Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Jay Pierce is the chef at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen in Greensboro and Cary, North Carolina and frequently contributes to Edible Piedmont Magazine and the restaurant's Farm-to-Fork blog.
As this year’s political season wends its way to Election Day, we voters will be implored to act, decide, stand up for what we believe in. Our voice matters; as every child learns in school, one vote can make a difference. No matter how disaffected or energized you are by rhetorical jousting about healthcare, debt ceilings or foreign aid, there is one topic that hits close to everyone’s home: buying and eating food.
If you’ve ever been to a farm owned and operated by a family without a paid staff, then you can understand the difference that one sale can make at the farmer's market on Saturday. I’ve met their children, been to their homes, eaten food that they’ve cooked, wished them well when times were tough, and congratulated them on their achievements. Our restaurant is a part of their lives, and they are a part of ours; when we serve fewer guests, they sell less food. We depend on each other to make ends meet.
That’s a local economy. Choosing to serve lamb that is shepherded an hour from our restaurant helps provide a family with a livelihood, as does the pork, beef, and dairy from just down the road. Those folks actually dine in our restaurant, completing the circle.
Buying lamb that was reared 9000 miles away or eating at a big national chain seafood palace that buys shrimp and crab from Southeast Asia is effectively voting to cut American jobs of fishers and farmers. When you buy winter tomatoes, there is a possibility that you could be paying money into a system that perpetuates human rights abuses, as alleged and credibly documented by at least four successfully-prosecuted cases since the year 2000. Choose to dine with those who share your ideals.
Another way in which we vote for what we believe in is by buying heirloom produce. “Eat it to save it,” is a call to action; if you want to preserve the taste of heirloom produce varieties, such as Arkansas Black, Newtown Pippin, and Ginger Gold apples, for future generations, you must buy them and eat them or the mechanics of capitalism will instruct farmers that there is no room in the marketplace for their product, and they will move on to something else, like Granny Smith or Red Delicious Apples or sub-divided exurban residential plots.
The same principle applies to Purple Cherokee tomatoes, Lady Cream peas, Cushaw squash, sorghum, and more. The tastes will be lost, the flavors hybridized out of existence in an effort to prolong shelf-life and increase shippability from distant corners of the globe. Our tastes will be homogenized and, I think, our lives less full and rich.
The opportunity to make a difference occurs myriad times throughout the day, with simple decisions. Each time you get hungry or when you buy groceries, ask yourself, “What do I eat and where does it come from?”
The easiest way to be an activist is to spend your hard-earned dollars with someone you know, who holds dear the same values as you. A true measure of the strength of your convictions is how much you are willing to be inconvenienced to keep them. And, once you get in the groove, this isn’t even an inconvenience.
Become aware. Don’t be content to be alive, strive to be awake, with a voice, and a vote.
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