By Jenn Burka
On September 19, I participated in the culminating event of Full Plate Ventures and Bethesda Green’s “On the Farm, Around the Table.” Sponsored by 15 organizations with links to Food Day’s core principals, the program featured three meals committed to providing healthy and sustainable foods. The event was a warm and inviting dinner with a group of individuals from a variety of professions. Mitch Berliner from the Bethesda Central Farm Market was in attendance (you can read more about his Market here), and Montgomery County Council member-at-large Hans Riemer was there as well.
For Food Day, many of the individuals in attendance will be participating or leading activities related to these topics. The Bethesda Central Farm Market will have a booth dedicated to Food Day that weekend. The movie “Ingredients” will be showcased at Church in Bethesda. Rather than focusing exclusively on the “bad guys” of agribusiness, the movie looks at the successes within the food movement, highlighting those that are making a change and ways that the individual can help. The movie will be shown at 7:00pm and a discussion with local businesses and initiatives is to follow.
The dinner I attended was called “Savor Local Flavor – Dinner with Chef Tony.” Located at Chef Tony’s in Bethesda, there were about 30 guests in attendance. We were served a selection of fresh and local foods accompanied by a discussion with Chef Tony Marciante, Caroline Taylor (executive director of Montgomery Country Side Alliance), and Cheryl Kollin (principal of Full Plate Ventures, LLC).
The food was wonderful, but the best thing about the evening was getting to connect to many people interested in issues of food and sustainability. There were members of the local government, nutritionists, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and individuals that work to support local farmers.
Chef Tony emphasized that it’s hard for small restaurants to stock their kitchens if they’re getting food from different places. Luckily, there are some great new aggregation systems and facilities that allow restaurants to share processing costs. However, the problem of stocking the kitchen with mostly local foods is exacerbated when customers expect to find the same dishes every time. Customers should understand that restaurants may need to adjust their menus based on what is available from the farmers; this is the best way to serve seasonal, high quality meals. According to Chef Tony, “you don’t get tomatoes in DC in December because they suck!” The big challenge is to spread the word to customers that you won’t be able to find all types of produce all year round and that that is a great way to eat.
Often times when describing the need for sustainable foods, people will say that we need to change from conventional methods to methods that are more environmentally friendly. The truth of the matter is that importing produce and processed foods has only been the norm in western societies for the past seventy years. Perhaps we need to return to more traditional methods of eating what is available, where it is available and employing methods such as canning and freezing to expand food availability. Eating a Chef Tony’s shows how great a meal can be enjoyed when ingredients are seasonal. From Carolina tomatoes to Virginia rockfish Maryland autumn vegetables, the meal tasted fresh, because it was.