Sep 10, 2011

planting thoughts: session 2, saturday p.m., 8/27

kamal mouzawak (founder, souk el-tayeb)
make food not war
"difference," kamal mouzawak believes, "can be a reason for war or a celebration of diversity." his producer-only farmers' markets in lebanon attempt the latter by bringing people and producers from rural and urban areas together. direct contact between producer and consumer is important: it gives recognition to the producer, teaches the consumer about food and who it comes from, and builds trust in the food system. "food is not a commodity," he noted, "it is not something you just buy. it is something people grow, buy, and cook." his markets are designed to not just be places where people can buy and sell products but also places where traditions and stories can be exchanged and kept alive.

inaki aizpitarte (chef at le chateaubriand and le dauphin, paris) 
rené mosse (winemaker, domaine mosse)
coquina et naturali vinorum
culinary inspiration can come from anywhere. for inaki aizpitarte, inspiration comes from wine, particularly natural wines that are different, that are not homogeneous. these wines express the flavour of a place and what the winemaker loves. natural wines, winemaker rené mosse said, require the winemaker to accommodate the native yeasts and unpredictable conditions, to trust and act in the moment. the tension between control and uncertainty is part of what makes natural wine interesting. aizpitarte picks up on this tension and responds to it when he develops a new dish. he illustrated this with a dish of "risotto" made with rice grain-sized pieces of samphire in a parsley puree, served with mosse's les bonnes blanches, a white anjou from the loire made with grapes grown in rocky ground filled with schist and quartz. the parsley and the salt of the samphire recall the familiarity of moules marinieres, but with a noticeable and unfamiliar set of flavours mixed in. these flavours echo the minerality, acidity, and wild nuances of the natural wine. aizpitarte said, "without wines like this, my food would not exist."

thomas harttung (founder, aarstiderne organic community supported agriculture)
urban food systems
thomas harttung sees urbanisation is an opportunity to rethink how our food supplies work. he estimates that an urban area the size of metro new york can produce 3mm tons of food per year. 50 new york metro areas worth of agricultural land are converted into cities each year. smallholder agriculture (which is well-suited to urban environments) is close to the world average for agricultural productivity and requires far fewer energy-intensive inputs like fertilisers and pesticides. small-footprint agricultural methods using man-made enriched soils would support this kind of urban agriculture. these methods were developed thousands of years ago in the pre-columbian period to grow food for dense populations of humans in the poor soil of the amazon. urban agriculture could be an elegant part of the solution to the food supply problem: the technology is already available, it doesn't compete with industrial agriculture for space, transport costs would be minimal, and small plots are conducive to extremely (and deliciously) diverse production. urbanisation, harttung argued, isn't going away so we should work to make urban agriculture a significant contributor to the food system instead of focusing only on expanding industrial agriculture.

magnus nilsson (chef at fäviken magasinet, åre)
fäviken: how we do the things we do
at fäviken in northern sweden, magnus nilsson and his staff are learning how to accommodate the seasons as they forage and grow their products, then use up what they have foraged and grown. he showed the beginnings of their research over the last few years. nilsson described the task of running faviken as cooking by gradually deciphering the relationship between four puzzles: 1) what can be foraged when?, 2) what can be grown when and how to grow it?, 3) what can be stored and how to store it? they have begun to develop a sense of a time map of foods they can get from the wild, from their fields, and from storage. a major ongoing project is to experiment with different methods of cultivation to identify the ones which remain in equilibrium for the very long term: in other words, methods that produce enough food for the restaurant while also not depleting the nutrients in the soil. their priorities are flavour and sustainability, rather than productivity alone, so they have rejected very productive methods in favour of apparently less efficient ways of growing their vegetables. they are also refining techniques for preserving and storing foods. this means finding ways--such as salting, smoking, drying, pickling, and others--to make fresh foods last longer without the texture and flavour disruption of freezing them. he gave as an example a method of storing leeks in near-suspended animation by keeping them in sand at 90-95% humidity just below freezing temperature. but their exploration of storage methods also means acknowledging that stored and preserved foods are not the same as fresh ones and developing ways of cooking them that reflect that. nilsson notes that "at base, we have to make choices and tradeoffs in the food we prepare. at fäviken, we're just trying to understand what the consequences of our choices are so we can act more intelligently."

jacqueline mcglade (executive director, european environmental agency
copenhagen is buzzing: bees, cities, and our common future
colony collapse disorder wipes out entire bee populations and is increasingly prevalent, jacqueline mcglade said. this is a problem that concerns everyone since much of our food supply now relies either indirectly or directly on bee pollination: no bees, and very soon, no food. the problem has two major components: increasing use of pesticides in agriculture and low-diversity agriculture in which a small number of crops are grown over large expanses of land. bees are susceptible to pesticides, and low-diversity agriculture deprives bees of the opportunity to find crops that have a lower pesticide load. though bees are crucial to agriculture, our existing system of agriculture is killing off the bees it depends on. beyond their importance to our food supply, bees are like the canary in the coal mine. what is happening to bee colonies now may soon begin to happen to humans too. even in the most remote regions lacking intensive agriculture or industry humans already carry in their bodies significant amounts of heavy metals from the air they breathe, and the water and food they consume. to make things worse, consumers don't have enough information to make informed choices about the pollutants in the foods they buy. within the next year, mcglade said, the EEA will be aggressively pursuing companies and facilities that are egregious polluters and expanding an air and water quality information service called eye on earth to reduce this information asymmetry.

ben shewry (chef at attica, melbourne)
the cycle of love
at his melbourne restaurant, ben shewry's food reflects the care and questioning, inquiring approach that are the foundations of his cooking. questioning the taken-for-granted can produce more elegant, innovative, and sustainable ways of cooking. shewry began using plants foraged from urban environments before the practice became popular. "i never feel richer," he said, "than when i'm feasting on the scraps of society." as he learned more about the edible plants that grow in urban areas, he realised that foraging in urban areas is elegant because it solves many problems at once: foraging provides chefs and cooks with a source of diverse ingredients, encourages people to take care of places where they forage, and offers a chance to target invasive (but edible and tasty) species that would otherwise crowd out native plants. shewry also questions the assumption that a young country like australia has a short culinary history, and looks to indigenous cultures for inspiration in his cooking. this approach has led him to develop novel cooking techniques such as earth ovens based on maori practices from new zealand and discover new ingredients like corn cured in running river water (another maori technique). for shewry the strongest motivation for a questioning approach to food is its ability to help us learn how to stop making poor choices that result in unsustainable food and re-learn how to accommodate the world rather than imposing ourselves on it. questioning provides knowledge, and "knowledge combined with care can make food taste better," shewry said, "our responsibility as chefs is to know and to act."

other posts about planting thoughts:
planting thoughts: a symposium without dissenting views,
summariessession 1session 3, session 4

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