Tuesday, September 25, 2012

There's something special about building communities through good food and good conversation, too

Eat Real Festival / Good food complimented by good conversation. 

The British novelist Virginia Woolf wrote in her 1929 novel, A Room of One's Own: "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well." She mused that the human frame being what it is ~ consisting of a heart, body and brain ~ a good dinner is of great importance to us all. And, it is best complimented by good conversation, too.

Indeed, last week was a very good one to be a foodie in the San Francisco Bay Area. First, I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating City Arts & Lectures event featuring New York Times food writer Mark Bittman at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. Then, during the weekend, I visited the annual Eat Real Festival at Jack London Square in Oakland and delighted in many delectable edibles that were seasonal, local and sustainable. Both events left my body and mind feeling happy and well nourished.

Mark Bittman
As the lead food writer for The New York Times Magazine, Mark Bittman shares his love of food through personal storytelling, teaching fundamental cooking techniques and essential lessons. He also covers food policy, cooking and eating as an Opinion columnist for The New York Times. He is the author of Food Matters, which explored the crucial connections among food, health and the environment. Many of my friends might remember him for writing "The Minimalist," a weekly column that ran for 13 years in The New York Times, which was part recipes and a lot of commonsense advice about food technique and taste.

Among the many interesting comments that Bittman made during his hour-long, cultural studies conversation with Jessica Battilana, a senior editor at Tasting Table, was this: "We have to take responsibility for what we eat. But we also need to demand accountability for what is produced for us to eat."

Mark Bittman / Sharing a conversation about food
at San Francisco's City Arts & Lectures.

Bittman supports the sustainability food movement as well as the principle of giving consumers the right to know what is in our food. Also, he advocates that we should care about the welfare of the animals which farms raise for our consumption of beef, pork and poultry. And, he stressed, we as consumers should make a conscientious effort to buy and eat quality food that is locally grown and sourced.

However, admits Bittman, "We need to grow, plan and distribute this food in a better manner." He believes we should be more aware of the carbon footprint being left by the food we buy and consume in our daily lives, whether we choose to be carnivores or vegetarians ~ even vegans.

Mark Bittman signs a copy of
his current book How to Cook
 Everything: The Basics
While Bittman has built a nation-wide community of like-minded enthusiasts through his writing for The New York Times, his books (Bittman's latest is How to Cook Everything: The Basics, which I bought and had signedand his television appearances on The Cooking Channel, PBS and NBC's Today, his own personal taste in food leans toward keeping things simple and basic. Whether dining at home or going out, Bittman forgoes labor-intensive dishes like lasagna ~ he hasn't cooked it in 20 years ~ in favor of simplicity, like a delicious bowl of miso soup or Asian noodles. He eschews fine dining and is more at ease eating out at any number of New York City's hidden nook, Japanese-cuisine restaurants he's discovered over the years.

A discovery of another kind is the Eat Real Festival, an annual event that draws thousands of like-minded foodies from around the Bay Area to the Oakland waterfront at Jack London Square. Eat Real has been described by some as "part street food festival, part country fair and part block party." According to its website, what this social adventure has been created for ~ its raison d'être ~ is to inspire festival goers to enjoy "tasty, healthy, good food." Around the grounds, there was live music, cooking lectures and demonstrations, and green spaces to spread out a blanket and turn this culinary experience into a picnic, too.

Eat real, eat well / Standing in line for seasonal, local, sustainable
cuisine from Tru Gourmet Dim Sum at the Eat Real Festival.

The S+S Gastro Grub menu
promoted its local partnerships.
In just a couple of hours on Saturday, I enjoyed a delicious sampling Brown Cow ("Cream on the top") Greek honey yogurt; a freshly steamed BBQ pork bun and hot chicken pot sticker from Tru Gourmet Dim Sum; a freshly grilled and very tender Macau-style Niman Ranch pork bun from S+S Gastro Grub; a Vietnamese Bánh Mi, one of the best street foods in the world, which is a sandwich served on a baguette with pickled organic carrots and organic daikon, tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapenos, cilantro, mayo and soy sauce from Little Green Cyclo; and a slice of wood-fired artisan pepperoni pizza served with enthusiasm from an 800-degree Italian Valoriani oven that's been described as "reminiscent of a large blacksmith's forge" at the soon-to-open Forge pizzeria. Finally, for dessert, I treated myself to a Mexican chocolate popsicle (other eclectic flavors included pluot Thai basil and sweet corn) from Lick Pops that hit the spot on this clear, sunny afternoon.

The Eat Real Festival / A family-friendly
atmosphere with good food, great weather
and wonderful conversation, too.
Everything I sampled at this year's Eat Real Festival was simply amazing, not to mention affordable, too. All portions were $5 or less. I arrived with a good appetite and departed feeling both satisfied and smiling.

There's no love more sincerer than the love of food, wrote the Irish poet George Bernard Shaw. And, as Mark Bittman and the Eat Real Festival confirmed for me last week, there's something very special about building communities through food. Bon appetit!

All photographs by Michael Dickens. Copyright 2012, all rights reserved.

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