Food: fancy or simple?

I think the question of what we eat and where our food comes from in the 21st century is an important one. I just watched a fascinating 10 minute TED Talk called Cooking as Alchemy that got me thinking about this topic.

The video features two chefs from a restaurant in Chicago called Moto, which does some pretty neat things with food. I just visited Moto’s website, and apparently, they sometimes have edible menus:

On the TED website, under the video, there are some interesting comments, including an exchange between Mary Munoz (not sure who she is) and Homaro Cantu (one of the chefs in the video).

I’ve pasted the comments at the end of this post.

What do you think of the concept at Moto? Is this a restaurant concept that can have an impact on how people eat so that we all eat more sustainable food?  Or is it just a trendy restaurant that only caters to the wealthy? (the nightly tasting menu is $160 per person)

Or might it be a little of both — trendy restaurant with some ideas that might have broader applications to the world of food?  I don’t know the answer, but this is the sort of discussion we would occasionally have over lunch at Triangle Learning Community, the middle school I’m opening in August 2013.

The beauty of learning today is that we can start the conversation over lunch and the people who are interested in continuing it virtually can do so online over the next few weeks, or for however long they are interested. And as we continue the conversation, we’d be practicing our communication skills while we learn about science and math and politics — all in an applied setting.

I’d love to have students imagine a conversation between food author Michael Pollan and the guys at Moto.  Here’s a quote from Pollan’s website:

eating doesn’t have to be so complicated, and food is as much about pleasure and communion as it is about nutrition and health

Pollan is famous for this seven-word quote: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

More ideas from Michael Pollan’s new book are available on his website. His new book is illustrated by Maira Kalman, one of my favorite visual artists.

As an example of how following the news can lead to neat connections, I just read an article in today’s LA Times about how child obesity rates are much higher in poor areas than they are in affluent areas such as Manhattan Beach. I thought this was an interesting quote from that article:

“In Mexico, we were poor, but we weren’t overweight,” he said, recalling that children in his homeland drank water instead of soda and walked a lot.

How does the U.S. stack up, in terms of healthy lifestyles, with the rest of the world? That would be a fascinating project to pursue for a month or so…

The world is such a fascinating and inter-disciplinary place — our schools should explore it in all of its complexity and inter-connectedness.

Below are the comments from the TED video, which are quite instructive about 21st century learning. Students today can easily watch a TED video (or read a blog post), write a thoughtful comment, and find themselves in a discussion with the person they just learned from in the video — even if that person is elsewhere in the world.

And by the way, the 2-minute video Homaro Cantu cites below is an advertisement for a very cool app for the iPhone that allows people walking through the forest to identify trees by snapping pictures of the leaves. It’s called LeafSnap, and it’s worth a view.

And now, without further ado, here are the comments …

Mary Munoz wrote:

Dec 16 2011: Mr. Cantu….the nutritional value???

 I much rather serve whole grain waffles with apples I have cooked myself in honey, lemon juice and cinnamon….YUMM. 

I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. Like other so called innovations, it will contribute to the rich getting richer (hence your inclusion of the word “profit” in your comment above) . Like the old saying goes….”There’s a ___born every minute.” or like the spanish saying goes…”El vivo vive del bovo….y el bovo de su trabajo”

Real people need real food….not processed food. 

Sorry, don’t buy it.

Homaro Cantu responded:

Dec 16 2011: I respect your view however if we are to create a truly sustainable ecosystem for food, it must involve first removing the elephant in the room – in this case sugar. Replacing it with something cheaper, less harmful to the environment and thereby lowering obesity and diabetes. The next step is to replicate energy intense agriculturalized food products with things that grow immediately around us while maintaining a delicious product. The only difference between a standard apple pie and mine is mine is actually healthy. Nothing wrong with that. After that step, why not replace flour with say – switchgrass cellulose? Makes sense, grows wild. These steps are much like the ones companies like monsanto took is attempting to improve food. Except they got it wrong. The goal here is for the home cook in the first world and the village dweller in the third world to have options and to open source the food chain. 

  • The biggest hobby in the US is gardening and has been for over 100 years. Tell a gardner that they can grow limitless food without fertilizers, heavy equipment or extra water and they will go for it. Now we just just have to define it. Enter the cloud and leafsnap.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCpR4JTEy4c&hd=1

    Soon cell phones will replace cookbooks and instructional cooking classes and everyone will play a part. 

    What if I told you that I could create a waffle with apples, honey lemon juice and cinnamon out of healthy wild plants? To you it would taste the same without food miles. The nutritional component would be similar. Why not do it? In any case if we agree to disagree then so be it. But fixing the food chain with existing infrastructure and materials should always be up for discussion.

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About Steve Goldberg

I teach U.S. History at Research Triangle High School, a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning.
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