A Publication of WTVP

Regarding our food choices, let’s really go fresh, local

by Dr. David Tennant | Photo by Ron Johnson |
Copi cooked and served at Kelleher's in Downtown Peoria
Copi cooked and served at Kelleher's in Downtown Peoria

Ever wonder why a shoe produced and shipped from halfway around the world is cheaper than a shoe made halfway across town?

Assuming you can even find a shoe made locally. Which you can’t, because it’s too expensive. It’s an amazing feature of an integrated world economy. Transportation is cheap. Cheaper than you think, around 30 cents a pair, or one minute, 12 seconds of time at a $15-an-hour wage. The distance feels big, but it is a near irrelevant part of the price.

All in, this is a net positive. I can think of alternative uses for whatever money I save on shoes, and likely so can you. But it’s not all good, and where it’s potentially causing problems is with food and health.

Every now and again, restaurants will open promising locally sourced this or that, and good on them. I’ve never understood restaurants opening in middle America promising the best Maine lobster or Maryland crab. No question those things are great, and I’m looking forward to trying them next time I’m in those regions, but I don’t need it down the street. Also, it’s unnecessary. 

Fishing the Illinois River has been a thing for as long as Illinois has existed, indeed longer. I see no reason to stop now.

I’ll get to my point. Where’s my Asian carp? Supposedly they’re everywhere and edible. But it’s assumed nobody wants them, so hardly anybody serves them, so hardly anybody has tried them, so hardly anybody can order them, which proves nobody wants them …

In the last piece I wrote for Peoria Magazine, I brought up someone suffering from dizziness. I should have asked if he got dizzy after listening to the circular illogic around our local fish.

There are parts of china where they eat so much carp that there are quotas

There’s a theory out there that the issue is the name, and that we shouldn’t be calling it Asian carp anymore. It’s Copi now. I have my doubts that people are that superficial, but fine. More important is the substance, cooking this thing up and serving it in a readily available, delicious way.

In the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, there is a dish called gefilte fish. It’s ground white fish poached and served with carrot and horseradish. No searing, no Maillard reaction, and no bones. Besides carrots and horseradish, turnips have the texture and taste of a radish. A ground white fish dish of the shtetl, redone with central Illinois ingredients: It’s a $10 million idea and it’s my gift to any taker. All I want is to try it.

There are parts of China where they eat so much carp that there are quotas on the overfishing of these flying, potentially concussion-causing jerks of the river. Covered in corn starch, shallow fried, and dipped in a sauce of light soy, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, sambal and honey, with green onion to garnish. Hook that up.

Alas, instead of fresh, local food we get the same frozen, cheap-to-transport stuff as everywhere else.

I’m a doctor who specializes in obesity. I also cook for a hobby and have a passing understanding on the subject, on why it’s nutritious — or not — and how to make it taste good. I spend a lot of time talking to people about their diets and teaching them how to cook.

Talking about food is the most fun I have as a doctor. But I will invariably get asked, “So what do I do when I’m hungry and don’t have time to cook? Where can I go, in a hurry, to avoid all the overly processed stuff?”

It’s a good question. I ask it myself all the time. Here’s the best, most honest answer I can come up with: Nowhere.

David Tennant

David Tennant, M.D.

is a family medicine physician at UnityPoint Health who specializes in obesity management. He lives in Trivoli.