Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of talking with Diane Hatz, Founder and Director of Sustainable Table, the wonderful organization that started the Eat Well Guide , an online consumer directory of sustainably-raised meat and dairy products, and that teamed up with Free Range Studios to create the internet smash-hit, The Meatrix.
DH: We were having a meeting and I said that I thought there was more happening in sustainable food than people realized. Years ago, I used to roadtrip randomly – no maps, no watches. And I always found that the pies were amazing in the places where we stopped. So I said I thought it’d be great to go across the country promoting sustainable food by eating pie in places all across the country. And my funder happened to be sitting right there and she said, "Okay, we’ll do it!"
I wanted to use pies because I think they’re a metaphor for something bigger -- for family, community, people coming together, sharing. There's nothing more American than apple pie, right?
EF: How many different types of pie did you eat on the tour, and what were your favorites?
DH: We actually lost count but I know that I sampled over 200. They were all so great that it was really hard to pick, but I do have a top four:
1. Blueberry pie from Solstice Café in Corvallis, OR – you don’t actually cook the berries – you make a sauce with the berries and then put them in a pie crust and serve it with lemon zest on top and homemade whipped cream. The berries pop in your mouth - it was unbelievable. Click here for the recipe.
2. Tart cherry pie from Ypsilanti, MI (no recipe yet, unfortunately). I didn't even know that they grew cherries in Michigan but it was amazing.
4. Very berry pie from Marilyn's Bakery in Hobart, IN. It was hard to get a written recipe for this pie because the sweetness of the berries determines how much sugar to put in the pie. Also, these guys are bakers so they don’t really go by measurements - a handful of this, a pinch of that. If you’re ever in Hobart, IN, Marilyn's Bakery is definitely the place to go. Click here for the recipe.
EF: How did you choose the farms and restaurants you stopped at?
DH: The major route was really a bit selfish – we stayed north because it was August and I really hate the heat. In terms of where we stopped, I sent an email out to some people I knew saying that we were doing this cross-country tour, these are the states we’re thinking of going to, etc., and I got a lot of great suggestions back. We also tried to find places in the Eat Well Guide. A lot of our stops on the tour turned out to be more like events – we think we’re just stopping by for a little BBQ and all of a sudden 50 people show up! It was really exciting.
EF: Did the tour meet your expectations?
DH: The tour totally exceeded our expectations. The people we met and the experiences we had were completely amazing. For example, a group of us got to harvest and winnow our own wheat (it was a heritage variety called Sonora) and pick strawberries and blackberries at Pie Ranch in Pescadero, CA. Then we baked pies using the wheat and the berries we'd harvested, and ate them together. It was the experience of a lifetime.
We’ve also gotten amazing press which has led to some wonderful opportunities and partnerships.
EF: Do you think Americans’ attitudes towards the food they eat are shifting?
DH: I think the shift has already happened and now it’s just a matter of everyone else catching up. The tour was a bit biased but when you’re in Wyoming at an event in a community center with 75 very independent ranchers and they’re talking about working together and opening a food co-op, it's clear that it’s not a coastal thing anymore, not a hippie thing anymore, it's not a trend, not a fad. It’s here to stay.
I think organic suffered from the whole elitism problem but with local, sustainable, there’s none of that sense of elitism.
EF: What do you think is fueling the change?
DH: I notice that it’s not just about food, it’s also about connection and sharing and people in the community coming together. I think that between working crazy hours and iPods and cell phones and computers, people have begun to feel more alienated from each other in the last 15-20 years and we really want to come back together -- we’re social animals. And food has also become so tasteless and processed that people just want better food. I think it just happened organically (no pun intended.)
EF: Do you cook much?
DH: I do. I used to belong to a CSA (I shared it with two other people) but even with the sharing, I found that it was always too much food for one person so now I do farmers markets. I always try to cook a big batch of stuff on Sundays after I get my ingredients at the farmers market. I've found that if you have really great tasting, fresh food, you can cook really simply. The food speaks for itself.
EF: What are your favorite places to get great food in NYC?
DH: My favorite place is probably the Tompkins Square farmers market – it's very small and about a block from my apartment. The Union Square market is great, too. The Hawthorne Valley Farm bread and cheese you can buy there is fantastic. As far as restaurants, I would say that my favorite “fast food” place would be Angelica Kitchen – it's really healthy, local, seasonal, organic, vegan and quick - they're on 12th Street just off 2nd Avenue. Right now, I am also really into the Bourgeois Pig, a wine bar on East 7th Street between 1st Ave and Avenue A. Now that it’s getting colder, it’s a perfect place to meet friends and have a glass of wine and some fondue.
EF: What would you recommend that people do on a daily basis in their own lives to make a difference?
DH: Start small – commit to one thing at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start by buying tomatoes in season and then go from there. It just tastes better. It’s a rewarding path. And have fun with it – cooking should not be a drag.
I always tell people to Educate, Ask, Act. Do some reading, ask questions – ask your local grocer if they source locally, ask the farmers at the market how they raise their food, and then do something – have a dinner party and ask everyone to bring one dish made from local food.