Presidential politics to sink your teeth into

Foodies. It’s an awful word: precious, infantilizing and usually hurled derisively at people who care more about heritage pork than pork-barrel spending. But a new poll suggests that food is a top concern for a majority of Americans, most of whom (thankfully) would never call themselves foodies: Eighty-one percent of voters are very concerned that one-third of children are on track to develop type 2 diabetes, and 69 percent are very concerned that children today are expected to live shorter lives than their parents. A majority—53 percent—said that too many Americans can’t afford healthy food, and better food policy is needed to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious food.

Research in hand, a coalition including Food Policy Action, Union of Concerned Scientists and HEAL Food Alliance launched a campaign called “Plate of the Union” with the goal of putting food policy on the presidential agenda in 2016. “We know now, without a doubt, that people care about this issue,” Tom Colicchio, chef and co-founder of Food Policy Action, said last month at the New York Times Food for Tomorrow conference at Stone Barns Center. “We want candidates running for president to talk about the broken food system, to delve into it and come up with policies that work.”

But does a presidential food campaign make sense?

According to Food Policy Action’s Claire DiMattina, good food is just good politics. Food issues polled extremely high among all likely voters, and they tested even higher among white, suburban women—and white, suburban women often decide elections. Dig into the research in my latest story for the Stone Barns Center — and let me know what you think.


Posted in Food Politics | Leave a comment

The rise of mid-atlantic cuisine

Charred apple and ham salad (image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

Charred apple and ham salad (image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

If you’re not from Washington, D.C., you might raise an eyebrow at the breathless reception that’s greeted the city’s biggest restaurant opening in recent memory. Sure, the Dabney, which debuted last week, has a pedigreed chef: Jeremiah Langhorne served as chief forager and chef de cuisine under Sean Brock at the celebrated McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C. And it has a chic space: 60 seats and a rooftop garden tucked inside a charming brick alleyway downtown. But even more gratifying for Washingtonians is the concept. Mr. Langhorne calls it mid-Atlantic cuisine.

Washington’s restaurant scene has soared in recent years. It’s home to super-chef José Andrés; Aaron Silverman, whose Rose’s Luxury is widely regarded as one of the country’s best restaurants; and plenty of former reality TV “cheftestants.” But Mr. Langhorne, who grew up in and around the city, aims to do more than open a restaurant. He’s determined to give Washington, at long last, a culinary identity.

The Dabney isn’t the only restaurant to fly the mid-Atlantic flag. In my  latest story for the Wall Street Journal I write about chefs in Brooklyn, Nashville, Baltimore and Washington, DC. You can taste the new cuisine for yourself by trying one of the three amazing recipes that Langhorne shared with me: Virgina Oyster Stew, Charred Apple Salad and Sweet Potato and Sorghum rolls, which are perfect for the Thanksgiving table.




Posted in Chefs, Restaurants | Leave a comment

Digging Deep with Mary Berry

30684Thirty-eight years after its publication, Wendell Berry’s “The Unsettling of America” is as relevant as ever. For all the talk about local food and sustainable farms, the gap between farmers and eaters remains wide, and our culture and the environment continue to be sacrificed for yield and profit.

No one knows this better than Wendell’s daughter, Mary Berry. She is his self-proclaimed biggest fan and, as the executive director of the Berry Center, a well-known advocate for the preservation of rural culture and agriculture in her own right. Founded in 2011, the Berry Center aims to put her father’s writings to work: advocating for the farmers, land conservation and healthy regional economies. I spoke to Berry about her family’s legacy and her vision to support small sustainable farms for my latest column for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. One of her truest insights? How urban foodies don’t understand rural life and what that means for building a truly sustainable food system.

Check it out. Let me know what you think.


Posted in Food Politics, Sustainable Food | Leave a comment

Why the anti-food waste movement matters

Sometimes it seems that writing about food waste has become a full time job for me. This month, Saveur Magazine asked me to write up the leaders in the food waste movement who are making a difference. Well, that was easy.

In this month’s magazine, I give props to Isabel Soares, the Portuguese activist; Doug Rauch, founder of Daily Table; Claire Cummings, waste specialist for Bon Appetit Management Company; and Dana Gunders, who really started the whole movement with her 2011 food waste report for NRDC. Congrats to all!

Posted in Media, Sustainable Food | Leave a comment

The good and bad of saving the ugly

A perfect peach?

With water scarce in California, peach farmer Mas Masumoto decided to try something different. This summer, he used between 20 percent and 30 percent less water to grow his Gold Dust peaches. The tactic produced an intensely flavored fruit, but one that was about 20 percent smaller than normal. His loyal retail outlets—stores like the progressive Berkeley Bowl—took them. But customers weren’t buying. After years accustomed to buying peaches as big as softballs, shoppers saw the smaller fruit as flawed or somehow unworthy.

Masumoto was hoping that a new trend sweeping the food world—you could call it “In Defense of Ugly Fruit”—would help in the marketplace. Activists who want to slash food waste are trumpeting the virtues of imperfect or “cosmetically challenged” fruits and vegetables—those that are typically thrown out before coming to market. Compass Group, one of the nation’s largest food service providers, and its subsidiary Bon Appetit Management Company, launched in 2014 Imperfectly Delicious, a program that salvages so-called seconds for use in its thousands of cafes. A new produce brand called Imperfect sells blemished produce at a discount in grocery stores and through its own CSA, while Hungry Harvest sells its ugly stuff through a CSA and donates a healthy meal to someone in need for every box it sells.

The campaigns seem like a win-win. As much as 40 percent of America’s food ends up in a landfill while one in six Americans occasionally go hungry. But for farmers, it’s a tricky proposition. If lumpy, small, pockmarked fruits and vegetables are, as we are told, perfectly good, should they really cost less? If the expectation is that they should, Masumoto will never get a fair price for his smaller peaches that are grown in a way that respects environmental limits.  “We live in a cheap food world, and this [the lack of customers buying his fruit] inadvertently perpetuates that,” says Masumoto.

Masumoto is not along. Of the half a dozen farmers I talked to in California, Maryland, New York and Washington, none could boast that they were making any real money on imperfect produce. Yet they were hesitant to talk openly about their concerns for fear they would look selfish or stingy. I could hardly blame them. It’s awkward to talk about money when the rationale to end food waste is feeding the hungry and environmental responsibility. Still, they wanted to know: Would the cause celebre of ugly fruit help make their farms more financially sustainable?

The answer is…sort of. Find out how in my latest column for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. And let me know what you think!

Posted in Food Politics, Sustainable Food | Leave a comment

A little dab will ‘nduja

PEOPLE EXPECT TO EAT well at my house; I’m a culinary-school grad. But I’m also a mom with a full-time job. And after a long day I can be as lazy as anyone. Which is why I’m never without ‘nduja.

The spreadable salami is my favorite cook’s cheat. In a hot pan, it melts into a piquant oil that adds oomph, complexity and a bit of fire to all kinds of savory foods, from tomato sauce to vinaigrette. At room temperature, it can be smeared on good bread and served alongside a salad as dinner, or layered on grilled cheese, even a burger. The result rarely fails to raise the pulse rate. If Joan Jett were an Italian, and a sausage, she’d be ‘nduja.

In my new story in the Wall Street Journal, we look at the history (it’s an Italian version of Andouille) and put together fantastic, fast recipes like an eye-opening breakfast sandwich and an amped up linguine with clams.

Have you tried it? Let me know what you think.

Posted in Cooking, Recipes | Leave a comment
  • About Me

    Jane BlackI am a Washington, D.C.-based food writer who covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues. My work appears in the Washington Post, (where I was a staff writer), the New York Times, Saveur, New York magazine and other publications. On this site, you will find my blog and links to my written work and my Washington Post columns.

  • Follow Me on Twitter