Posted on Fri, January 23, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
0 Comments | Categories: Events, Farms and Farming, Meat,
by Cecily Upton (and Jonny Hunter and the Underground Food Collective).
Photos courtesy of Kevin Walsh
To those who think that the collective cinching of belts (and the accompanying groan) happening across America these days might usher more and more folks into the open arms of fast food value menus and away from the perceived expense of good, clean, and fair food, I offer up a series of dinners eaten last week as a counterpoint.
Alongside my good friends and Terra Madre delegates, the Underground Food Collective, I helped organize three Pre-Industrial Pig dinners - celebrations of food (particularly pork) raised with integrity and without shortcuts, and held both in Brooklyn at the homes of friends as well as in Manhattan in partnership with Slow Food NYC at Astor Center.
When we began advertising for the seven-course, family style meals in mid-December, we worried that the impending holidays and the “financial slowdown” would mean we’d be twisting friends’ arms to get anyone to come. Turns out we had nothing to worry about; tickets sold out fast. Now all we needed to do was give folks an experience, and a meal, worth their time and their money.
As the days approached, we borrowed chairs from friends, hung bikes from ceilings to make room, and cooked and cooked and cooked. The meals themselves were delicious, but the real show was the Madison, Wisconsin area cooks and producers who raised and processed the food. As they shared stories, introduced their families to diners, and served the courses themselves, it was clear that their hearts were in each dish. Their dedication to their craft, and more importantly, their lifestyle, impressed the guests even more than their perfectly velvet paté or their succulently sweet pork loin.
As diners left, commenting that they’d just had “the most satisfying meal in a long time,” I couldn’t help but wonder why. This is New York, and our guests are no strangers to good food. What made our meal “satisfying” and not “delicious?” As I think back on the packed apartments, crowded with smiling faces passing platters of pork confit and sharing wine they’d brought along, I realized that it was the experience, not just the meal, that the people were hungry for!
Said Wisconsin chef and dinner host Jonny Hunter: “We didn’t know much about pigs two years ago when we first decided to raise, slaughter and process these pigs—with the help of our good friend (and stellar farmer) Henry Morren. It still feels intimidating to think about doing it again, but our knowledge is growing as we continue to meet, and learn from, more and more people raising pigs to these standards.
Through this project, our community of friends had expanded. We are lucky to have met lots of wonderful people along the way, including many who contributed their time and talents to this endeavor. I can’t imagine this project succeeding without all of the folks involved—it is what I envision a collective effort to be at its best.”