Last weekend, one lucky member of the American Provisions team (me!) attended the 2014 Edible Institute, hosted by Edible Communities Publications (the folks responsible for Edible Boston, and 80+ other Edible magazines across the country).
It was an eye-opening two days of talks about the status of the good food movement, and all the media surrounding it. Panel topics ran from brilliant questions like “Why Is The Good Food Movement Drinking So Well,” to punny propositions like “Fermentation Can Rebuild Our Food Culture.” One of my main takeaways from the weekend, however, was that food journalism needs to focus on reaching people who don’t consider themselves “foodies” (though I think even die-hard foodies cringe at that word). What’s one thing everyone, gastronome or not, loves to read? A good old-fashioned Buzzfeed list. So without further adieu, I give you:
1. Almost all of my favorite foods are fermented. Beer, wine, whiskey, sriracha, yogurt, cheese, pickles, kombucha, charcuterie, crème fraîche, even bread! And they’re all great for your body, because fermentation actually breaks things down before digestion even begins, leaving your tummy with less work to do.
2. New York state is starting a revolution in distilling. Back in 2009, they put a law on the books called the Farm Distiller’s License, a unique license for small distillers that grants them certain privileges if at least 70% of their grains are grown in New York. According to the folks on the distilling panel, if we all got our states to set up a license like this, it would start a sustainable alcohol revolution.
3. You don’t have to be a politician to lobby for these types of changes. Foodie celebrity, author, professor, and former nutrition advisor to the Surgeon General Marion Nestle was the surprise guest on Sunday (you might recognize her from Food, Inc. or Super Size Me) and she used her short time to teach us how to call our representatives and senators (and why we really, really have to). Her tips? Say you live in their district, ask to speak to legislative staff, and have a bill you’d like them to introduce or support. Why do we need to call? Because any office you call has been visited in person by a lobbyist with fact sheets, references, and big fat checks.
4. Another way to affect change? Vote with your dollar. It may seem damn near impossible to shake the stronghold big wealthy corporations have on our government and food system, but the solution is in the problem—money. Every dollar you spend on something produced outside the industrial food complex is a dollar they aren’t getting. It may seem inconsequential to buy the fair trade chocolate bar or brew your own beer, but just remember—a bucket full of water is nothing but a bucket full of drops.
5. We could all learn a lesson from the craft beer movement. In the past 20 years, Anheuser-Busch has seen a 15% market loss, but people are drinking more beer than ever. According to author Jane Black’s panel, the craft beer movement has the strongest commercial values of any edible market right now. Craft beer is everywhere—250 varieties at the Birmingham, Alabama Piggly Wiggly, according to Cooking Light magazine editor Scott Mowbray—and you can’t create a new beer right now without flavor, without a story, without some background. The supply is increasing because the demand is high, so why is this more true with beer than food? Perhaps it’s less of an investment to switch to craft beer than to change your entire diet, or perhaps it’s just more fun. Either way, beer geeks of the world are creating a model we should pay closer attention to.
6. Local, artisanal, small-batch > organic. There are so many buzz words surrounding food these days, it’s actually scary. To quote the keynote speaker for the weekend, New York Times food columnist and Vegan Before 6 author Mark Bittman, “There’s nothing to eat and everything is terrifying.” Navigating the nuances of “organic” doesn’t always feel worth it, but there are other things to rely on when choosing your food that can’t be as easily co-opted by the government. For instance, can you verify that a human made what you’re eating? Chances are, if something is made by hand in small-batches somewhere near you, it is at least marginally better for your body or the environment (or both).
7. It’s time to talk about human welfare as much as we talk about animal welfare. To quote Mark Bittman again, “Yeah, GMOs suck, but underpaying your workers sucks more.” An underpaid work force is a huge reason why the good food movement hasn’t been able to gain traction in certain regions. Unfair wages for the people who make our food contribute to the income inequality and social justice issues we can’t seem to overcome in reaching the masses with the message about eating healthfully and sustainably.
8. We need to raise a generation of people interested in farming (and New England may just have the secret): It should come as no surprise that with agricultural labor wages so low, not many young people are clamoring to farm. If no one cares about putting in the hard work, industrialization will thrive and real food will disappear. To avoid this fate, we need to start respecting farmers and in turn, teaching younger generations how cool of a gig it can be. And you know what area is seeing the biggest rise in 20-30-something farmers? Cheesemaking. We can show you several cheeses at AP that are made in New England by kids who graduated college and chose to return to the land, or who are gladly carrying on a family legacy. Say what you will about hipster farmers or trendy rooftop gardens, but fads like these are keeping traditions alive, and we are nothing but grateful for that.
9. Less than 1% of our taxes go to fruit & vegetable farmers, while a much larger sum goes to government subsidies for agribusinesses, like corn & soy farms. I’ll have to paraphrase one of the panelists’ reaction to this here: People aren’t going to stop getting diabetes until the government stops subsidizing foods that give people diabetes.
10. Cocktails are to the U.S. what pizza is to Italy. According to Allen Katz, Chairman Emeritus on the Board of Directors for Slow Food USA, the two main food traditions Americans can lay sole claim to are barbecue and cocktails. You can go to any major metropolitan city in the world and order a drink called a Manhattan. A well-made cocktail was a thing of great cultural significance in the States before Prohibition, but luckily it is gaining steam again. So if you’re ever wondering what we have to offer in return for sushi, curry, and gyros, look no further than your shaker.
11. Above all, we need to unite the foodie ethnicities. Yes, foodie ethnicities—this may seem like a really privileged and not P.C. thing to say, but let me try to explain. The food movement is divided into fishermen, environmentalists, locavores, sociological/anthropological storytellers, social justice activists, school lunch visionaries, gardeners, farmers, Food Network fiends, cookbook collectors and recipe bloggers (to name a few). And that doesn’t even count the millions of people the world over who also love food, but may not have the time, money, or channels of access to indulge their interest in what goes in their stomachs. We need to make the movement all-inclusive if we can ever hope to change the food system, which means uniting all of these groups around our shared belief in the power of food.
Lucky for us, one of food’s greatest powers is bringing people together.