Feasting on Food Festivals in Boston

Farmer/author Eva Sommaripa, chef/cookbook author Didi Emmons, and chef Josh Lewin (Beacon Hill Bistro) discuss using foraged ingredients at the Let's Talk About Food festival.

Farmer/author Eva Sommaripa, chef/cookbook author Didi Emmons, and chef Josh Lewin (Beacon Hill Bistro) discuss using foraged ingredients at the Let’s Talk About Food festival.

Boston was the site of two great food festivals this weekend. Judging by the crowds, Bostonians have a big appetite for not just eating good food, but talking about it as well.

The first of the festivals, “Let’s Talk About Food,” is the brainchild of journalist and former restaurateur Louisa Kasdon.  The festival took place in Boston’s Copley Square on Saturday, October 5 and was sponsored by the Boston Globe and presented by Whole Foods Market.

Fresh Truck sells fresh produce in underserved Boston neighborhoods.

Fresh Truck sells fresh produce in underserved Boston neighborhoods.

“Whole Foods is sponsoring ‘Let’s Talk About Food,’ because we’re all about food, conversations about food, and people learning about the challenges about food,” Lee Kane, Whole Foods’ North Atlantic Regional Forager, told me.

In addition to celebrity chefs, food demos, talks, and sampling, LTAF had stations where participants could chat with nutritionists, chefs, gardeners, and other food experts. One of the experts was Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, the Community Outreach Coordinator for Sustainable Seafood Programs at New England Aquarium. The Aquarium has been a strong proponent of keeping fishermen in business while stopping overfishing by encouraging people to enjoy some of the lesser known species of fish plentiful in New England.

Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, New England Aquarium, shares her expertise.

Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, New England Aquarium, shares her expertise.

Fitzsimmons was impressed with how knowledgeable the attendees were.  “Everybody asks about salmon and shrimp, but I also got a question about hake,” she said.  “A few years ago, hake was an underutilized species, but now it’s being eaten so much more often that it’s getting hard to call it underutilized,” Fitzsimmons added.  “It’s a success story. Right on!”

Fitzsimmons isn’t worried that hake will become overfished.  “We wouldn’t let that happen,” she said, “because we have very good fisheries management in place.”

On stage, a panel made up of chef/cookbook author Didi Emmons, farmer Eva Sommaripa and chef Josh Lewin (Beacon Hill Bistro) discussed how foraged foods, like wild herbs and flowers, can add flavor, color and nutrition to your meals. I was surprised to learn that some forms of marigolds, including Calendula, are edible.  And I was glad to hear that freshly picked, thinly sliced rhubarb can be eaten raw and is a great citrus substitute. “Think of herbs as salad greens and your whole life will change,” said Emmons.

My favorite session actually took place at the festival’s opening event on Thursday, October 3, when a stellar panel of food experts discussed, “Can New England Feed Itself?” This is a topic that really interests me, as even in the summer, eating as locally as possible is challenging.  While Massachusetts just don’t have enough good farm land to produce all of our food, if we start thinking about New England as one giant state, we could produce much more local food.

Brain Donahue, Associate Professor of American Environmental Studies at Brandeis University, stated that New England only produces about 10% of our own food now, but if we scale up the regional infrastructure, use sustainable growing practices, and increase more production in urban and suburban areas, we could grow about half of our food.

Boston Local Food Fest imageWhile Let’s Talk About Food was not specifically focused on local and sustainable food, the fourth annual Boston Local Food Festival, which took place on Sunday, October 6, 2013, was.  This festival, produced by Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts (disclosure: I’m an SBN board member), has become such a beloved local food event that thousands of people attended, despite cool, windy, and sometimes rainy conditions.

This joyful festival spreads across several blocks of The Greenway, with dozens of local food vendors, food demos, and nonprofits working on food issues all eagerly sharing food and ideas.  Dedicated to providing healthy local food for all, The Boston Local Food Fest requires vendors to charge no more than $6 per serving.

As a pescovegetarian, the seafood section is always my favorite part of the festival, and it did not disappoint.  Red’s Best offered a creamy bowl of lobster bisque that warmed me to the core.

Local Craft Brewfest banner smallIf you missed either festival, or didn’t get enough feasting, check out the Sustainable Business Network’s 4th Annual Local Craft Brewfest on Saturday, October 12, 3:00-6:30 pm at the Moakley U.S. Courthouse on the Boston waterfront, Fort Point. The event features more than 50 local craft brewers, distillers, cideries, meaderies, artisan beverage brewers, food producers, and live music. Tickets are $45 and benefit the SBN Local Food Fest.

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