A discovery of food through travel
Last weekend, hoards of foodies from the world over gathered at Times Center in New York City for the fourth annual TEDxManhattan event. TEDxManhattan is like the little foodie brother of the famous TED talks, but it is an independent event, licensed and organized by Diane Hatz, founder and executive director of Change Food. The theme of the event is ‘Changing the way we eat’, and each year it draws together key food and farming experts from around the country to present 12 minute talks on issues surrounding the food system.
Alas, I did not get to go to Manhattan, but I did the next best thing and instead attended the London viewing party to celebrate the talks closer to home. So last Saturday, I headed to the Impact Hub Westminster along with 100 other keen London foodies for an afternoon of talks on our eating habits and improving the food system.
The screening was hosted by food activist Justyna Kolowrotna and nutrition student Alix Rech. The girls joined forces with local food community The Food Assembly – an organisation much like a pre-buy farmers market enabling a ‘buy and collect’ system of food shopping from local farmers and producers. Such a great idea and something I only just discovered at this event!
Alix is also a Food Revolution ambassador in London ( I work at the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation as the Food Revolution Program Coordinator) and after I helped promote the event on the food revolution blog and social pages, I figured I might as well go along and see what it’s all about. It was also really nice to actually meet one of our 1,300 plus ambassadors in the flesh after so much contact online via email and social.
I arrived bang on time at 3pm, hoping to sample a few of the nibbles that were promised in the invite. Woah, did I underestimate the ‘nibbles’! When I walked into the room, I was welcomed by mountains of glorious, fresh-baked bread, all types and colours- to the left were platters piled high with almond croissants, alongside a whole box of rich, sticky chocolate brownies yet to be touched. If these were just the nibbles, then I was in for a treat for the rest of the evening!
The large selection of local food and produce on offer was thanks to generous supporters from the food assembly and the local food community. As well as the freshly baked artisan bread and pastries, there was locally made ‘London honey’, fruit jerky snacks and even cakes made from reclaimed fruits and vegetables. There was a HUGE range of local food on offer to keep us attendees content.
Freshly baked cheese twists and the box of chocolate brownies!
Most notably, we even had an exclusive chance to try some good ol’ grubs. Yep that’s right, crickets and maggots were also on offer here. There were your basic seasoned crickets and worms, supplied by Bush Grub, for those who did not mind eating the grub in it’s whole state.
For others more adventurous (or unsuspecting perhaps) there were Alix and Justyna’s homemade, super sustainable and protein-packed cricket flour choc chip cookies. For most, these cricket cookies were certainly a new delicacy and there was a rather mixed response.
Luckily, there was a feedback board where tasters could express whether they ‘liked’ ‘disliked’ or were ‘not sure’ of how they felt about the cookies. Although not everyone was open to eating insects, and I for one did not try the cookies, there was definitely a sense of achievement to be had in drawing attention to an alternative, sustainable protein source which is supposedly the ‘future of food’.
The controversial crickets and cookies….
Besides the overflowing volume of food, the best bit was that all the sponsors were strong advocates for sustainable, local and waste-free food, and their produce clearly reflected those values. Many of the representatives from the companies donating food were also present, on hand to explain their products, and it was a great bonus to be able to speak first hand to the owners and employees of these great new start up companies and to learn about their background and journey into the food industry.
So with a plate of goodies to tide me over, it was time to take a seat for the TED talks….(sorry the food was so good, it really was worth dawdling on). Next to the food mingling area was a great set up of a viewing room with a large projector screen, complete with comfy bean bags for our viewing comfort, for the best view of the TEDx talks. So much better than streaming the talks off my laptop!
There were some stand out talks from Debra Eschmeyer, the White House Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy who gave her 5 tips for changing the way we eat, and Michele Merkel gave a hard hitting story of using the legal system to fight factory farms with a shocking story of how family farms and innocent citizens are being caught up in the actions and lobbying of factory farming.
But my favourite talk though was not one of the hard hitting talks about farmers or crucial issues in the food system, but rather the very first talk from Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group who own Shake Shack and a string of other restaurant businesses, on the restaurant industry. As someone who has worked in hospitality for 4 years in both fine dining and chain restaurants, his talk on the merging of chain restaurants with fine dining was something that resonated with me- and his explanation of why once you have high-quality food you never go back was spot on.
But I also found a new food hero in Steve Ritz, the energetic elementary school teacher and the man behind the Green Bronx Machine, a mind-blowingly brilliant project of growing fruits and vegetables indoors in an edible wall at his Bronx school, which generates enough produce to feed 450 students healthy meals and trains the youngest nationally certified workforce in America. This project is literally changing the lives of his students- it’s not only improving their health, but their future, giving them a better quality of life and opportunities in further education. His talk is absolutely a must see.
Half- time meant dinner time! That’s right, there was yet more food to tease us viewers with. If I wasn’t already full enough, there were now burritos from Chipotle and Honey beer for our dinner. Just in case we were still hungry. I was not hungry in the slightest, but then I can never turn down a Chipotle burrito- and especially not a free one. Sat on a bean bag with a bowl of guacamole and 2 golden ales by my side, I was a very happy camper indeed!
Once the talks finished up, I was drawn back to the food (there was just so much of it!). But unable to eat anymore, and with the permission of Alix and Justyna, I took home bags of bread and brownies and pastries to distribute to housemates. I also finally got the chance to have a good chat with Alix and Justyna, with the work they do and their plans for our upcoming Food Revolution Day. And before I went, a quick photo with the lovely hosts!
I was absolutely stuffed from way too many helpings of bread and brownies, but as speaker Joel Berg declared, “To be well read, we must be well fed!”
Images: Justyna Kolowrotna.