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New York City Wine & Food Festival

Through Feastup.com, I had the unique experience this weekend of volunteering to help out with activities around the New York City Wine & Food Festival, presented by Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure magazines and benefitting Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength, two organizations that focus on getting food to those who need it the most.  With four days of jam-packed food-related events held under the most gorgeous fall skies that the city could muster, I was able to get my fill of celebrity chef sitings, to take in a panel, and to manage to get in a few bites of some great food all during my several volunteer shifts.

My first assignment was on Friday at the Cooking Channel’s Meatpacking Uncorked event presented by the Corcoran Group Real Estate.  This was a pub-crawl or progressive-dinner type event where guests paid a flat fee and followed a map to the boutiques, restaurants, and food truck stations to sample some wines and small plates.  Working at this, I didn’t have a chance to get to every station, and we weren’t allowed to drink.  I did manage to make it to a few of the places, as my card indicates:

The Macelleria stop should really have two “x”s, as it was so delicious a couple of my fellow volunteers and I made it back there just right before they closed in order to have a second helping of their amazing Gnocchi Bolognese with Grana Padano.  I was still raving about this dish the next day when I told someone on that volunteer shift how wonderfully light the gnocchi were and how the Bolognese sauce was probably the best I have had (barring my own, of course) since I left Bologna.  This is a plate that would make me wait on line for a reservation just to have more of it to myself.

Then, we went for something sweet.  Contrary to every other theory of waiting on line that I normally invoke, we decided to follow the crowds and join the queue at Wafels & Dinges, which was one of the longest of the evening.  There, we had a mini-waffel with their awesome Spekuloos spread and whipped cream.  It was a perfect dessert, so much so that after I finished volunteering on Sunday, I found their truck in my neighborhood and got a whole regular-sized version to treat myself after a busy weekend.

For our next sampling, we again went for something savory.  My companions weren’t really thrilled with this next choice, but I loved it.  I mean Tater Tots with Blue Cheese and a little spicy dressing.  What is there not to like?  (Of course, I also wonder what ever happened to the tater tots that they used to make that had bacon and cheese in them, so maybe it is just my Southern junk food taste buds talking here.)  Thanks to The Collective for including these slightly crispy, gooey, potato-ey tidbits for this event.  As time was getting short, we then looped back around again to Macelleria for another plate of pasta.

The next day, I was able to take in one of the panel discussions that were also a part of the weekend.  “Get Real, Go Local, Demand Organic!” featured Karen Washington, Just Food board member; Nina Planck, author of several food books and farmers market organizer; Michel Nischan, chef and cookbook author; and Jennifer Nelkin, greenhouse director of Gotham Greens.  Despite all the titles and organizational affiliations; however, the real connector of all of these folks is their advocacy for and involvement with getting local and organic produce on the tables of the people in their communities and to try to impress upon them how important it is to know about and care about what they put into their bodies on a daily basis for nourishment.

This was right up my alley as far as my own food beliefs are concerned, well aside from the occasional cheese-infused and fried tater tot, which I was assured was o.k. in moderation.  Washington had the panelists hone in on their food philosophies and how they put into practice best eating habits by gathering the responses to such questions as:  ”Organic: What does it Mean?”; “With so much food in abundance, why are we so Unhealthy?”; and “What vegetable would you be and Why?”.  What I took away from this discussion was that there are no hard and fast rules and that the goal is really to be as responsible and as educated an eater as you can be.

Learn where your food comes from and how your body uses it.  Practice seasonality and local eating as much as possible, but if there is something you enjoy that is not native to your region, eat it as close to the season as you can (for instance, I like mango and papaya, but they aren’t grown here).  Be aware of the language of how food is grown and raised: what is pasture-raised, grass-fed, etc.  These terms all have implications for responsible food production.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with new things, especially things found in the farmers markets.  There is a wealth of information on the internet that can teach you how to prepare these things and the growers themselves are also invaluable resources; develop those relationships.

Most of all, I took away the emphasis for us to be better consumers in general.  I think that many of us already try to practice this philosophy no matter what we put into our mouths every day.  There are some amazing projects taking place in the local food movements and in getting more organic produce into stores so that more people can have access to it.  The hope was expressed that every step that is taken by an individual would lead to a movement away from industrial food production and to a more sustainable and healthy way for all of us to eat.

Buon appetito!