Easy as pie
Sustainable food movement makes its way through Chico
Henri was rather startled the other evening, during the course of an otherwise uneventful post-prandial stroll, to take note of a monstrous RV parked in front of the Chico Women’s Club, a sign on the side announcing The Eat Well Guided Tour of America.
It turns out I had stumbled upon the Chico stop of a road trip sponsored by Sustainable Table, a New York City-based nonprofit that “celebrates the sustainable food movement, educates consumers on food-related issues, and works to build community through food.” Not only that, but a significant part of the tour is devoted to “honoring pie-making traditions by baking, tasting, comparing, sharing and eating endless varieties of pies from across the country.”
“Honoring” pie? “Sharing and eating endless varieties"? Be still mon cœur!
I took a deep breath and hastened inside the Women’s Club, where an array of some 20 pies—blueberry, peach, apple, nectarine and more—were displayed on a table at the back of the room, set up with a hundred or so folding chairs and a large screen. Unfortunately, the pies weren’t available yet. Fortunately, wine was, and I had a glass of absolutely divine La Rocca Vineyhards Lush Zinfandel, then wandered nonchalantly back over to the pies. Not yet. First, a short film.
I gathered up some literature, sat down, and waited, eagerly, for the film to begin.
The Eat Well Guided Tour of America—subtitled “You Are Where You Eat"—started Aug. 2 in Los Angeles and finishes Sept. 9 at the Farm Aid concert in New York City. Along the way, the group plans to celebrate local organic farmers and sustainable food organizations, and to promote the slow-food movement. Three days into the tour, it stopped in Chico, where, co-hosted by Slow Food Shasta Cascade, it was a fund-raiser for the Chico Grange Hall revitalization.
Sustainable Table is also affiliated with Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C., consumer-rights organization that “challenges the corporate control and abuse of our food supply and water resources” and takes issue with the country’s dependence on bottled water. In their publication Take Back the Tap, members of the group discuss not only the mess caused by empty bottles, but also the environmental havoc wrought by making and transporting the bottles as well as the “myth” of the purity of bottled water, claiming that most tap water is actually purer than bottled water.
Chico Mayor Andy Holcombe and Vice Mayor Ann Schwab (director of the Chico Sustainability Task Force) introduced the evening, both comparing, lightheartedly, slow-food to slow government, which gets criticized a lot. But, Holcombe added, “all good things take time.” Planning Commission Chairman Jon Luvaas then described the work going on at the Chico Grange—painting and refurbishing the 1902 building, originally Bidwell School, and also the attempt to “revitalize the tradition of protecting local farming and to make sure that local food is available.”
The Meatrix is an award-winning four-minute animated film that looks at the history and practices of corporate farming, from the systematic early 20th-century takeover of family farms to the ongoing treatment of animals, from pen to slaughterhouse. Cute, but also quite powerful.
Finally, it was time for pie. Local caterer David Guzzetti dished up, fresh from his kitchen, a slice of blueberry and a slice of peach, which I washed down with a 2005 Shiraz from Mt. Tehama Winery. Very tasty. Long a fan of peach, I found the blueberry absolutely exquisite as well. Completely sated, and quite taken by the enthusiasm of the crowd, I sat back to enjoy the second film of the evening, Eat at Bill’s: Life in the Monterey Market, a documentary about a successful sustainable grocer, with commentary by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
The Web site for Sustainable Table (sustainabletable.org) has links to the Eat Well Guided Tour, including the full schedule and on-the-road photos and blog entries from participants. In addition, you’ll find links to sustainable growers, sellers and farmers markets around the country (locate them by ZIP code). You can also watch The Meatrix, join discussion groups, find teachers’ resources and sign up to get involved yourself.
Perhaps best of all, there are recipes for pies.