Good Tomato/Bad Tomato


SYLVIA LOVELY

Photo by Paul Goyette, via Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Paul Goyette, via Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

My trademark apron says this, “So I’m not Betty Crocker…deal with it.” Thus, welcome to my motto, which I proclaim on Food News and Chews, a show about food and food policy that I co-host which airs on Kentucky Education Television and www.foodnewsandchews.com. My point? You don’t have to be Betty Crocker to believe food is important even if you hardly ever cook… just like me. The fact is that much is happening with the food movement that is seeping into the consciousness of everyday people – of which I am one.

That fact came home to me as I have begun to rally around the need to teach culinary workers the “food trade.”  The statistics are all around us. Restaurants are growing as the go-to places. With 3.6 percent industry sales increase reported by the National Restaurant Association, they include both chains and “indies.” Moreover, there is a palpable growth in the need to reach consumers where they live…in other words not only in their taste buds but in their desire to both connect to community and eat in a more healthy and enjoyable manner. In particular, the fast food genre has embraced the local food movement with Walmart and grocery chains often leading the way in marketing and providing set asides in stores that are devoted to “local” food. Food has taken its place as the ultimate qualifier of a good life – we have always eaten to celebrate and to mourn – but only now is that notion taking center stage.

The local food movement is a petri dish breeding ground for food sub-movements. Scientific evidence is increasingly linking food to disease prevention. In addition, environmental awareness, conservation in a country that wastes 40 percent of our food and access and affordability are getting increased attention. Bottom line? All these movements and sub-movements will require those who can work in the growing sector.

Though controversial, the fact is that job growth in the retail sector is outpacing nearly every other job category. The restaurant industry employs ten percent of the overall U.S. workforce according to the National Restaurant Association. Restaurants are proliferating and of course “trained” workers will be needed. Of course, swirling in the background are huge policy issues such as wage rates and how much control the government should have over what you put in your mouth.

But it boils down to simplicity. My food speeches are sprinkled with the interests of the “I am not glued to television food show people” like me — including the reasoning behind my apron. “I don’t know a rutabaga from a winnebago,” I offer to the chuckles of staid and traditional chamber members. It is a hopeful attempt to convince them that they too can become converts to the food movement and perhaps build a few jobs along the way.

In a recent business meeting to discuss the idea of a partnership to teach developmentally disabled workers the culinary trade, I set forth not only my “apron” philosophy but the advanced notion that educating workers and not merely training them was the key. The thoughtful response assured me that this particular nonprofit “gets it.”  “Oh, yes,” said the business development officer, “It would be an added bonus that a line cook might know the difference between a good tomato and a bad one.” Bingo – education in addition to training!

As we look holistically to our work lives, how nice — and in a scary way novel — that we should not only be prepared for the jobs we take but enjoy and find meaning in them. As some have said from 30,000 feet, we have entered a new era where such notions are not foreign. Food is a part of that emerging ethos. Teaching the elementary facts of food aimed not only at those inclined to cooking but to others to whom enjoying family meals together is emerging as a strong life “skill.” Workers in the “industry” should enjoy no less.

Two sets of entrepreneurs also get it. The Sweet Comfort Bakery and Café in Port Washington, New York offers jobs and education/training to developmentally disabled workers. The mission posted on the wall?  “When you patronize Sweet Comfort you are helping someone realize their dreams.”  (www.coffeednyc.com/pages/pw-location). In Baton Rouge, Chris (an awarding winning chef in New Orleans) and Sommer Wadsworth’s dream project was to open a culinary training facility aimed at at-risk youth and underprivileged teens. Triumph Kitchen features not only culinary education but life skills development as well. Says Sommer Wadsworth “Many students grew up in homes where they didn’t learn some of the basic life skills we often take for granted.”  The Advocate, April 2, 2014 Culinary Couple Open Triumph Kitchen.

Good tomato? Bad tomato?  The difference can make all the difference.

……….

To read more about Sylvia Lovely see her column Dear Foodie at www.dearfoodie.com and contact her at sylvia@sylvialovely.com.

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