Last night I had the good fortune of attending a completely packed lecture at the 92nd Street Y called, “Hedonistic, Healthy, and Green: Can We Have
it All?” Featuring Michael Pollan (of The Omnivores Dilemma fame), Dan Barber (Head Chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns), and moderated by Joan Dye Gussow (This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader), it was the kind of event that sustainable foodies like me drool over. These are our movie stars, the people we choose when asked, “which famous person would you most want to take to dinner?”
The event itself was pretty straightforward: glowing introductions, 10-15 minutes from both speakers (Pollan on his new book In Defense of Food and
Barber on the fate of Boris, an over-the-hill – ahem – pig, that after much consideration by Barber’s team at Stone Barns, was turned into 500
pounds of the most delicious sausages he’d ever tasted and shared (20% of Boris’ sausages were donated to a local food bank), followed by questions
from Gussow and then from the audience.
The real meat of the evening was not in the format of the event, but in the meeting of these amazing minds. For Pollan, Barber, and Gussow, this
is life: travelling, speaking (often about the same thing), and answering questions. But for the audience, watching the exchange between these
sustainable food “rebbes” felt like watching your grandmother make her favorite recipe. It looked so simple and obvious, and you left feeling
full and nourished and inspired to try it yourself.
Many ideas were presented over the course of the evening, and I highly recommend purchasing In Defense of Food and making the trip to Blue Hill
at Stone Barns (even if you keep kosher and can’t eat in the restaurant, walking around the grounds – an old Rockefeller property – and seeing the
working farm would be worth it.) But to give you a taste, I’d like to focus on three, somewhat disconnected (but of course also connected)
points I heard either for the first time last night, or heard again in a new way.
1. Food Tastes Better with a Story – Barber said that one of the reasons Boris’ sausage was so delicious, is that diners knew his back story. Not
only could they match their food with a source, but they could follow along the heartbreaking decision-making process Barber went through in
deciding ultimately to slaughter Boris.
So much of the food we eat in America comes frozen or processed or from far away. We don’t know who grew it, and – in many cases – human beings were replaced by machines in its processing. On the flip side, knowing where our food comes from, and the people and animals involved in bringing it to us, makes it all the more delicious and satisfying to eat. Barber said, “When you have a story to tell about food, people taste things they wouldn’t otherwise taste.”
2. Iowa and Food Politics – On the blog Serious Eats
Ed Levine asked the question, “which presidential candidates have actually articulated a food policy?” With all of the press around the Farm Bill this year, and so much interest around food and eating, you’d think that food would be a contending topic in the debates.
The full answer to Levine’s question is very complex, but Pollan gave one part of it, which I found really fascinating. He said that the Iowa
Caucus is actually a problem for farm policy. Politicians, he said, must bow down before the commodity crop subsidies and ethanol lobbies that rule
the state. It could be very dangerous for them to propose progressive food policy, and risk losing support in the first state everyone looks to
in the primaries.
3. Making Time to Cook – Many people claim that they don’t cook for themselves because they simply don’t have the time. Indeed, one of the
panelists quoted the statistic that the average American spends a mere hour and a half preparing their food every day.
That said, the same American spends 4 hours watching television and countless hours answering emails and surfing the internet. Where do those
hours come from, the panelists asked, and wouldn’t they be better spent preparing delicious meals to enjoy with our families and friends?