably in order for this evening.  But next time I look to "eat local," I'll at least keep an open mind to the locally-processed options.