"A bottle of red, a bottle of white,
It all depends upon your appetite... "
Billy Joel, New York
Not so long ago, you'd enter a white tablecloth restaurant in most cities of the U.S. for a fine dining experience and the wait staff, or even Maître D' would approach your table with the simple, direct question: "Would you like red or white wine with your meal?"
That was it. There was can you believe not even a wine list. This was not so very long ago across the United States of America. Simply put, our attitude and aptitude toward wine had not been sufficiently educated, exposed, expanded. There is, today, virtually no corner Bistro that could get away with that simple "Red, or White" question. We now know that some of us fervently prefer a Cab to a Merlot, a Sauvignon Blanc to a Chardonnay; a Shiraz to a Pinot Noir...and from this region over that one... How did we come to this?
A leading trade group of vintners, and restaurateurs and wait staff educated us, that's how. That and travel, and our willingness to explore and extend our palette brought a type of education that spreads with each tasting room sampling, and our collectively gaining a deeper appreciation of craft, of stewardship, of provenance in our choices. Thanks to such efforts, we are hungry to become more educated in our eating experiences. This hunger is true at all socioeconomic levels of our world. We are in an Information Age and we want to know. Why can we not, therefore, expect to achieve a greater sense of provenance, of connection to the sources of our fish? It is time.
This is the fourth in this particular series of blogs on how to take some essential steps toward more ecologically responsible seafood menus. The steps, learned from observing and listening to chefs who are making a difference, are:
• Source well
• Portion well
• Price well to your customer base,
• And next step is...Tell your customers what you have chosen to serve to them, and why
This step is so powerful, yet so often misunderstood in the power of its simplicity. After all, if as a chef-leader, restaurateur or manager you have done the work of raising the standard of food elements, and the challenging work of menu development; now it is for you to claim the value of your work.
This is how you can gain back the risk value of your better choices... you gain this balanced pricing opportunity through education: you tell your customers what you have decided to serve on your menu, and why.
This seems so simple, and yet it is so thoroughly counter to the commodity business norms that it seems out of reach much more than it needs be. Yet, we have examples of Food + Beverage sectors teaching how to create value, through educating our palettes and informing our forks.
When go out to eat, we also -- not always but often -- want to learn about our food. The what and the wherefore of our food is part of our hunger. We leave our homes with our tongues seeking new textures, wondrous scents, the mouthwatering explosions that is most possible with the discovery of foods that bring us closer to producers, to nature, to our deeper connection with and appreciation for foods that tell us that there is more to life than the powerful processed food substance corporations might want us to remember.
I've just come from the annual Slow Food extravaganza of diversity and regional treasures known as Terra Madre. In 2004, as I was starting CleanFish, I attended the very first Slow Food/ Slow Fish Conference in Genoa. That gathering served to validate, to stretch and to enliven my instincts toward the network of artisan producers that we promote today at CleanFish. This sojourn to Italy was a 10th anniversary check-in. It served again, to validate, to stretch and to revitalize my sense of purpose and resolve for participating in and leading where we can in the Food Revolution that is most certainly taking place.
Returning to U.S., I am awakened again to the realities of how pressing the issues of Good, Clean and Fair food truly are across this nation. Last week I attended an Aspen Institute gathering of urgent entrepreneurs painting pictures of the Middle East in much more hopeful scenarios than I ever see on mainstream media. What else don't we know about the rest of the world? I also sat with a Community College President looking with his staff as with new eyes at their entire campus while asking how aligned they could imagine being possible in their next educational Master Plan with a rather new educational theme: food.
Suddenly a curriculum more directly aligned with what their students do and what they will live with in their future began to evolve. When I asked where the students eat daily I was told that practically 10,000 of them, eat on campus 1 to 2 times per day. Yet, food was as if a revelation for them to consider learning as a formal program to be integrated. Just that fact takes to new levels the kind of thinking and actions hoped for when the first shovels and rakes were hauled out to dig into the very first Edible Schoolyard.
At the end of the last Clinton Global Initiative, panels of young people from all over the world were asked what they had learned. On this young leaders panel was a princess from Oman. Looking all the part of a royal princess from an exotic part of the world, this young woman stated that she returning to rally her peer group of next gen leaders to formulate strategies around the essential goal of "making growing food sexy."
From my small business platform working throughout the world with artisan producers of wild and cultivated fisheries, I am beginning to see the reality of new solutions through new design. Investors too are just beginning to see the wisdom of integrated ecosystems that will bring us food and water in ways ConAgra and Monsanto probably don't imagine. They are just way too sexy. Or, if they can imagine them, they are too coated in sugar, ethanol or food-like substances to be welcomed as authentic by young people looking askance at the consequences of those industrial food-like products in the epidemic of "diabesity" amongst their peers.
These young people see an America made weaker by its current industrialized food systems, and that weakness is what they don't want for their future. Increasingly children in developing lands, as well as those in our local schools have learned to question how a soda machine can be easier to deliver to them than the supply of safe drinking water to their cities, towns and classrooms. What does such a thing mean?
Over and again, the disconnections that typify the industrial food systems bring us back to a desire that seems growing in this country to know where our food comes from. Like the wine lists required even in today's most casual settings, it is time to list on menus the sources and the practices of the fisheries we are eating from. We are learning that we are the ones who can best influence the changes we want. Moving to ecologically responsible menus means we understand it is better when we know more about what we want to order, and so reward with our patronage better choices. We are learning and we really need to speed up the pace of realizing that we vote with our forks as well as our ballots. Aligned with our concerns about climate, energy, water and land use are learning that we are in a race, a cultural race of choices. We must learn faster, so we can vote and eat with greater trust, tomorrow.