Here in foodie-centric Portland, we’re wrapping up Feast Portland: A Celebration of Oregon Bounty. It’s not that we don’t already appreciate all our great restaurants, chefs, food carts, and farmers markets. We practically worship at the church of artisan beer, handmade cheese, our beloved wine country, and Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker. But festival co-founders, Mike Thelin and Carrie Welch, thought we should celebrate our bounty with four days showcasing local chefs, winemakers, farmers, and distillers. And, of course, since it is Portland, the festival’s ultimate goal is to raise funds to help end childhood hunger. I’m sad to report that Oregon ranks among the top five hungriest states in the nation.
This weekend, there were tasting events, sit-down dinners, hands-on classes, culinary demos, industry get-togethers and lectures. As part of this celebration, I attended a lecture called The Future of Food given by food journalist and author Mark Bittman and presented by Literary Arts*. His book Fish won the Julia Child Best Cookbook Award. In 1998, he published How to Cook Everything which has been described as the “more hip Joy of Cooking,” and has sold more than a million copies. He also writes and blogs for the New York Times. Bittman’s mission these days is to spread the word about healthier eating and more sustainable food practices.
During his lecture, he talked about genetically modified foods (GMOs) saying that, although there may not be anything wrong with them, the public has a right to know if they’re eating them. California may lead the way on that front this November with Prop 37, which would require labels to inform consumers if foods are genetically modified. Not surprisingly, the scary behemoth Monsanto Co. has donated more than $4 million to defeat the initiative.
Bittman mentioned a few times that, eventually, we all will be eating a predominantly plant-based diet. It comes down to better health choices, and saving the planet. The soda tax was bandied about, and although I was on the fence about government interfering with something as personal as whether I drink soda – even though I personally do not drink soda – I am now a firm supporter of that kind of legislation. Since charging a sin tax for cigarettes, the number of deaths from tobacco has dropped dramatically. A tax on soda could save lives, as well as raise a lot of money for cities across the nation. Watch Richmond, California this November to see what happens there. Since California makes up 12% of the U.S. population, as California goes, so goes the rest of the country.
The hundreds of people in the audience cheered Bittman on. He was obviously preaching to the choir here, but he left us all feeling we were headed in the right direction. I left with a little more ammunition to aim at the folks I know who still believe that steaks come from the supermarket, and not depressingly filthy and crowded feedlots.
*Literary Arts is an awesome community-based non-profit organization that brings some of the world’s most celebrated authors to Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Their programs include Portland Arts & Lectures, Oregon Book Awards & Fellowships, and Writers in the Schools. They also host guided discussion groups around great works of literature through a program called Delve. Through the years, they’ve hosted Stephen King, Christopher Hitchens, Ian McEwan, Joan Didion, Gore Vidal, Salman Rushdie and, well, almost every author you could ever want to see. This season I’m looking forward to Jonathan Franzen, Barbara Kingsolver, Nikky Finney, Stephen Greenblatt, and Jeffrey Toobin. Check out Literary Arts HERE.