This week, chefs, activists, policymakers, farmers and journalists convened for the New York Times’ Food for Tomorrow Conference at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.
In a conversation facilitated by Sam Sifton (New York Times food editor), with Tom Colicchio (Craft Restaurants and Co-Founder of Food Policy Action) and Andrea Reusing (Lantern and The Durham), Marcus discussed the divide between what comes out of urban America and what is in and of urban America, particularly when we think about food as an expression of art, culture and history.
Marcus first began thinking about this because he wanted to find purpose in being a chef in Harlem – a community where there is a huge divide between the pleasures of good food and access to a dining experience that celebrates the community’s art, history and culture. From the beginning, Marcus says, he was thinking about these dynamics when he opened Red Rooster.
As a result of the industrialized and modern food system, the working poor have gained the convenience of cheap food, but it has come with a price. Marcus believes that we have traded the convenience of cheap food for the basic skills of cooking and preparing foods. In other words, we now have an entire generation of people lacking the knowledge and skills needed to prepare food for themselves and are, instead, stuck in a food system that has removed agency by marketing cheap food that is conveniently making us sick. Whether or not this trade-off was an intentional decision we made, is not the point. The point is that we are facing major consequences as a result of the design of our food system and we have to begin to think about how to combat the challenges together, as a community. Tom Colicchio agreed with Marcus and added, “We need to educate a population. We are a generation removed from actually having any skills at all in the kitchen and knowing where food comes from.”
While we need radically different policies in our food system in order to create access to healthy foods for the working poor, there are significant solutions that we can implement in our own neighborhoods to change the way people are thinking about food. “My food memories growing up, aside from my family, come from the lunches that I had at school where I really actually started to develop a real sense of flavor because it was real food – not what we have right now,” says Marcus. Imagine if, as Marcus suggests, the lunchroom actually resembled the complexity of flavors in America’s diverse population and we were serving children real food while simultaneously educating them about how to prepare it.
“The beauty of America,” as Marcus points out, “is that we are so complex and so different. We are one of the few countries in the world that don’t have one food identity. That is the beauty and also the complexity.” By intentionally evoking interest in flavor and ingredients, we could potentially have a fully engaged population who is intrigued by real food and has baseline knowledge about the food system. A generation that can cook will raise the awareness that we need in order to prioritize what is important for the environment, our communities and ourselves.
You can view all of the videos from the New York Times’ Food for Tomorrow Conference here.