It's been almost five years since Barbara Kingsolver wrote Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about her family's experiment with eating only food produced in their region's foodshed, but I still recall her daughter's lame choice of one of the family's five "exception" foods—dried fruit! Who cares about prunes and Craisins when you're staring down a year without chocolate, shrimp, tuna, coffee?
Though I'm unlikely to ever go that far with my locavore ways (I do buy from the farmer's market and grow my own beets and fennel, but I also adore wheat products and salmon and consume olive oil by the quart), I've often wondered what food I would select in similar circumstances. And after a recent pleasant sit-down at Ruby Tuesday on Broadway with Courtney Reum, the charming co-owner of the company that makes VeeV Acai Liqueur, I think I have my strongest candidate ever.
It's not precisely a food—it's 60 proof spirits—but VeeV is wheat-based grain alcohol infused with Brazil's acai (pronounced ah-SIGH-ee) berry, which is loaded with vitamins C and E and, according to proponents, 57 percent more antioxidants than pomegranates and 30 times more than red wine. I would probably never have heard about this elixir, but Ruby Tuesday recently became a VeeV national partner and has designed four signature cocktails with it. The best-selling is a light lemonade, but I prefer the smooth Superfruit Cooler, with its healthful mixers of elderflower liqueur, fresh cucumber, and organic agave nectar, and the bouncy pomegranate margarita, with its shot of Cuervo Gold. So far, no local liquor stores sell VeeV, although their PR firm assures me that will be remedied.
Health benefits with your buzz are a strong temptation to pick a product made far away for an exception to the local food scene, and I can readily envision substituting VeeV for the vodka in my favorite vodka-marinara recipe. But I have to admit part of what's overcoming my desire to consume this instead of offerings from regional competitors is the glamor. Most of the places serving VeeV are swell joints, the kind I'll only be able to visit once, like the BLT Steak restaurants in West Hollywood and the Four Seasons hotels, or the Tipsy Pig gastropub in San Francisco, which I've had my eye on for some time. They serve VeeV in a Marina Maiden cocktail concocted with basil, fresh lemon, simple syrup, and soda water, and I can aspire to eat it with a Roasted Wild King Salmon sandwich—but no time soon.
But I'm sort of stubborn, so it takes more than a little snobbery for me to make an exception for VeeV. As with everything I plan to elevate to favored products status, I want to feel some connection, some personal reason to choose VeeV over, say, Jack Daniels made by my nearly next-county neighbors.
So here's what I've got: VeeV donates $1 to the California-based Sustainable Acai Project, which promotes rainforest preservation, for every bottle sold. Its distillery in Idaho is powered by renewable wind energy and VeeV is the industry's first certified carbon neutral spirits company.
And on a strictly personal level, this Courtney Reum is my kind of guy. He's done every job involved in the process, from picking berries to delivering bottles from the trunk of his car. His partner is his younger brother Carter, and he tells me they have tested every aspect of their friendship by living together in L.A. and trying to launch this company.
So they discovered the acai effect on a surfing trip to Brazil, and both worked on Wall Street. I still feel a connection to them, and to their colorless liquor.
Heck, it's even got extract of prickly pear, a known hangover remedy. If it tasted like chocolate, my decision would be final.