The Food Book Fair was this past weekend at the newly opened Wythe Hotel. When I think of fair I think of tractor pulls, farm animals, funnel cakes, and a lot of hoopla. I expected the Food Book Fair to be convention style, with tables, shwag, food samples, commotion. Instead there was a tiny and well curated “book store” in a nook in the hotel lobby, and talks and panel discussions were held in a beautiful ballroom. Food was for sale, and looked outstanding. And there were expensive dinners each evening. Hoopla came in the form of a pigeon sneaking into the event and making a raucous and flying up into the projector screen. The beast wrangler in me caught the scared bird and released it.
Over the weekend I attended 6 talks, which were well organized, very informative and hosted by leaders and innovators in the field of food, writing, cooking, publishing and technology. All were followed by book signings. I left with a wealth of knowledge and a brain full of inspiring ideas.
More public access, in the form of free events, and food samples is something I hope they improve upon for the next fair. Important info about the food industry as well as resources for hopeful food writers shouldn’t come at a price. That being said, I am sure a 3-day long event at the Wythe hotel was costly.

What follows is a brief summary of each talk I attended.

Presentation: Why Food Why Now
Dr. Marion Nestle, Why Calories Count

The talk began slowly with a breakdown of calorie facts but then dug deep into why the food industry and public health leaves a billion people obese and a billion people starving. According to Nestle, it has a lot to do with the deregulation of Wall St and the food industry in the 80s, which led food companies to produce more food to make profit, which created a great pressure to sell food at cheap prices leading to an increase of fast food consumption, processed foods, portion size increases and marketing to kids, like the mind blowing example that last year Kellogg’s spent $50 million to market Pop Tarts. And when people say “vegetable are so expensive,” Nestle said “because they are,” citing that at McDonald’s for $5 you can buy 5 hamburgers or 1 salad. As such, the food industry’s goals is to make money, while public health’s goal is to keep people healthy, so the two are at great odds. Seems dire, right? I asked whether there have been any changes since the good old days, the decade when I was born, and Marion Nestle said that the number of farmer’s markets, small farmers, improvements in school lunches and the amount of money spent on organic foods are ways we can measure change, and we are moving in the right direction.


Panel Discussion: Food + Tech + Content
Elissa Altman, Founder, Poor Man’s Feast and Editor-at-Large, Rodale Books (moderator)
Danielle Gould, Founder and CEO, Food + Tech Connect
Kara Rota, Director – Editorial and Partnerships, Cookstr

This talk intrigued me because of how mind blowing digital organization and social media are. Doesn’t it all feel so big and out of control? Moderator and publishing big whig Altman made some interesting points about how print publishers needs to “step up,” in the digital media age. Some publishers think the answers is in the E-Book, but the other panelists didn’t agree because as Rota said, it aims to “mimic something a book already does.” And cook books are not dead. In fact, the tech industry in many ways dictates the print industry. If your blog is a success, you will have a good chance getting a book deal.
Rota made some other interesting points, that when we use our smart phones, it’s not because we feel addicted to them, it’s because they have the same chemical reaction in our brain that love has. She focused heavily on the importance of metatagging, with the tagline, “if you like it then you should have put some metadata on it.”
Gould emphasized the importance of infographics, which help visualize data. Some of the most viral images on the web are infographics. Good to know.
This talk inspired me on the future Greenpointers Community Cook Book. My dream is to make the spiral bound kind, like we grew up with, but also make a digital version available. The print version is the kind we can keep forever and spill bacon fat on and the digital version we can refer to when we are at the farmer’s market trying to figure out what to do with spaghetti squash.

Panel Discussion: Food + Culture + Taste
Fabio Parasecoli, Professor and Author (moderator)
Colman Andrews, Author, The Country Cooking of Italy, Editorial Director, The Daily Meal
Giuliano Hazan, Chef and Author
Francis Lam, Writer and Editor, Gilt Taste

Left to Right: Andrews, Hazan, Lam

Panelists focused closely on taste in the experiential sense and how the cultural authenticity of food is impossible to measure because of how cooking varies from family to family and region to region. They touched briefly on the idea of having “good taste,” but focused more on the role of the food critic and how it is becoming less important in the days of yelp and crowd sourced reviews. All panelists agreed that food and culture, as Giuliano put it, “can’t be separated,” and Andrews stated that there is “no such thing as food writing,” because food is just the expression of culture. Lam described how people from very different cultures can connect through food and gave an example of a Big-E Smalls rhyme that instantly made him understand the rapper through the description of a bodega Butter Crunch Cookie. What is “Brooklyn Taste?” I asked. Lam, who lives here, said he feels “grouchy” when someone learns how to make a timeless recipe, like pickles, (that are still being made here after 100 years) then slaps on a well designed label and thinks they are a “master.” Andrews said that it is the best place in the country for American restaurants. When you hear of new places opening, they are opening in Brooklyn, and now diners are willing to travel (all the way from Manhattan) to chow down. I know how great Brooklyn is but I just wanted to hear it.

Presentation: Food + Cities
Sarah Rich, Author, Urban Farms; Co-Founder, The Foodprint Project
Nicola Twilley, Author and Blogger, Edible Geography, Co-Founder, The Foodprint Project

These ladies are passionate food infovores and work on an interesting project together called the Food Print Project. Through panels and other survey methods they gather data on different cities across the continent and do neat things like “culinary cartography” mapping a city using food as a metric. For example, cupcake shops are a leading indicator of gentrification. What does our donut shop say about us, Greenpoint?
Rich passionately went into recent research she has been doing on her new obsession, artificial refrigeration. She talked about “forgotten technology futures” paths we didn’t travel down and how we can go back and learn about these past innovations. She showed us an amazing Banana Ripening plant in the Bronx and other “worm holes” she goes through in her research like the Tropicana Juice Train and the Japanese Environtainer, a huge refrigerated container they bring fish back in, instead of empty containers after they drop off tons of electronics in South America.
Twilley ended the presentation on Urban Farms, which sparked my interest because of our very own Rooftop Farms, Gotham Greens and the nearby Brooklyn Grange in LIC. She explained that while urban farming might never “feed a city” it is important because of the green jobs they create, the interest and education they provide and the solution they are for vacant lots that might collect trash and attract rodents. On Farnsworth St in Detroit, farmers grown grass to deal with soil contamination problems. Greenpoint can learn a thing or two about that.

Food + Lit + Mags
Ed Behr from Art of Eating (moderator)
James Casey from Swallow Magazine
Anna Dunn from Diner Journal
Peter Meehan from Lucky Peach
Sasha Wizansky, from Meatpaper

Another conversation on print versus digital media and how independent magazines, especially with such small runs are “Art Objects,” which can make print more lucrative in the digital age because of the perceived value of holding something in your hand. Despite this, staying afloat financially is a challenge. In the case of Meatpaper, the magazine runs on the sweat of volunteers and many contributors publish their content for free for the opportunity to be featured. These design focused publications take into consideration even the look of the ads; if they don’t like them the won’t run them, and moderator Behr noted the “digital pressures” that blogs and other digital publications put on print magazines because readers accept unedited content and want information instantly, which makes it tough for small finely tuned publications, that can takes months to put out an issue.

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