The aroma from the flat of organic, local strawberries overwhelmed the plane. It was the 1970s. One by one, the berries disappeared into the bellies of travelers who had forgotten what a real strawberry tasted like. Ruth Reichl, long time food critic, former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” was flying back to Chez Paniss with fellow food writer Alice Waters. They had come from a farm in New Mexico where Reichl was won over by the fresh, delicious produce. This was when she realized that things in America were going to change.
“When people realize what we have lost, they will want to get it back,” said Reichl about the incident on her blog.
This story and others were part of her talk in Bend, Feb. 15. Reichl is part of the national conversation about food. She cares about where food comes from, how it is grown or butchered, prepared and subsidized.
“Eating is a political act,” she said.
In her ten years with Gourmet magazine, Reichl chronicled the lives of producers and reported on genetic engineering, salmon farming, cold weather gardening and the intense, true story of killing a screaming rabbit for dinner. It was possible that some of these topics would turn readers off she thought. Instead the magazine thrived with all-time high circulation, a busy website and responsive readers.
“Things are galloping forward,” she said.
There are countless small producers of local, organic food. According to Reichl, our idea of what luxury is has changed. It used to be fois gras, caviar, fancy table settings and a beefy wine list. Now it’s local, seasonal food and humanely-raised meat.
Reichl talked about the next generation of chefs. Unlike their predecessors, these professional are asked to deliver an experience, not just food. As part of their palette, they must include design, art and theater.
Things are changing in the food industry, said Reichl, and they must, because the current system is counting on drastically shifting elements: Cheap fossil fuel, inexpensive and abundant water and reliable weather.
And despite the dark side of fast food, factory farming and the alarming rates of obesity, the Reichl is optimistic. She said American are developing an adventurous palette and a “taste for ethics.”