September 27, 2014 may go down in history–literally–as a hot day for Boston local food. The thermometer hit 80 degrees as a blazing September sun shone on the second annual Boston Fermentation Festival and the third annual Let’s Talk About Food Festival. Each of the festivals attracted a bustling crowd eager to learn, talk about, and, of course, eat local food and drink. It took some doing, but I managed to “sandwich” both events into my day.
Let’s Talk About Food was a sprawling event in Boston’s Copley Square that included cooking demonstrations, specialty food vendors, nonprofits, and food experts tucked away in every tent, eager to get into a conversation about how we can cook better, eat healthier, and be more sustainable.
My favorite part of the festival was sitting in on a discussion about sustainable seafood in the “Endless Table” tent. It was fascinating to hear sustainable seafood experts discussing–and often disagreeing about–whether aquaculture is part of the problem or part of the solution, how climate change is impacting wild fisheries, and if creating consumer demand for sustainable seafood can put enough pressure on the industry to turn things around.
I find it very hard to figure out which types of seafood are most sustainable, so it was helpful to realize that this is so complex that even the experts don’t have all the answers.
Whole Foods, which was the presenting sponsor, had a huge presence. I was happy to see them handing out Mackintosh Eco Apples from Red Tomato. The farmers that Red Tomato works with use sustainable farming practices such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a creative and practical way for farmers to resist the pests that make it so hard to be a certified organic fruit farmer in the northeast.
I was also excited to taste a new organic red fife honey wheat baguette from the Bread & Circus Bakehouse. I find it incredibly frustrating that it’s so hard to get decent whole grain bread in the Boston area. The baguette had a great chewy texture and mild sweetness. It was especially sweet to learn that Whole Foods is sourcing organic, locally milled grain from Maine Grains in Skowhegan, Maine.
Maine Grains is doing an incredible job milling locally grown, stone ground whole grains. They’re supplying grains to the Whole Foods bakehouse and commissary, and their packaged products will be available, too.
Just a few miles away from Copley Square, at Egleston Farmers Market, the Boston Fermentation Festival had a very different vibe. The hipster quotient in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury expanded dramatically as makers and lovers of all kinds of fermented food and drink converged at the market. The festival featured an incredible array of fermentation authors and experts, including keynote speaker Sandor Katz, the James Beard award-winning author of the Art of Fermentation. Vendors, chefs and live food artisans came from all over New England and as far away as Michigan to sell food and compete in the “Pickle-Off.”
Fermentation spans an enormous range of foods and beverages, from pickles, kimchi, and yogurt to kombucha, mead, beer and wine. I hate to confess this, but I’m not much of a fan of pickled foods, so I was excited that there were so many wonderful things to taste besides pickled beets.
For example, I’ve never thought of cheese as a fermented food (and not all cheeses are), but apparently, cheeses that have been inoculated with mold and gone through the aging process qualify. I went home with a pound of organic grass-fed cow’s cheese from Grey Barn Farm on Martha’s Vineyard. They describe their Eidolon as a bloomy rind cheese made in a classic French style. When I tasted it, it made me want to go on a picnic with a crusty baguette and bottle of wine. If this is fermentation, I want more!
Although it was fun to sample all those fermented foods, I was even more impressed by the culture (pun intended) of the fermentation folks. It’s all about sharing, teaching, learning, and having fun. A group of volunteers staged a “Kraut Mob,” where newbies like me could learn how to make their own sauerkraut on the spot and go home with a jar. And they even had an area called the “Kombucha Kamp Culture Petting Zoo,” where you could learn about and swap live “mother” and “starter” cultures.
I went home feeling lucky to live in a city like Boston, where we have not just one, but two great food festivals in one day. Just two weeks ago, we celebrated the fifth annual Boston Local Food Festival, which was another amazing event.
Sadly, I think the local food movement is in a bit of a pickle. Most of the food events I go to are primarily preaching to the converted. We need to foment food justice as we ferment our food. My hope is that as local food becomes more mainstream, it also becomes more inclusive. We need to make healthy, delicious local food accessible for everyone. Now, that’s a culture I want to spread.