Kitchen Table Talks: Eating as a Revolutionary Act

The second installment of Kitchen Table Talks was held last Tuesday in San Francisco. The evening featured Jessica Prentice, a professional chef, local foods activist and author and a clip of Edible City, a forthcoming documentary which follows the lives of Bay Area residents who are creating a local food system in their neighborhoods and communities.

Slated for distribution in early 2010, Edible City is a project of East Bay Pictures, a film company committed to making motion pictures that inspire reflection, compassion and imagination. The film, which uses character vignettes, showed Joy Moore, a longtime activist and teacher, discussing gardening and nutrition with the students at Berkeley Technology Academy. To help bring this inspiring film about growing local food systems to a larger audience, East Bay Pictures is seeking funds to finish the film.

One of the individuals featured in Edible City, Prentice, who coined the term “locavore,” New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2007, spoke about how eating can an a revolutionary act. Prentice told the crowded room how her desire to support farmers led her to shop exclusively at her local farmers’ market, where she would always give her change back to the grower. She’s not wealthy, she explained, but it was important to her to pay for the true cost of food.

Prentice noticed that, though we live in the Bay Area where fresh produce is plentiful, people were always asking and wondering what is in season. As a society, we are used to shiny, perfect-looking produce being available year-round in our local grocery store. This led her to create the Local Foods Wheel with Sarah Klein and Maggie Gosselin. The purpose of the wheel is to identify which foods grow in your region and when it is available. Currently, it is only available to the San Francisco Bay and the New York Metropolitan areas.

More recently, Prentice joined four business partners in founding Three Stone Hearth, a community-supported kitchen in Berkeley that uses local, sustainable ingredients to prepare nutrient-dense traditional foods on a community scale. Customers can order meals and other food items directly from the web site for pick-up or delivery. It can be as simple as ordering homemade chicken stock to create your own soup or ordering an entire meal for the family.

At first, Prentice was concerned about offering prepared food because it would encourage people to cook less. However, she found that their customers have had the opposite reaction. Since they are purchasing more expensive items, customers are stretching their food and dollar by supplementing with simple ingredients to create a quick, healthy and homemade meal for the whole family. In addition, customers tell her that they are eating less because they are consuming nutrient dense foods which satisfy them more quickly. Prentice admits that the food is more expensive and wishes that it could be more accessible to low income families. (She said that she had been asked twice whether her business would accept food stamps—something she is now looking into.)

The premium cost to source local, sustainable ingredients, overhead of a commercial kitchen and labor increases the cost of their end product. However, she is quick to point out that factory-farmed meat and foods only appear to be inexpensive because the true cost is hidden in various other ways, including corporate control of the food system, exploitation of migrant farm workers, environmental degradation and the rise in healthcare-related costs.

Prentice noted that traditional, small-scale food processing has the ability to make our food more nutritious while manufactured food processing makes our food less nutritious by removing important nutrients and replacing them with additives/preservatives to extend shelf life. While we might spend more money initially on “real food,” it helps protect us from disease and prolongs our lifespan.

From the Local Foods Wheel to Three Stone Hearth, Prentice has revolutionized the local food system in the Bay Area; and by coining the term “locavore,” she brought national attention to the concept of eating locally within 100-miles of our foodshed.

Highlights from the evening included a spirited discussion that included the following ideas:

• We need to make the nutritional advantage of local, whole foods more important in our conversation. Despite the claims that they can feed the world, industrial food is simply less nutritious than whole foods. What good is it to feed the world if we are going to be unhealthy and have a shorter lifespan?
• Wholesome, nutritious foods can be our health insurance.
• We have an entire generation that does not know how to cook.
• Cook simple meals at home. In recent years, the focus of cooking at home has become complicated, fancy recipes which require uncommon or expensive food items. It doesn’t have to rival a meal at the French Laundry every time you make dinner. Just get in the kitchen.
• Use the whole animal if and when you cook meat. We live in a “chicken nugget” and “boneless skinless chicken breast” culture in which we only use the desired pieces of meat. This desire for white meat has encouraged the breeding of chickens and turkeys so top-heavy that they can barely walk. By using the whole animal, we decrease the production of these animals and stretch out our dollar.
• CSAs are not just for produce. Raw milk, meat, fish and foraging CSAs are popping up throughout the country. By supporting local, small-scale producers, we build a local infrastructure for our own foodshed and challenge corporate control of a select few companies.
• How do we create community supported kitchens in other areas? The challenge becomes finding a commercial kitchen which is required if you are selling food to the general public. However, what if we were to come together in our communities, in small groups and cook together out of our own kitchens? There are book clubs, how about a cooking club or a cook-in? Small groups would gather to prepare meals for the week or once/month to prepare stocks, jams, fermented items. No commercial kitchen is required because you are not selling the food.

The important point is that even small change can be a revolutionary act which we can do three times a day.

One thought on “Kitchen Table Talks: Eating as a Revolutionary Act