A Decade of Discoveries

And plenty more to come

The first genuine article was a dumpling. More precisely, it was a dumpling from a restaurant in Vancouver, B.C., a place we found “Unpretentious, confident yet humble, warmly welcoming.”

The piece ran in this space in February 2003. We had successfully persuaded our late friend and editor Brian Howell that a monthly column on “people, places and foods that are real and enriching in their authenticity” would help sell magazines. He liked the idea, as did his smart, young, relatively inexperienced associate editor … a woman named Nardi … but warned us a lot of people think that it’d be fun and easy to write a monthly column, only to have the well run dry a lot sooner than they thought.

That was ten years ago. We haven’t run out of ideas yet. If anything, we think “the modern place of food in our popular culture” has only grown richer, and more diverse, sophisticated, challenging and interesting. There are certainly still huge barriers to creating the kind of food systems and respect for food and its producers we have tried to support over the last decade. We lamented “food as entertainment … showmanship and drama [that] compete with soul and passion.” We still do. The world would be just fine without another half-hour, dueling-chefs show. But there is also a new vision of food and its relationship to our world that is profound and exciting.

We are struck by the evolution of that vision over the last decade. It kept popping up everywhere we looked. We found it in places we visited, food communities like Seattle and Asheville, N.C., and it connected us to those places and made them more genuine. We found it in places as diverse as Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco and here in Madison in the garden at St. Mary’s Care Center and restaurants like Osteria Papavero and the Greenbush. We found it in people like George Zens and Tami Lax and Ruth Reichl and the late Madame Kuony. And so we wrote about all of that and more.

It informed some of our favorite columns, about Ed Wohl’s wonderful, wooden cutting boards, handcrafted in his studio in Ridgeway, and Stefano Magazzinni and Janet Shapiro’s artisan olive oil made from the olives on their farm just outside of Florence, Italy. We found it in places like Artamos, Café Soleil and Sucre, only to be reminded not all genuine articles can be sustained.

We wrote about our frustration at not finding it, like the early stumbles of the Milwaukee Public Market, the lack of local food at Monona Terrace and the Alliant Energy Center and Overture, and in the school lunchroom. Looking back, it probably made more subtle appearances in pieces we wrote about service, restaurant reviews, pancakes and bagels, wine and Matt Smith’s heritage turkeys.

And nowhere was it more evident than at the biennial Terra Madre Slow Food Conferences we found deeply hopeful and exciting, and the local efforts inspired by similar good, clean and fair philosophies, like Home Grown Wisconsin, Community Action Coalition, REAP, Community GroundWorks and so much more.

And we think that’s where we’ll find the genuine articles of the next ten years. In the new thinking about the relationship between food systems and the environment and the land, new research into food waste, new commitment to end hunger by making food a basic, human right, and a new popular culture of food that emphasizes cooking, canning and preserving, using everything we grow and respecting the human resources that are critical to the process. We may not, for example, have been able to write about food and social justice ten years ago. It was too big of a leap. We can now. That may say the most about the search for genuine articles in 2013. And since you’ve always been a big part of that search, we want to thank you.

Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband.

Comments? Questions? Please write to genuinearticles@madisonmagazine.com.

Read more Genuine Articles columns here

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