For two years, my father refused to wear shoes. He grew a blond Afro, protested the war, and stood up for equality. He was part of a generation that believed in new ideas, shifting the status quo. Before my father, his friends and a few million free thinkers preached peace, equality and community, society went along with racial, gender and global injustice, and the constraint and loneliness often felt living life within a rigid mold, insensitive to the diversity of the 300 million Americans living it.
Five years before the Afro, my dad had a crew cut and lived in a modest nuclear family. A path was laid out for him: marry, work from nine to five, using your head and not your hands if you can help it. Accumulate a sofa, the latest appliances, have children. I asked him one day what moved him – what moved a generation – to deviate so greatly from this plan. To opt out, find the bravado to say the status quo was devoid of something important and blaze a different path.
Bob Dylan. The Beatles. Janis Joplin. Paul Simon. Artists, poets and musicians who, through their art, expressed something everyone was feeling. Through their craft they translated deep yearnings – authenticity, passion, community, connection – into a language my father’s generation could understand. They would go on to fame and fortune, but at the most basic level, they were sensitive people who saw injustice and felt emptiness in living the status quo and were driven to give voice to the creativity within. Unable to walk the road their parents had, they pursued a path that brought with it community, joy and self-expression.
Young people everywhere were drawn to their words and sound, and saw in these artists a different model of how to live: a choice of connection and expression rather than consumption and security. The integrity and dedication with which these musicians practiced their art attracted people to them, opened the door to a new way of being.
Lately, I hear a lot of people compare food producers to rock stars. But I beg to differ. You are not rock stars; you are the folk musicians and poet-revolutionaries of our generation. Now, it is your art that resonates with people all across the country, in every state, more and more every day. Your dedication to your craft – be it coffee roasting, brewing, curing, preserving or cheese making – is inspirational and shines true in an age where attention spans run shorter than 140 characters, fame is born from reality TV rather than exceptional talent, and our greatest musicians sign deals with Coke and PepsiCo. Your creations are experienced on a visceral level; your passion comes across in every bite.
More than musicians, more than writers, you live the virtues of authenticity, passion, community, and connection. Every food crafter celebrated tonight has by necessity created a tightknit community around them. Without deep ties to the farmers, foragers and ranchers who care about cultivating and rearing the very best, you could never achieve the level of excellence you have, rising to the top in a blind tasting of 1,450 foods from all 50 states. An intoxicating passion for your work comes across every time I speak to one of you about what you do. Connection happens the moment I taste a bite and watch you watching me, sharing my joy. You come from 32 states, expressing what grows there uniquely – Wild Black walnut oil from Missouri; pickled sea beans from the California Coast, Buffalo Pastrami from Colorado. Your work is a true and authentic expression of tradition. And like any good artist, you walk this path not for the promise of a pot gold at the end, but from a drive to express what is deep inside you.
Walking this path we have discovered a wealth our parents never talked about when extolling the virtues of becoming a lawyer, a doctor, or an accountant. Generosity is a way of life, and our souls relax into the abundance of good food and drink that is the backdrop of a great food crafter’s life. Daily we experience the joy of exquisite taste, and watching others enraptured by what we create. The freedom of knowing we are answering a call inherent in our souls, the fullness of working in tandem with the seasons, our communities, and our creativity in contrast to the bleak emptiness of doing a job simply to do a job.
Like the great artists and musicians of the 60s, both our art and our example of living – social norms be damned – are having far reaching effects within our culture. Colleges from Harvard to Yale to NYU offer classes in food studies. Food businesses are amongst the top growing industries in America. Young people are leaving jobs as computer programmers to start jobs as chocolate makers. Venture capitalists who got rich from Facebook and Twitter are investing in coffee roasteries and olive presses. More people than ever are incorporating Good Food into their daily lives, realising it is worth every penny to have something tasty, authentic and responsible. Everyone wants to be close to you and what you do, because it is real, tangible, joyful, connected. The effect of leading a more joyful life – the effect of connecting to someone who made what you are about to put in your mouth – the effect of sharing your art with other people you love and bringing them happiness – experiencing the attitude of generosity and discovery that is pervasive amongst great food makers – these effects on cultural norms, and indeed, global events, can not be underestimated.
Like the 60s, we are living in a time of great shifts and uncertainty. People are tiring of the accumulation of things, faster information, more productivity, and seeking a different way to live. But they need someone to show them the way – a way to cut through the surface and reach human generosity, a thoughtful way, a connected way, a joyful way to live. Food is the way, and you are the poet-revolutionaries to lead us there.
This article was originally published on the Good Food awards website.
All photographs taken by Marc Fiorito of Gamma Nine Photography
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