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The Economics of Local Food

Dec 15 2:44 pm

In light of the announcement of Somerville’s new Winter Farmers Market we invited community blogger Rachel Leah Blumenthal of Fork It Over, Boston! to share her wealth of knowledge on the local food economy. Rachel wrote this article for her master’s degree capstone project at Boston University’s Center for Science and Medical Journalism. This is an excerpt; please follow the link at the bottom of the post to read the full article.

Meat Meet Lamb Chops

Lamb chops from the Meat Meet

At 4:30 on a gray November afternoon, I stood alone in a parking lot near Central Square in Cambridge, warily waiting for a van. When it arrived, the driver swung open the back doors to reveal a refrigeration unit filled with coolers. Inside, I saw pork butt, lamb chops, liverwurst, pigs’ legs - meat of all kinds, neatly packaged in airtight plastic with printed labels. My apprehension lessened as others arrived and began to purchase meat.

This was a “Meat Meet,” a sporadic, unofficial version of a Community-Supported Agriculture program (CSA) organized by JJ Gonson, a private chef and “locavore,” and Katie Stillman, owner of Stillman’s at the Turkey Farm in Hardwick, a tiny town 20 miles west of Worcester. Several times a month throughout the winter, a Stillman’s van arrives at a pre-determined drop-off spot, and anyone can come and buy meat.

Word spreads mainly by mouth; I learned of the Meat Meet that very morning thanks to a vague message posted by Gonson on Twitter. It was the first Meat Meet of the season, and only five people, including me, showed up. The others stocked up on several meals’ worth of meat, but I just bought four lamb chops and prepared them for dinner that night. They were probably the most delicious lamb chops I had ever eaten.

This is what eating local food is all about - sometimes it takes a little bit of foraging to find it. From farmers markets to Meat Meets to CSAs (programs where you buy shares of a farm in exchange for produce), it can take a lot of time and effort to find, purchase, and cook exclusively local products.  Cost is a big issue as well: local food has earned the reputation of being an elitist movement, only available to those who can afford it. But when we stop looking at the prices solely from the consumer’s standpoint, it’s clear there’s a bigger picture.

Production costs, labor costs, and many other factors go into that number on the price tag, and though we’re used to seeing the artificially low prices that come out of the industrial food system, we can come to accept the “high” prices of food coming out of our local small farms as we examine the intangible benefits that those prices include. As Boston’s local food movement grows, the issues of affordability and accessibility will become more complex. However, a mix of policy changes, education, and cooperation between producers and consumers can lead to a better food system that benefits everyone.

Continue reading here.

A Night in Hell’s Kitchen

Aug 14 9:13 am

by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

No doubt about it: Hell’s Kitchen is trashy TV. Half the words are bleeped out, the plot follows the same predictable formula season after season, the female chefs are occasionally shown changing clothes for no apparent reason, and the personalities are larger than life (and often unlikable). I’ve gotten sucked into watching a few previous seasons, and I always tell myself it’s the last time I’ll watch hours of Gordon Ramsey’s incessant shouting. This season, however, two of the contestants were local: Jason Santos of Somerville’s own Gargoyles on the Square, along with Benjamin Knack of Sel de la Terre. Both chefs made it to the final four; Santos continued on to Tuesday night’s finale, where he ended up losing to Chef Holli Ugalde.

Gargoyles on the Square hosted viewing parties throughout the season.

The previous week, I was able to snag a dinner reservation at Gargoyles on the Square to watch the second-to-last episode and try out some of Santos’ signature dishes. My boyfriend, Joel, ordered from the special Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu, and my parents and I tried out the regular menu. Our meal had moments that perhaps appropriately resembled an authentic night in Hell’s Kitchen: some long waits and bad service but mostly delicious food. On a normal night without overcrowding and a blaring television, service is likely much better than what we experienced, based on what I’ve heard from friends who have eaten there in the past.

Some highlights: the sheer coolness of watching Santos compete on the show while he was right there in the dining room with us; Santos’ signature dish, the duck confit; a nice bottle of Bordeaux, once it finally arrived. The lowlights: having our entrees thrust onto the table before we were done with our appetizers, then waiting endlessly for dessert; waiting at least 45 minutes for our bottle of wine, which arrived after our entrees were already cleared (and receiving poor excuses from the servers we were able to grab during that long wait). We did receive a free dessert as an apology, but we were hoping to drink a bottle of wine with dinner, not with dessert.

Chef Jason Santos watches himself compete in the penultimate episode of Hell’s Kitchen (Season 7).

Sloppy service aside, the food was strong enough to merit a return trip on a non-event night. Santos’ artistry is evident in his dishes, and aside from the pork, which was a bit dry, we really enjoyed the food.

First Course


Heirloom tomato & wild arugula salad with marinated olives, goat’s milk feta, Greek vinaigrette (from the regular menu)


Simple house salad with baby greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion vinaigrette (from the regular menu)

Tuna tartare with avocado cream, crispy wonton strips, and mizuna (from the Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu)

Second Course


Signature hoisin & honey-glazed duck confit with sweet sticky rice, mango, cashews, and young coconut milk (from the regular menu)

Pan-roasted Statler chicken, potato puree, wilted spinach, marsala jus, shaved pancetta, and “caprese” garnish (from the regular menu)

BBQ-rubbed pork porterhouse with black truffle creamed corn, asparagus, fried onions, and goat cheese cream (from the Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu)

Third Course


Vanilla cheesecake with fresh strawberries, caramel sauce, and powdered sugar (from the Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu)

Passion fruit tart with orange-buttermilk sorbet, mangoes, and coconut anglaise (from the Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu)

Personal feelings about Hell’s Kitchen’s trashiness aside, it was a good deal of fun to cheer on a local chef in his own restaurant with a bunch of fans. While it’s sad that he didn’t win the competition, at least Somerville will get to keep Chef Santos!


Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Jul 18 1:13 pm

Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a science and food writer, photographer, and musician. She currently plays with two Somerville bands, The Bowties and The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library. Born and raised in Sharon, Massachusetts, she holds a BS in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and an MS in Science Journalism from Boston University. Check out Rachel’s blog at and her website at

Filed under: Blogger Bio

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