Today’s Food For Thought panel discussion, “Re-Localizing Food,” was interesting, yes, entertaining, for sure, but almost totally devoid of surprises. Did you know that Michael Pollan is in favor of using sustainable farming techniques and growing food closer to home? Why yes, actually. Did you also know that Winona LaDuke thinks people like those on her White Earth Indian Reservation deserve better access to fresh, local food? Yes, you probably did.
But underlying what might be characterized by the cynical as a one long choir-preach, we found a lovely surprise: These folks are funny. Sure, the humor is a little NPR-ish, but the zingers were not sparse among the four panelists as they rapped on their favorite issues, fielding questions and egging each other on.
LaDuke, an economist, Native American rights activist and former Green Party vice-presidential nominee, got a big laugh — and an appreciative round of murmurs — when she pointed out that the root of word colonization is “colon,” meaning, to digest, as in, “how one dominant system digests other systems.” Zing! okay, maybe you had to be there.
But then Gary Nabhan, founder of Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT), responded, “remember that Christopher Columbus, in Spanish, is called “Cristobal Colon… You might call his discovery of America ‘The Great Colonoscopy.’” Whoa, where did that come from? These guys are on fire.
Later, as the discussion touched on environmental damage, Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma and, most recently, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto urged eaters to “vote with their forks,” for local food, pointing out that, “the very idea that California exports water to New York City in the form of tomatoes is completely hilarious.” Yes, for some reason, in the context, it was.
As panelists mused on how to make fresh, local, organic produce available to people of limited means, Blue Hill restaurant and Stone Barn farm honcho Dan Barber played the straight man. “Did you have anything to add, Dan?” moderator and Saveur editor James Oseland asked, by way of drawing the farmer-cum-restaurateur out a little. “Being the guy who charges $40 for an entree?” Barber tossed back, “No.”
Barber found more of a voice when the topic turned to the highly charged issue of Foie Gras, which Blue Hill has stopped serving, but which he loooooves. He talked about visiting a farm where the geese are treated so well that wild geese have been known to drop out of the sky to join them. A super-humane foie gras farm, you ask? No, really.
It turns out that geese naturally stuff themselves late in the fall to get ready for the winter. At some point during this gorging, they get about as rich and lethargic as those force-fed on industrial foie-gras farms. That’s when they go to slaughter, and eventually to mini-toasts. Barber could barely restrain his enthusiasm (and saliva, maybe, but I was too far back to tell), as he described a flock of migrating birds settling in with the domestic flock, who are free to leave if they wish. “I’m listening to this guy, he’s like the goose whisperer,” Barber said of the farmer.
“So you’re going to serve, now, certified volunteer foie gras?” quipped Pollan.
But, of course, the hilarity had to end sometime, even as LaDuke pondered the idea of eating 5 million pounds of wild rice. “I could try, but it might make more sense to trade with, say, the lemongrass people… I don’t know who the lemongrass people are…”
Okay, that last one was a bit insider-y, but fear not, dedicated slow-foodist. Video and audio of this and all the panels will be available through Slow Food Nation later this week, and of course, we’ll link it all right here.