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  • Theodore Peed's Turtle Party
  • Bernard L. Herman (bio)

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There are no invitations to Theodore Peed's turtle party, just a general awareness of the date and place and the understanding that family, neighbors, and friends inclined toward a game dinner are welcome. Snapping turtles are the big draw, and collecting enough for the event is a community project. The party is "just my thing for my friends," he says. True enough, but it is also Peed's celebration of community and his recognized place in it. Photographs courtesy of the author.

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Two events mark the fall social season on the lower Eastern Shore of Virginia—H. M. Arnold's Bayford Oyster House Bash and Theodore Peed's Turtle Party. Venison barbecue anchors the late September menu at Bayford; an array of snapping turtle dishes, including fried turtle with "50 weight gravy," tempt the attendees at Peed's. Potluck dishes, savory and sweet, supplement the spread. For several years the two events occurred on succeeding weekends, but the stamina required for attending both, much less hosting them, exceeded the energies and dedication of all but the passionately committed. Eventually Arnold and Peed, longtime friends, agreed to a longer recuperative interval. On a bright, warm, windy morning in the changing days of mid-October, 2010, and three weeks after the Bayford Bash, Peed and his family were deep into turtle party preparations.

Theodore Peed is a generous and impressive man with an operatic laugh. Lean, muscular, and energetic, he moves easily through cooking tasks. His salt-and-pepper hair and beard lend him a patriarchal air, and he speaks with a voice to match—a richly deep and rumbly voice that resonates part growl, part oratory. "Everything I do is simple," he says. "You don't need to be fancy just to cook good." Peed savors big flavors, too. Recalling the longed-for taste of bitter greens, he declares, "That first bite will knock your socks off, man! It'll make you cry! It'll shock you! Like a shot of liquor!" In the bustle of preparations, he greets friends and strangers alike with genuine enthusiasm. The legendary hospitality and humor of his garage kitchen stand as an open invitation. On the day of the turtle party, he muses, "I don't know if I'll do this again. It's a lot of work and expense. This could be the last one." Everyone who knows him understands, hopefully, that this is just Peed talking. The consensus among those helping with the preparations is that, of course, there will be a turtle party next year.

Locavorism as Connoisseurship

Locavorism, William Neuman observed in the New York Times, relies on "A core belief . . . that food from small, local producers is inherently better and safer than food made by large, faceless corporations."1 In this formulation, locavorism translates the vitality of food culture into the safety and quality of foodstuffs. The blurring of commodity culture and food culture is an easy habit that enjoys histories as old as the birth of exchange relations between human beings, including their relationships with spirit worlds. In the early twenty-first century, it also harbors, however innocently, an unarticulated point-of-view that posits the search for quality and morality in food as a largely positive pursuit, bound to environmental and economic sustainability. In certain contexts, however, it is not the food that is important so much as the stories that foodstuffs and events occasion. Locavorism, then, is as much about the consumption, communion, and narration of local [End Page 60] culture as it is about food politics. In fact, the locavore's commitment to food and place relies on narrative—and in that regard it is very much an iteration of terroir. This is the point where Theodore Peed's Turtle Party comes into play in our discovery of the "haute local" as something more powerful than the quality of ingredients or the cooking of signature dishes.

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The business part of Peed's kitchen commands a corner near the open garage bay. Lit by a window and overhead fluorescent...