Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Dinner With Alice

We didn't exactly dine together, but I did nibble local cheeses in the same room as Alice Waters earlier tonight, and I figure that may be as close as I'm going to get.

As I mentioned in my last post, Harvard graciously hosted a surprisingly intimate (and free) round table discussion with Alice Waters, the new Slow Food USA president Josh Viertel and special guest Anna Deavere Smith, who by a total fluke I have actually written for in the past.

The event was held in the Faculty Room of Harvard's University Hall, where two long tables were spread with the afore mentioned cheeses as well as espresso cups of freshly made bay scallop chowder, hors d'oeuvres such as squash tartlets with apple something or other on top, and fresh local cider.

As 200 years of Harvard presidents stared down from their portraits and the elaborate glass chandelier clinked overhead, everyone had one thought on their mind: is the delicious revolution just for people who hang out in rooms like this? I'll here note that the crowd was surprisingly diverse for a bunch of affluent looking white people.

The answer was a vehement "no." During the round table discussion and the Q&A that followed, each panelist made it absolutely clear that good food is a right, not a privilege, though Alice did step in at one point to remind us that it must also be "a pleasure."

While setting up, the wait staff seemed nervous, though not as nervous as their supervisors. I imagine they prefer hosting fundraising events to serving food to a woman described by some as the greatest chef in the world.

The evening was presided over by Director of Humanities Homi Bahabha, who looked very Wes Anderson in his checkered mustard Nehru jacket and glasses like those of the forgotten Batman villain "The Bookworm." But perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Ms. Smith's reading of an excerpt from one of her previous works in which she had actually played the part of Alice Waters.

As the evening drew to a close, I started eyeing the enormous blue hubbards nestled in the centerpieces. My mind flashed back to visiting Hamilton College for a performance some years ago. There my troupe and I had "liberated" five such squashes, which equaled well over a hundred pounds of orange flesh. We were told they would be thrown out after having served their purpose as family weekend decor. When I saw the squash at Harvard tonight, I immediately began thinking about how to once again save such fine specimens from the dumpster.

Then I remembered what we'd been talking about all night. I realized that, despite all of the horrible things that have happened in the past few years, the local food movement is actually stronger than it was then. In the time that has elapsed since the Hamilton evacuation, more and more universities such as Harvard have become likely to actually understand and use such materials rather than feeding them to a landfill. In fact, Harvard dining services has just ordered 46,000 pounds of squash from a local farm to last them through the winter.

Thankfully, some things do change.

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seth said...

Harvesting tomatillos yesterday at the farm I work on, we came across a blue hubbard quietly growing amongst them. I recounted the tale of Hamilton college to my delighted co-pickers. Blue hubbards always seem to pop up where they're not supposed to be.

Seth D. said...

Oh, man, what a great and majestic gourd that was.