I had a great time Saturday night.
I got to hear one of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain. Now, those of you who know me personally, and even those who know me primarily through this blog, might be shocked to hear me call Bourdain a hero. As he said himself, partway through the evening, "I'm no role model".
Well, not in the traditional sense, no.
If you're offended by language, he's not your man. If the fact that he's made some really poor choices over his lifetime, um, yeah, not a good role model.
The thing I love about Anthony Bourdain, though, is that he always, always, always leaves me thinking. And he's honest. Even brutally so, even maybe over the top for effect sometimes, but the honesty is refreshing in today's world, and maybe especially in the kingdom of upper echelon foodies. He also admits when he's screwed up. I admire that.
Apparently, he's been having an ongoing conversation with Alice Waters in his head.
One of the reasons he's been seen as a bad boy in the food world is that he's picked on Alice and many others who are "doing good". Now, on the other hand, he's also clear that he doesn't have problems with everything about Waters or just about anyone else (except maybe Sandra Lee).
What seems to disturb Bourdain is the "all or nothing" attitude that can exist in the local food movement. He had a conversation with Alice in his head that I've actually had myself: "Easy for you to say everything can be local - you live in Berkeley!"
Bourdain took it one step further and asked her, in his head, "And what are the folks on the Upper Peninsula supposed to eat in the winter?" and answered it, humorously, with Alice responding that there are "lovely rutabagas, turnips, carrots," to which Bourdain responds, "So they should eat like Russian peasants?"
Well, I've lived in Soviet Russia in winter, and yes, that's pretty much what the grocery stores carried. And yes, everyone put up their own vegetables in the summer, and jams and all those things our grandparents did, and it worked, to a great extent, but then there's the person I talked to Saturday morning.
He works in Ann Arbor and commutes to his family farm in Manchester. He's not in the business of farming; he's in the business of feeding his family through this farm. He was very excited to grow many, many tomato plants this year. He had visions of eating his put-up tomatoes throughout the winter.
As anyone in our area can guess, however, that didn't happen.
This was the summer of the tomato blight.
He harvested a whopping 22 tomatoes, all of which his family devoured.
We got on this subject because we were talking about two meals we'd prepared that week with almost all local ingredients, but we'd both ended up using a can of San Marzano tomatoes when it came down to it, because no, we didn't have our own.
Bourdain also talks about the fact that when he was actually at Chez Panisse, one of the co-chefs was in rapture over some beautiful vegetables from a special farm and wanted Bourdain to return the enthusiasm. Bourdain sort of did a double-take, as these vegetables were from a farm in the San Diego area, six hours by truck. As he put it, "How sustainable is that?"
Another of my "local" experiences this week was taking part in a highly-enjoyable and oh-so-delicious cook-off and potluck by Slow Food Huron Valley. Yesterday afternoon about 50 people actually came inside on a gorgeous day to share pasta with toasted pumpkin seeds and butternut squash puree, Three Sisters stew, pumpkin-buttermilk ice cream, John Savanna's famous Lithuanian Rye (which you haven't tried, you REALLY should), fabulous borscht, etc., etc.
I had decided that I'd enter what are usually my (well, if I do say so myself) pretty darned good Apple Maple Corn Muffins, but I was going to go ALL local - no vanilla, no cinnamon, no salt (my exception was a little bit of baking soda, because they call for buttermilk and I needed that for the leavening). Well, those omissions, plus some not very good local maple syrup, which shall remain nameless, turned my usual delightful bites of Sunday morning goodness into dull, chewy "good-for-you" lumps of ... well, let's just say I didn't enter them.
So Bourdain's point? Food is to be enjoyed. The local movement is good, humane animal care is good, organics are good - why? Because things taste better. Because, yes, it's good for the earth. It's good for local economies. It's good for your body. But really? Things TASTE better.
So here's my question for you - are you all or nothing on this? Do you care about local foods/agriculture/sustainable practices? And if so, how do you incorporate these practices in your life?
I know for myself, I'm not as consistent as I'd like to be, and that will be the subject of another post, as this one is already way too long.
Part 2 will concern the art of being a guest and risk-taking: another subject near and dear to my heart.
Also, just cause it's Music Monday, here's a little music for your Monday (see Soccer Mom in Denial to see who else is playing): Arrested Development's "Children Play with Earth" (press on the Lala button at the top of the page).