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The New York Times: Portland Journal - The Pride and Prejudice of 'Local'
Author: By William Yardley
Posted: July 8, 2010

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/09/us/09local.html?_r=1

PORTLAND, Ore. - Eric Bechard is perfecting the new provincialism.
At his restaurant in the nearby wine country, he strives to serve beef and produce only from farms he has visited. The ling cod he caught when he took his 10-year-old daughter fishing off the Oregon coast? It made the menu. The rustic shelves in his kitchen were, naturally, reclaimed from a nearby barn.

Yet some say Mr. Bechard went too far the night he came to blows over a pig. "Somebody," he said later, "needed to be held accountable."

More later on the brawl. Suffice it to say, it was more than just a food fight: Portland is confronting the contradictions that come when keeping it local makes for global success.

As the city's corner coffee shops, indie bands and handmade bicycles have gained national and international renown, becoming - gasp - brand names, cries of corporatism have followed them.

In another city, it might seem a quaint debate. Not here.

"How do you maintain quality and get to a size where you can sustain yourself?" asked Charles Heying, a professor at Portland State University and the author of "Brew to Bikes: Portland's Artisan Economy," to be published in November, locally and on recycled paper.

Portland ranks high nationally for its rate of entrepreneurship, as measured by things like self-employment and the number of small businesses. Even during the recession, some local independent restaurants and manufacturers have increased sales and opened new outlets.

While other states lost workers, Oregon's labor force grew because people kept coming. The livability crowd led the way: young, white, well-educated people drawn to an outdoor - and local - lifestyle.

"We get people who self-select," said Joe Cortright, a longtime economist here. "And there's no fervor like the converted."

That does not mean the local economy has figured out how to absorb the stream of newcomers: the Portland area's unemployment rate was 10.2 percent in May, compared with 9.7 percent nationally.

In its song "Portland Sucks," the local band White Fang pokes profanely at everything from the city's joblessness to its self-obsession and sometimes counterintuitive rigidity, from "angry vegans" to outspoken disciples of do-it-yourself ("DIY") culture - localism in the extreme.

"Being elitist about it is kind of counterproductive," said Erik Gage, 21, the band's lead singer, who noted that he loves living in Portland. "You can argue about it, but I think one of the most important things about localism is getting along with the locals."

If you can figure out who they are.

Duane Sorenson, who founded Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland in 1999, is originally from another coffee capital, the Puget Sound region of Washington. Stumptown, named for one of the city's early nicknames, now has cafes in Seattle, New York and Amsterdam. Predictably enough, it has lost a few fans in Portland as it has expanded.

"I don't even go to Stumptown," said Paul Sykes, who makes bike fenders and bottle holders out of wood. "I go to a more local place."

Not that Mr. Sykes opposes growth. Most of his business comes from the Internet.

"I sell these things all over the world," he said of his products. "That's the only way I can make any money."

It was against this push-pull between big and small, profitability and livability, ambition and identity, that a pig prompted punches the night Cochon 555, an exclusive national culinary contest, came to Portland.

Before things got ugly that night, the pigs' pasts were a concern for several people attending the event. "Misrepresentation!" they chanted in the back of the room at the Governor Hotel. Mr. Bechard was the most passionate among them.

For Mr. Bechard, it came down to this: never should a pig from Kansas or Iowa have even been entered in the contest; it only made it worse that the Iowa pig won. After all, there are Red Wattle heritage pigs raised right here in Oregon. The chefs who competed work in Oregon, and most promote locally produced food.

"I get there and I get the flier and I'm immediately sickened because I'm seeing ‘local,' ‘sustainable,' ‘local farms,' ‘local chefs,' ‘local wine,' " Mr. Bechard recalled, "and then two of the pigs are from Kansas and Iowa? I'm looking at my friend and he said, ‘Eric, just let it go.' "

Many hours and drinks and insults later, witnesses told police Mr. Bechard was the aggressor when he encountered Brady Lowe, the event's Atlanta-based organizer, outside a bar. Words were hurled and fists flew. The police came, firing Tasers and pepper spray.

Mr. Lowe, who said his leg was fractured in the fight, said Mr. Bechard "missed the big picture" of Cochon 555.

"To grow you need to bring in ideas from the outside or you're just living in a closed community," he added.

This year Cochon 555 is using heritage breeds, pigs raised with care by select small farms rather than by huge slaughterhouses.

Jason Barwikowski, the chef at Olympic Provisions, won the Portland contest by reducing the Iowa pig to ravioli, niblets and banh mi sandwiches. Mr. Bechard has plenty of critics. They say that he can be volatile and pretentious and that his stand for local pork made little sense. Mr. Bechard says the pig fight has created a teachable moment for how to live locally.

He says he is trying harder than ever to do just that - just no longer in Portland. A year ago he opened a restaurant called Thistle, 40 miles southwest, in the rich agricultural and winemaking region surrounding McMinnville.

Mr. Bechard says his goal is to eventually run the restaurant solely with food from surrounding Yamhill County. Every local connection he makes and every local dollar he spends, he believes, strengthens his ties to the economic and political future of the place he lives. He says that kind of a commitment makes a place, any place, better.

One of Thistle's suppliers, Manuel Recio, a former advertising executive who decided to become a vegetable farmer several years ago, said Mr. Bechard should not have gotten into a fistfight. Yet, he also told of Portland chefs who blend imported strawberries into desserts whose ingredients are misleadingly labeled as locally grown. He said Mr. Bechard had a point.

"It was great to finally have someone call people out on it," Mr. Recio said.