Saturday, March 5, 2016

Meatless Monday Musings: Slow Food Compromises in a Winter World

One of the benefits of living in a “college town” is the opportunity to hear firsthand what visiting visionaries have to say. On February 2 I was in the audience that packed the Yale University Art Gallery auditorium to listen to famed restaurateur and food activist  Alice Waters’ thoughts on the “importance of slow food.”

Alice Waters is one of my heroes. Without Alice there would most likely be no Yale Sustainable Food Program, no Edible Schoolyard Project, no garden on the White House lawn, and certainly no Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. There would also be far fewer farmers’ markets. 

President Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal in 2014. The citation read: “Alice Waters, for celebrating the bond between the ethical and the edible. As a chef, author, and advocate, Ms. Waters champions a holistic approach to eating and health and celebrates integrating gardening, cooking, and education, sparking inspiration in a new generation.”

I have a copy of her book The Art of Simple Food (autographed on an earlier stop in New Haven) and have gifted several others. 

And, on our very first trip to the Bay Area, my husband and I rode the BART (under the Bay!) to Berkeley in the hopes that we could show up for lunch at Chez Panisse without a reservation and get in the door. We were lucky. We chose the Fixed Menu and two Mt. Tam ales. It was a lunch I will remember forever.

I love Alice.

And I try to live by the Slow Food principles: GOOD, CLEAN, FAIR. But Alice lives in a land where fresh-picked produce is plentiful all year long, and much of what she espouses is just not possible during winter in the Northeast, particularly not when the temperature a few weeks ago plummeted to -2°F and felt like -25!

Strawberries at the Mountain View, CA Farmers' Market in February

Weather in CT, February 2016

Yes, spring is on the way and soon wild ramps and the first early crops will appear at the local CitySeed Market. But nothing nothing can survive the frigid weather unprotected, and there are not enough high tunnels and greenhouses to provide all the food CT residents need right now. What is available at my farmers market comes with a high price tag and the pickin’s are slim. 

I do not characterize myself as a consumer with the means to “purchase produce from small farms…to pay the true cost” and I yearn for variety. So this time of year I search for fresh produce from places in my hemisphere where the season is the same as mine, such as citrus from Florida or California. Usually this means picking up what I need in the produce aisle, but occasionally I will buy a quantity of something directly from a grower through Local Harvest.

When asked by a student after the talk what she thought about shopping at Whole Foods, Alice told the student that she should avoid the middleman and purchase directly from the farmer and that she was sure area residents could guide her to places where she could do so. I am sorry, Alice, but this is simply not possible in late winter in Connecticut, certainly not if you are on any kind of budget.

Particularly during these pre-spring days in New England we need Whole Foods, other supermarkets, and corner stores. Sometimes we have to compromise while trying to embrace Slow Food Principles. 

I hope Alice does not take offense. 

For I have another crisis crying out for her attention — the food that is being served to the nation's seniors in meal programs, assisted living facilities, and in nursing homes. If she can only accomplish for seniors what she has already done for schoolchildren… imagine locally prepared, nutritious, and tasty Slow Food Senior Meals. Farmers and seniors would all benefit. If anyone can get this moving, Alice Waters can!

Happy Meatless Monday. Have a great week!

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

No comments:

Post a Comment