The West Midlands is awash with wonderful produce but restaurants are still not buying it, according to The Birmingham Post restaurant critic Alison Davison...
Food is more than just something to fill our (rarely empty) bellies. At its best - and that doesn't mean necessarily complex and highfalutin', in fact more likely the opposite - it is life-enhancing.
The satisfaction that food offers us depends on many different factors. It has to suit our mood and environment - and a key part of this is where it comes from.
Local food, as a matter of course, means following the seasons. It is a product of our weather, as we are. We're more affected by these things than we are conscious of and local food makes a natural sort of sense to us.
All of us have a sense of place, however deep down, which makes eating local food more satisfying. Anyone who grows their own fruit or veg knows this.
It's not just the sense of achievement or of providing - though those count too - but the satisfaction of eating something which has come from the land you stand on. There's an innate sense of rightness about it.
We're regaining an awareness of the importance of local food and consequently a whole new breed of regional food producers has sprung up.
We have a new-found confidence in the standard of fare we can provide for ourselves.
In the Midlands, we have a treasure chest of fantastic food - and drink too.
Worcestershire asparagus, Herefordshire cider, Marches beef and lamb, superb local cheeses, the best apples and strawberries anywhere in the world, small craft breweries, the list goes on and on. We seek it out greedily in farmers' markets, farm shops and delis and, crucially, we're happy to pay more for it.
But how often do you see regional produce on the menus of Birmingham restaurants? Rarely, sadly, although an increasing number of restaurants elsewhere in the region have had the sense to spot the trend and follow it.
There are many reasons for Brum's reluctance. Restaurants, especially large, busy ones, need a reliability and quantity that (they say) can sometimes rule out the smaller producer. Aspirational restaurants like to use unusual ingredients which have to be sourced elsewhere (Rungis market in Paris being a particular favourite) or may genuinely believe that other produce is superior.
If the restaurant is part of a chain, as so many city eateries are, buying will be done centrally, which rules out seeing what the farmer a few miles away has to offer.
But often, I'm sure, it's just laziness. Chefs have got into a routine of doing things the way they've always done them without being bothered to find out what's on their own doorsteps or try to source local suppliers. Let's hope this is their wake-up call.
A restaurant's cheeseboard is often the best example of this. How often is it just a cliched, sad collection of French soft cheese with an over-ripe hunk of Stilton thrown in for good measure? There's no excuse for this. Cheeses are one area in which our region excels and the best of them should be on every cheeseboard of every restaurant that rates itself.
Most of us are already converts to the gorgeousness of what our own area produces. It's high time more restaurants followed suit. Let's see some pride in our region.
* Alison Davison is also editor of a new quarterly regional food and drink magazine for the Midlands called Foodie. For details visit www.thefoodie.co.uk