I have been thinking about this for a while now. You remember, like six weeks ago? New decade, big thing, Person’s of the year and the decade all around. Internet people, business people, politicians. Even wine person of the decade. No food person – at least I did not come across one.
Who are the people that left a significant mark on our food culture in the past ten years?
The TV/Celebrity Chef? We certainly had a lot more of chefs on TV, talking about food, preparing food, showing the average viewer how to cook up a storm or broil a simple roast. Anthony Bourdain traveled around the world, and the couch potato traveled with him. Gordon Ramsey had short-tempered outbursts on TV screens on both sides of the Atlantic. Yep, they were everywhere, but rather than taking the inspiration to their home kitchens, viewers settled in their sofas, watching Celebrity Chefs as you watched the Gladiators in the Roman circus. Only that in Roman time the snack food served was certainly better than the chips, dips, and drinks coming with today’s TV evenings. If anything, these Celebrity Chef’s provided great entertainment, but their impact on revitalizing our food culture is very questionable to me. So, out goes the Celebrity Chef.
And in steps – a first Lady and her garden. How can someone become a food person of a decade if she was only in the public eye for eleven months of it, you ask? Well, if you can win the noble peace price after nine months, why not food person of the decade after eleven? The public stunt of an organic garden in the White House was certainly a masterpiece to get food on the political agenda. But only creating a forum is not yet enough for winning this noble title, cause as all things politics it is easy to announce a vision and much more difficult to pull it through. Especially in this complex system of big industries, lobbyists and political deals. I surely hope we will see Michelle Obama involved in education and actions towards better food supply for years to come, so maybe in 2020?
So how about all those bloggers and writers that cooked their heart out for a year and taking us along on their journey: eating locally, growing their own food, grilling the roadkill as a Sunday roast: Barbara Kingsolver (“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”), Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon (“Plenty”), Gary Paul Nabhan (“Coming home to eat”). Certainly admirable projects they pulled off and great learnings involved for bystanders looking on. These projects were fueled by a lot of effort, but although I admire them and personally have had great take-aways from their books, I wonder if their accounts have not scared the biggest part of the population. If you do not happen to be a writer by profession, with the current day job of writing a book about your experience, spending a day driving through the countryside looking for locally grown wheat does not sound very feasible to most of us. Which might result in de-motivation rather than the revolutionary spirit of “we can change our food culture”. In light of this doubt, the blogging localvore is not receiving this decade’s award, although I acknowledge that their efforts might have an important impact when discussing and shaping the supply-side of REAL FOOD FROM REAL PEOPLE. But that will have to be evaluated in 2020.
Another spokesperson for real food is journalist Michael Pollan. With his books he has been going full circle. He clearly analyzed the problems we are facing when it comes to food production and presents them in a way everyone can understand. Not only has been an advocate for changes in the way we produce our food, he has stimulated consumers to make fast changes to how they were eating, giving them easy and simple indications to follow. His last book “Food Rules” is certainly a great tool for the consumer needing some guidance and a driver for changes in our food culture. All these achievements make him almost the Food Person of the Decade.
The Food Person of the Decade in my opinion is the family farmer. Whose sheer existence and daily struggle tended the fertile ground on which all other ideas can now grow. It is the family farmer that has not given in to big agribusiness, that stood tall on his land and defended real food. Without them manning the fortress of real agriculture over the last decades - and especially the last one if we consider all the developments like GMO etc – no White House garden would have been possible. Michael Pollan would not have had no one to write about, and the blogging localvores would have starved a couple of weeks into their projects.
The Food Person of the Decade is the family farmer: the Barbaras & Fabios, Carlos, Martys & Krises, the Veras and Vickis, just to name a few. Their hard work, their sweat, their risk taking, their crop planning, them in their fields and on their pastures for 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, on Sundays, holidays, birthdays – they are what keeps our society alive. It is the family farmer that brings taste to our kitchens, in restaurants and homes. It is the family farmer that does the magic of awakening tastebuds. I am grateful that I am so lucky to call some of them my friends and be inspired by them.