Principled eaters gather at grill
Writer, 'locavore' leader rings dinner bell that resonates
Portlanders who like to think of this town as being on the cutting edge of both dining trends and 'green' culture recently got a reminder that the Bay Area is still the leader. On July 11, Jessica Prentice came to town to cook dinner.
It was the sort of event that gets foodies salivating: an all-organic, all-local dinner held outdoors on a summer night. Guests dined on the lawn beside the Busy Corner Grocery (4927 S.E. 41st Ave., 503 777-5101) rich in shabby-chic. There were small bunches of wildflowers as centerpieces on mismatched tables, and behind the clouds a full moon.
Prentice is the author of 'Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection' (Chelsea Green, 2006) in which several shades of the new foodie rainbow converge. She put a catchy name to a movement: 'Locavores' are people who try to eat seasonal, local food, in part to reduce the amount of energy spent in transporting food to the table. (Locavores are usually omnivores; 'I used to be a vegan … ' is a common conversational opener.)
'It's taking off partly because organic has been so much taken over by corporations,' Prentice says as she flips meat. 'And people who want to feel a connection to their food don't really feel like organic does it anymore: It's corporate organic, it doesn't have much depth, conviction or meaning.'
She mentions rising concerns about peak oil and global warming, saying: 'Eating locally is one way we can reduce our footprint on the planet. People want to know where their food is grown, who by, and that the animals and ecosystems aren't harmed by what they eat.'
Prentice follows the ideas of Weston A. Price (1870-1948), a Cleveland dentist who noticed that people in certain nonindustrialized cultures often had fine teeth. His book, 'Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,' recounts - with photos - his global odyssey during which he researched their diets and formulated reasons that their general health was so good, noting what happened when they switched to Western diets.
Some of his prime recommendations: consume organ meats, sauerkraut, raw (unpasteurized) milk and healthy fats; soak grains overnight; and avoid soy.
Sally Fallon, who started the Weston A. Price Foundation in 1999, took his ideas and made them accessible, with guidelines and recipes, in her book 'Nourishing Traditions.' There's also some overlap between this and books such as 'The Whole Hog' and English restaurants like St. John's, which promote eating organ meats.
Prentice's book is structured around a yearly calendar (13 moons) and offers recipes using seasonal ingredients. Thus, July 11 was a celebration of the Mead Moon, named in 16th-century England after the drink made from honey taken by newlyweds on their 'honeymoon' for fertility.
Busy Corner co-owner Susan Navarre Chaney holds a similar family-style dinner every Friday night, serving local and organic produce. Of the 64 people who showed up this night, she said all but eight were regulars.
Zafiro Papastratakos, originally from Chicago but now of Northeast Portland, came to the event alone and found it fantastic. 'I'm into creating community and places that have public socialization as a focus,' she says as she writes her check. 'So the rest of it was all bonus.'
Food wheel spins with season
Lalena Dolby works in the Food and Farms Program at Ecotrust and is on the Slow Food Portland steering committee. She has raw milk delivered to her at work, she makes her own yogurt, she tries to make sauerkraut.
'Slow food is more about waiting around than lots of preparation,' she explains.
Dolby admits she was lucky to grow up in Gaston with parents who cooked with whole foods. She invited Prentice to do a demo at a farmers market, and then thought it might be nice to have a full moon feast while she was in town.
'Jessica's book put into words all the reasons I eat the way I do,' Dolby says. 'It's a perfect fit, all the food activism, trying to get people to eat locally. We want to give tools to people, about how to eat locally, perhaps on a budget, rather than just saying, 'Oh you shouldn't be eating that!' '
She says when her and her boyfriend's community-supported-agriculture supply ran out in winter they found the supermarket 'frightening.' She couldn't face the mealy produce. She says eating local and seasonal 'changed our bodies and our cravings. I don't crave a tomato in winter anymore, or strawberries.'
Prentice and two graphic artists put together a food wheel of 100 miles around the Bay Area, showing which items are seasonal and which are available year-round. Portland doesn't have one yet, but Dolby says Ecotrust may be fit for the job, since it involves researching hundreds of producers.
'One of the points of the Full Moon Feast is to build community around food, and that's already happening here,' Prentice says.
Is that beef 'grass-finished'?
The atmosphere was genial, and as for the food, it was traditional rather than outré. If part of the pleasure of dining out now consists of hearing the wait staff describe the specials in detail, here it's taken up a notch. The sourcing of the food is a crucial part of the conversation.
It's not enough for the beef to be grass-fed, it has to be grass-finished. Free-range eggs are not as good as pasteurized eggs. We learned that the grass-finished beef was from River Run Farm of Clatskanie, and the lettuce in the Greek salad come from the 47th Avenue Farm.
Cliff Steinberg also is enjoying the evening: 'I think more people are tuning into this,' he says. 'It doesn't matter what you eat (from a calorie point of view), but where it comes from and who is involved in it.'
He agrees local and organic is still a luxury - tonight's meal was $35, and people don't call Whole Foods supermarket 'Whole Paycheck' for nothing. But he's optimistic.
'Organic is seen as an elitist arena,' he says, 'but everybody who has an interest in good healthy food can get it because rich people have made it more available.'