What constitutes an “Earth-friendly” approach to eating? Is it to revisit the vegetarian principles of the book, Diet for a Small Planet, or to look for organic ingredients? Are locally produced foods the answer, and if they are, can we keep these sources from drying out? It seems these questions are on the minds of many, so when nutritionist Gerri French asked me (as a representative of Slow Food Santa Barbara) if I would participate in a workshop titled Earth-Friendly Cuisine: The Farmer, Chef, and You, I, of course, said yes.
Sponsored by Santa Barbara City College, the Saturday, May 12, workshop asks some challenging and important questions about the concentration of our food supply into the hands of mega-corporations. Why are this country’s poor getting fat? Is the Slow Food (“locavore”) movement a luxury of the rich? On board to explore these issues of food safety, sustainability, and health is a panel of area farmers, chefs, and community members. Ann Cooper, the chef/author who is transforming the Berkeley School District lunches, will be the keynote speaker. Attendees also have the option of enjoying an affordable, healthy lunch, prepared from local ingredients by the SBCC culinary team.
The biggest issue seems to be whether farms can survive. Santa Barbara may be like the magical land of Cockaigne, with a year-round growing season, but when farms are not being legislated out of existence by the state’s housing mandates or priced out of the county by stratospheric land values, they face competition from Chinese strawberries and Mexican avocados. And much of the local strawberry crop is shipped across country, leaving sustainability advocates to ask how much sense it makes to expend 100 calories of fossil fuel to fly a four-calorie Camarosa strawberry to New York in February.
Though many residents-and many restaurants-have yet to embrace the “buy local” motto, an increasing number of people perceive the continued existence of area-produced foods as a matter of public safety, and say we cannot afford to lose local producers. They argue that in case of a disaster, Santa Barbara could easily be cut off from the outside world for weeks, and grocery shelves would go bare. There is also the issue of contamination at factory farms, and the loss of biodiversity that occurs with industrial-scale agriculture and fisheries. These are all weighty reasons to support S.B. county producers. Knowing who grew your carrots and who caught your shrimp is a comforting thing; making friends with local producers creates a community bond. There is also a selfish motive to wish for the continued existence of regional growers and artisans: Their products taste better. And to a cook, what could be more important?
Earth-Friendly Cuisine: The Farmer, Chef, and You takes place Saturday, May 12, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., at SBCC’s Campus Center (721 Cliff Dr.). The workshop costs $8 for lunch; preregister at the Schott Center (310 W. Padre St.).