10/01/2010 11:51 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Just Food's Let Us Eat Local: Where Sustainability And Good Food Are Stars

The Good Food Movement is alive and well in New York City, as evidenced by the thriving support and satisfied taste-buds found at Just Food's annual event, Let Us Eat Local. I know all too well that environmental issues can often seem vague, abstract and depressing. What's so inspiring about combining a love for food with a passion for the environment is that you can see, feel and taste your values -- you can put your money where your mouth is. As one of the evening's honorees Yonnette Fleming said, "Our soil is alive. We cannot have healthy food without healthy soil."

Just Food is an exciting, pioneering New York City-based organization that tackles a wide variety of projects related to food justice and promoting urban agriculture. They helped lead a campaign to legalize beekeeping in New York City, they help bring farmers and residents together for community-supported agriculture programs, connect food pantries to farms and give workshops on keeping chickens in the city. When faced with environmental problems that are frustratingly global, Just Food keeps it decidedly local.

Dozens of restaurants and food purveyors were spooning up tasty treats for the benefit at the South Street Seaport water taxi beach on a rainy September night, with detailed descriptions of what farms the ingredients came from, where seafood was caught and how the meat was raised. Unlike plenty of food-centric events where hungry eaters gobble from table to table, many restaurant owners and executive chefs were on-site, like Gramercy Park Tavern Chef Michael Anthony, and Green Table Owner Mary Cleaver. It was easy to chat with the servers about how the watermelon looked just like pieces of tuna or how surprisingly satisfying a sweet eggplant panna cotta with pink peppercorns could actually be. The people serving the food seemed to be just as enthusiastic about it as the diners eating it. As Just Food Executive Director Jacquie Berger said, "We're immersing ourselves in the delicious aspects of our work."

One of the nights honorees was New York Times columnist and cookbook author Mark Bittman, who Berger described Just Food as "having an organizational crush on." Bittman spoke of his belief in "the human right to eat food that has been raised ethically." While Bittman provided the star power, I like that Just Food is genuine about who they celebrate, and it's not just famous foodies. The other honorees were Yonnette Fleming, an urban farmer in central Brooklyn working for better access to fresh food in her neighborhood, an upstate New York farmer, MacArthur Genius, and community-supported agriculture pioneer Cheryl Rogowski.

Also, where else other than New York City would a young man billed as the livestock coordinator be wearing a sharp black suit with hipster hair? I guess when good, sustainable food is red carpet-worthy, that makes the Just Food benefit the Oscars.