While new technologies and techniques of manipulating food ingredients abound, the latest thinking in the world of food involves going back to the past to get us into the future. This was the theme I picked up on after my second time attending FoodWorx, which is an annual TED-Talks style day of 10 speakers taking about 20 minutes each to comment on their roles in the world of food. Culinary tourism, food security and sustainable agriculture are usually the hot topics, and while I’m not going to give you a rundown of don’t have time to tell you about all the speakers today, I do want to talk about a couple of speakers that kind of urged a look into your past in order to help guide the way in which we might want to think about the food we eat in the future. So dear readers, I want you to get ready to revive a food memory. I want you to click on short audio clip, and then close your eyes. Your guide is Stormy Sweitzer, a writer and publisher who runs a website called Maoomba.com, she is all about food, learning and exploration. Here we go..Stormy1! (and then come back to the blog)
Now listen to Stormy’s memorable experience with food, for some context, she’s 11 years old, was growing up in a tiny agricultural town in Utah, her grandmother takes on a trip to Eastern Europe, the first time she’s ever left her town of 800 people, and she’s having dinner at the hotel on her first night: Stormy2
Stormy’s key messages are all about curiosity, consumption, wonder: Can we cultivate curiosity and wonder while we are consuming? How do we make sense of what we have just experienced? And when we start to think about what we’ve sensed, if it does leave us with a sense of wonder it can help connect us to food AND drive consumer awareness. I know that in my own lifetime of tasting I have become both more experimental, but also more cautious and discerning about what it is that I eat, but it was great to be reminded of that through her exercise.
Another speaker took me into to the past to get me to the future, a local restaurant owner who has a large contingent of regulars, it seemed like many of them were at FoodWorx to support her talk. Her name is Lisa Schroeder, and her restaurant in Portland is called Mother’s Bistro. This is a real comfort food kind of place, the kind of one-pot, slow-cooked food that many people of today’s generation have never learned how to cook. Her presentation was all about Mother Food. Here’s her definition: Mother Food
Lisa was quick to point out that you don’t actually have to be a mother to cook mother food, but she also spent quite a bit of time telling the audience how we got away from cooking this kind of food…which pretty much started with the industrial revolution, when we learned how to put veggies in cans, transport fresh foods from all over the world to North America, and developed so many more processed foods, fast foods, home meal replacement. And that cooking has become a spectator sport…because we’re all foodies. Cooking is entertainment, she says when foodies cook at home, they’re doing it to entertain themselves and others. But mostly, people in America eat out a lot, a 94% increase in the money spent eating out since 1970. Close to 700 billion dollars a year. But there are some bright lights on the horizon. People are getting back to the old ways, there are more community gardens, more backyard chicken coops, more gatherings to share the knowledge of that old time ‘mother’ food. Here’s Lisa to explain.
M – melded flavours from slow cooking methods
O – One pot, saves energy
T – Tasty food results
H – Healthy
E – Economical, use all the beast
R – Reheating
Now, imagine buying three bags of groceries at the supermarket, dropping one in the parking lot, and not even bothering to pick it up. Now imagine being surrounded by all kinds of retail outlets, but not being able to buy affordable, nutritious food at any of them. Both of these scenarios are reality in North America. Dana Gunders is a staff scientist with America’s Natural Resources Defense Council and the author of Wasted. She’s also known as the Food Waste Warrior. She wasn’t always a waste warrior, but some years ago she was working on a project for the fruit and vegetable industry. Please listen to this short audio clip about her experience there.
The statistics don’t stop there, Dana says billions of pounds of food never even make it off the farm. Doesn’t even get harvested. A peach farmer she talked to says that for 8 of every 10 of his peaches that get rejected by buyers, you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between the ‘good peach’ and the ‘bad peach’. Food waste is the third largest ‘country’ in terms of greenhouse gas emissions after USA and China. But while 1 in 6 people in America are ‘food insecure’, just one third of the calories wasted in America could actually cure food insecurity.
But Dana Gunter is actually full of optimism. She says where food waste is concerned, we already have all the tools to battle it. Listen to this example of one area closer to home where food is wasted.
The solution in that case? Get those kitchens back in operation…and I do know of one instance in Vancouver, a story I did several years ago, in which our provincial health regulations allowed this kind of food she’s talking about to be donated to the Quest Food Exchange, which used a grant from VanCity to build a big kitchen so they could process any large quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables they received into things like tomato sauce, which could then be stored and used when needed to feed people who are food insecure.
Which leads us to the other topic of today, food deserts… These are regions, typically in the inner city or perhaps in large suburbs that are only car-friendly, where either there aren’t any shops that actually sell good food, or the population simply doesn’t have the means to travel long distances to get to the source. It’s all about barriers to access. Could be something as simple as a major highway being a physical barrier to people of low mobility. You might have to walk miles before you could safely cross that highway to get to a market that was only a few minutes away as the crow flies. The speaker on this topic was Amelia Pape, who runs a social enterprise, as in creating a business to solve a social problem, called My Street Grocery, in Portland. She and her employees drive into underserved communities with an old repurposed bread truck, and have available for sale, lots of produce, eggs, milk, and other types of groceries. But just making the food accessible isn’t enough. What if people don’t know how to cook it, or how to make up a budget to get the most for their money, or know what the best foods are for their nutrition. That’s where a travelling truck comes in as Amelia explains.
It’s a really simple idea, with really good results. And that goes back to what the Waste Warrior, Dana Gunders, was saying. The solutions are here. They’re not that difficult. What it takes is some innovative people who have a vision, some of them working as a private business, like My Street Grocery, and some degree of involvement from funding agencies and governments who can see how these plans can work, and suddenly you’ve got a formula for success, and I came out of FoodWorx, inspired and hopeful.