Last week I spent a delicious and inspirational evening volunteering for Just Food’s annual fundraising gala, Let Us Eat Local. Just Food is a non-profit that advocates for increased access to healthier and more sustainable food throughout New York City. They have a big focus on community/urban gardening and in outreach to lower income neighborhoods. If Wednesday’s gala was any indication, Just Food has also done an impressive job of harnessing the support of the city’s foodie bigwigs. The evening was a giant tasting event that featured some of the toniest and trendiest restaurants around town, including Blue Hill, Gramercy Tavern, and Dirt Candy, offering up samples, some from their menus, some not, that naturally featured at least some local ingredients. As a volunteer, I stayed busy cleaning up discarded plates and wine glasses, directing people to water stations, and sampling plenty of dishes. In fact, this will go down in the books as one of my favorite volunteering experiences ever thanks to the amazing food I ate, along with the terrific people I met. I left feeling completely rejuvenated by my interactions with my fellow volunteers, the chefs, and the Just Food staff. I don’t know how much money was raised, but with a full house and each ticket at $250 a pop, I sure hope it was a lot.
My enthusiasm for the gala was tempered just a little by my feeling that events like this contribute to the sustainable food movement’s image as elitist and exclusionary. How much of Just Food’s target audience will ever taste the (oh-so-yummy) fried squash blossom crab cake that I enjoyed at the Per Se station, for example? This is a minor quibble since I of course understand – and support – that events like this allow Just Food to continue its important work, and also allow people who otherwise may not get involved in, say, a rooftop gardening work day, to still contribute in a meaningful way. An ancillary benefit is that, while Gramercy Tavern doesn’t exactly need promotional help, attendees now know about the many fledgling enterprises and worthy organizations that were also present, like Hot Bread Kitchen, and can choose to patronize their stores or buy their products. I know I will.
The following photos are from Just Food’s Facebook page. As beautiful as the photos are, everything tasted even better than it looked!
The crowds gather.
Cherry tomato tartlets – to die for.
Good food and conversation.
Corn panna cotta. (Funnily enough, corn appeared to be the unintentional featured ingredient of the night, showing up in tons of dishes.)
Marion Nestle! My favorite moment of the night was getting to tell her what a big fan I am of her work.
The famous squash blossom crab cakes.