Change Comes to Dinner – And Sixth & I Street

The Book

Katherine Gustafson has written a compulsively readable book full of optimism that we can overcome our nation-wide dependence on big agriculture and addiction to obesity-causing fast food.

She writes about initiatives across the country – of individuals, families, and organizations working to bring sustainable, healthy food and services to appreciative consumers.  With her descriptions of pioneers, from adding gardening to school curricula to bringing affordable fresh produce to inner-city food deserts, one reads this book and hope springs anew that we won’t all dissolve into puddles of fat and inertia by the end of the decade.

In each chapter, she visits and interviews farmers, distributers, and consumers who are subverting the ways many of us grew up eating – frozen and canned supermarket food, fast-food restaurants and school menus devised from surplus commodities.

At the end of her travels, she had an epiphany: “It dawned on me that the answer…was a system designed to bring people and their food into a closer relationship…[to] shrink the distance between farmers and eaters in…areas of knowledge, finance, and labor.”  Not such an easy thing to implement, but we are making a start as a country and in hundreds of individual communities.

The book comes with an extensive chapter-by-chapter bibliography of her sources, which would be useful for further research on specific topics.  I found myself wishing for an index, though.

Katherine Gustafson, Change Comes to Dinner, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2012. (http://us.macmillan.com/changecomestodinner/KatherineGustafson)

The Event

Four local avatars of the sustainable food movement joined Ms. Gustafson at the 6th and I Historic Synagogue to tell their own stories and discuss the future of fresh, local  and healthy eating.  Moderated by Danny Harris, founder of People’s District (“A People’s History of Washington DC”) and Feastly (a supper club), it included Mike Curtin, CEO of DC Central Kitchen; Sarah Polon, owner of Soupergirl; and Bernie Prince, co-executive director of DC FreshFarm Market.

The discussion was wide-ranging and enlightening.  Here is a collection of anecdotal information from my notes.  Attribution is given as initials after each point.

  • Is healthy food a social good? DH
  • For the first time, schoolchildren’s life expectancy is less than their parents’. BP
  • College students are now demanding sustainable food from their foodservice suppliers. MC
  • The corn harvest may be devastated by drought, raising the cost of everything, but – small farmers with diverse crops won’t be affected as much. SP
  • Kids with schoolyard gardens love raw kale salad! BP
  • DC Central Kitchen has proven that inner-city patrons will buy fresh produce from corner stores by subsidizing the stocking, then charging wholesale prices when the experiment was a success. MC
  • Why buy in farmers markets?  For one thing, there will be produce you won’t find in supermarkets. BP
  • Soupergirl buys products from DuPont Circle Farmers Market to use in her soup; she knows her producers and the produce. SP

To conclude, Katherine noted that “local food” is not the simple or only answer; there needs to be a more comprehensive solution.  Change in the marketplace depends on consumer demand.  Consumer education leads to change.  There has been great progress in the last ten years.

All of these folks, and so many more, are working toward that change.  Keep up the good fight, everyone!

About Judy

I have been cooking and eating all my life. I help run the Olney Farmers and Artists Market in Olney, Maryland, arrange their weekly chef demos and blog from that website (olneyfarmersmarket.org) on Market matters. This personal blog is for all things foodie: cookbooks, products, restaurants, eating.
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