The man from Miya’s Sushi in Connecticut had himself one cosmic fishball. Bun Lai stood on a cement balcony at the Aquarium for Friday’s Cooking for Solutions gala and enthusiastically described the rare taste he was attempting to capture: “It’s a metaphor for climate change, an Earth-shaped ball of Pacific Albacore-caught tuna – seared with ginger, chilis, peppermint, white pepper, cinnamon, clove – so it’s hot and cold, like the planet, with sea salt from Kiribati,” a tiny Pacific island that will be devastated by even a slight sea level rise.
While the flavors actually worked better in global theory than in practice, the big-picture ball also works wonderfully well as a metaphor for the wider CFS and its accompanying Sustainability Institute, which was nothing if not a roller coaster of bitter realities and savory inventions, buoyant celebrity personalities and contemptible (often corporate) villains. For every chilling piece of information that we are in the throes of a full-blown country – and worldwide food crisis (Raj Patel’s oft-repeated point that 1 billion continue to starve while 1 billion continue to suffer obesity illnesses), there was a heartwarming counterpunch, like the fact that Americans are paying attention to food more closely than ever before.
For instance, though opening Sustainability Institute keynoter Anna Lappé, author of vital eco-tome Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, admits she can’t escape three myths perpetrated by a deep-pocketed food machine – Isn’t industrial ag the most efficient way to produce food? Isn’t it true that people can’t afford organic? Can organic food really feed the world? – there are new powerful tools that debunk them, like a sweeping study with a mouthful of a name, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, Technology and Development (or I-STAAD). Sharing honest information, like I-STAAD findings that any increases in productivity from big conventional farming were not only fleeting and diminishing, but tiny compared to the energy, environmental and health costs, represents the antidote to the vested-interest B.S.
“The thing that I hope we are all doing is continuing to educate ourselves,” Lappé said, “helping shape the story of food. We’re not going to shift the system just by shopping differently.”
So, while daily runoff wreaks much more havoc on ecosystems than big oil spills, CFS panelists like the Organic Farming Research Foundation’s Maureen Wilmot testified that not only can organic farming immediately dent the blooming dead zones – “We could put the fertilizer industry out of business, there’s so much nitrogen in cover crops,” she said – oceanic microbes are actually cleaning up oil in the Gulf from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
Even if eco-labels like “hypoallergenic,” “natural” and “free range” have been greenwashed (and unenforced) into emptiness, “certified organic,” “fair trade,” “Rainforest Alliance” “Seafood Watch” and “Marine Stewardship Council” still mean something.
And even if, maybe most achingly, our tax monies go to government subsidies for things like big-ag corn (which becomes largely squandered ethanol and high-fructose corn syrup) far, far, far more than organic fruits and vegetables, the 2012 Farm Bill does contain the power to change that, even if lobbyists are entrenched against it.
“This is not just a battlecry of fishhuggers,” Alton Brown said. “Sustainability refers to systems. Fishermen, eaters, cooks, shippers all have to work together to work together.”
Yes, it’s a lot to digest. Fortunately there are reports on a range of CFS events on the Weekly’s Food Blog, links to the crucial IAASTD study, exclusive insights from speakers like Ted Turner, and recipes from sustaina-stars chefs Chris Cosentino and Jesse Ziff Cool.
Nicely enough, the never-brighter green glow of CFS 2011 celebs (Isabella Rosellini! Lynne Rossetto Kasper! Patel! Turner [see story, p. 15]!), the never-smoother flow of the gala (big crowds without the bottlenecks!), and the never-richer lineup of tastes, trips, seminars and speakers (sablefish chowder from Cindy Pawlcyn!) spoke to how much momentum CFS and the wider movement have accrued.
But as Brown pointed out, this is but the beginning: Sustainability has been indisputably inserted in the public lexicon, but we need to mindfully keep it buzzing. We have to keep fishing for Earthball metaphors.
Or as he put it: “We pushed the bus to the top of the hill – now we have to drive it so it doesn’t crash and burn.”
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Big weekend for wine and art charging our way on the heels of Memorial Day. June 11-12 is Monterey Wine Festival, where the 35th annual presents four digits of styling wines in a range of events, including a Friday evening grand tasting ($75) double-venue dip with champagne shuttles between the gorgeous MMA-La Mirada and the Hyatt Regency, and a rather quickly expanding West Coast Chowder Competition (a steal at $20 or $10 for a taste of the 20-plus chowders). 1-800-422-0251, www.montereywine.com.
Out east, the Carmel Valley Art & Wine spills blocks of free-admission arts on its streets, opens up bottles for tasting ($15), and lavishes live music and the valley spirit on everybody. 659-4000.
And – ah yes – it’s a big weekend for beer, too: The Monterey Bay Beer Festival ($35) is that same Saturday, with 80 beers at the Fairgrounds. Time to invest in a time-share teleporter.
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Two timely, righteous and innovative things are fermenting from the people of Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association (375-9400). The first: a new smartphone app does directions, maps, profiles and searches based on preferences including region, varietals, and even elements including pet-friendly grounds, food sales, or picnicking possibilities. Its social networking aspect links smoothly to Facebook and Twitter. The GPS capabilities mean getting lost deep in Arroyo Seco is much harder to do. It’s available from iTunes (http://bit.ly/montereyiphoneapp) and the MCVGA website (www.MontereyWines.org/app).
The second thing: The Annual Winery Walk Saturday, June 4, at Paraiso Vineyards, which leverages a little exercise and sunshine to do right by the people who make one of the area’s most prolific industries go, providing scholarships to ag employees’ children. Last year MCVGA awarded $10,000 to local students. Walkers – including winery teams – raise $100 to participate, receive a T-shirt and gift bag, get a peek at the unparalleled views of Salinas Valley from Paraiso (“awesome country,” one vineyard vet calls it), and gain entry into a robust post-walk celebration with cooking demo and farmers market action, massages, a big brunch and wine. (Cheerleaders who want to do the party pay $30.) Fly raffle prizes like an iPad donated by J. Lohr Vineyards await those who raise funds. For more, visit the website or call 375-9400.
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If you want a sure-fire fiesty back-and-forth, have your gourmand gang over, introduce them to your animal-rights amigos and steer the conversation caravan to foie gras. Something about force-feeding fowl until its slaughter – and the supremely indulgent fatty goose or duck liver the practice produces – covers the whole buffet of human emotion, from anger and disgust to defiance and devotion. And since, as the Christian Science Monitor put it, a chorus of activist groups “has worked to make eating foie gras the ethical equivalent of clubbing baby seals,” Massachusetts, Oregon and New York have all considered bans – though the scrap got its most famous stage in Chicago (read about that in depth on the blog) – and California will outlaw it in 2012. Now a pair of local food-and-wine figures are logging their opinion on the issue with a $120, five-course “Farewell to Foie Gras”: Come Saturday, May 28, at a private residence, Marc Jones (of Tasty Solutions) and Richard Oh (of Oh Wines) will dish out the foie gras terrine, smoked foie gras, seared foie gras over sautéed apples, filet mignon and foie and even a mousse de foie au chocolat, paired with Oh’s vino. 320-3050 or email@example.com for reservations… Flanagan’s Irish-American Pub (625-5500) is celebrating a 1-year b-day big. Friday there’s a meet-and-greet 6-8pm with boxing legend Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero, Tullamore Dew girls from 8-10pm; Saturday is the Champions League final (Man U! FC! Messi! Rooney!), from Wembley Stadium at 11:45am and live music – Overload opens, Generation Gap closes – starting at 8pm; Sunday is “BBQ on the Paddy O’” day with all-you-can-eat Brazilian buffet (owner Joe Opitz’s wife Luciana is Brazilian) for $12 with $4 caipirinhas; and come Monday Luciana’s Bloody Marys are also just $4… Memorial Day play down the coast 11am-4pm Sunday, May 29, at Big Sur Bakery (667-0520): tri tip, pork ribs and veggie skewers with white corn on the cob and baked beans. $12-$15 plates… Farewell Dorothy Wheeler, the iconic woman in the famous photo of the Hovden loading dock in 1951 by Miles Midloch (now immortalized in paint on the Rec Trail), and farewell “Queen of the Flowers” Caroline Provost, long-adored, ever-laughing Deetjen’s greeter. “She had the sweetest disposition of anyone I’ve ever met,” said 30-year friend Harry Harris. “Her wind-chime laughter will always echo in my memory.”… As Ralph Waldo Emerson said (and Provost clearly understood), “Earth laughs in flowers.”