Food Porn Comes to Life
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Food Porn Comes to Life

The second annual Picnic at the Brick Works was held this past Sunday, and it was a veritable extravaganza of foodie fun. From the simple (sliced and dressed heirloom tomatoes) to the avant-garde (chocolate beet cakes, anyone?), local ingredients and chefs showed off their stuff.
The goal of the picnic is to highlight local and sustainably produced food. It’s also a fundraiser, a joint venture between the Toronto chapter of the Slow Food movement and Evergreen. In a rather fantastic instance of environmental convergence, green food and green urbanism came together for a day of idyllic frolicking.

2008_09_16brickworksgougeres.JPGFirst, the fun part. Yummies! The picnic employed a very neat concept: each participating regional farmer paired up with a prominent local chef who created an hors d’oeuvres–sized dish highlighting the ingredient(s) the farmer provided. What was striking about this was how prominently the farmers were featured—while it’s definitely trendy to have the provenance of a restaurant’s ingredients listed somewhere on the menu these days, a producer’s name is rarely in a larger font than the chef’s. The event was clearly trying to keep the farmers at the forefront, which is exactly what it should have been doing.
So, what did the lucky attendants get to enjoy? There were too many choices to list and too many to eat, even—your ticket undoubtedly got you more than you knew what to do with. For starters, the picnic was an absolute orgy of (locally-raised, antibiotic-free, well-tended) meat: lamb sliders, Wagyu beef burgers, brisket-on-a-bun, pulled pork in grilled peach halves, a half-dozen different kinds of sausage, duck sandwiches, and all manner of cured porky things were circulating. The carnivorous were deeply gratified. Ontario also has a decent and growing array of cheese producers—one of the crowd’s favourite dishes was a gougère stuffed with local sheep’s milk cheese (and tomato confit and bacon). Tomatoes, mushrooms, and peaches all took centre stage at various points, and there were at least three kinds of freshly churned ice cream—plus candied apples, chocolate truffles, and several kinds of tart—for dessert. Ontario wineries and breweries were out in force as well: a pleasantly drowsy buzz was definitely part of the experience for many.
2008_09_16brickworkspulledpork.JPGNow, the serious part: politics. Chatter on local message boards, such as Chowhound, was split between people who were extremely enthusiastic about the feast and people who were angry that the eating was limited to those able to afford the $110 price of admission. The event has been the target of some criticism that it is an elitist sustainable-living blankie for the well-off, rather than an event reflective of a genuine back-to-the-land grassroots revolution. Why can’t it be both? Yes, the cost was high; certainly it was high enough to price many local food devotees out of the market. But it was a fundraiser, the sort of event most non-profits need to hold if they are going to bankroll their work effectively—the high ticket price certainly wasn’t due to gouging. Moreover, the only way local, sustainable food will come down in price is if we all—and especially politicians and policy-makers—start to think it’s important enough to support. Sexy fundraising events are a great way to raise the profile of such causes. So what if green/organic/locavore is the newest bandwagon? If that’s how it enters our public discourse and comes to be taken seriously, so be it. The very existence of such an event, and of the dozens of sustainably motivated farmers and chefs who took part, would have been impossible ten or twenty years ago. It may take another ten or twenty years before the starving artists among us can afford to attend such affairs, but progress is almost always incremental, and we should take our momentum wherever we can find it.
Hamutal Dotan, an aforementioned starving artist, was a volunteer at the picnic, and thus purchased her attendance at the price of three hours work, rather than in cold hard cash.
Photos by Hamutal Dotan.