A couple weeks ago, I watched the documentary Food Inc., and now I’m all messed up in the head.
Backstory: I was a vegetarian for five years throughout my late teens and early twenties, the initiative ignited when I learned about factory farming and the disgusting disrespect for animals throughout the process. I didn’t really have a plan, I just stopped eating red meat and poultry indefinitely. The longer I went, the better I felt. The more I learned, the less interest I had in returning to my old habits.
Eventually, though, the same problems caught up with me that people struggle with every day – ones laid out in the Food Inc. documentary. We live in a weird world, one whose food industry fosters the illogical reality where a burger and fries is cheaper than a salad. It was not only expensive to be a vegetarian, it was exhausting at times, and I suppose I just ran out of gas, preferring the simplicity of packing a turkey sandwich that would fuel a 10-hour work day to the creative process that constructing a vegetarian meal can become. I still kept the healthy habits I had learned from the experience, but I was back on the sauce, so to speak.
Any thoughts I had of returning to the veggie-lifestyle were erased when I got into travel writing. There is no doubt a niche out there for vegetarian eating when it comes to travel, but my thoughts were (and still are) that it would limit me in my writing, in my quest to experience all the world has to offer. You can’t exactly say no to barbecue in the south, salmon in Alaska, or gumbo in New Orleans and expect to get the full flavor of the area.
Watching Food Inc. (and similar documentaries) is healthy because it tells you things you already know but don’t want to think about: Where the food in your grocery store comes from, how it’s grown and/or processed, the effects of its production on your health, how those who have benefited from large-scale food production were appointed to government positions by lawmakers, etc.
I used to joke with people who shopped at farmer’s markets by asking them if they enjoyed overpaying for produce, and now I’m going to do everyone a favor and willingly stick my foot in my mouth. I don’t expect anyone to uproot their lives overnight, however I do think we all need to take a look at our habits and analyze the behavior of industries that our dollar will end up supporting and reinforcing.
There is currently a big farm-to-fork movement in Colorado (and in other cities across the country), and I think the support for this concept is something we can all agree on, both as travelers and locals. Does the restaurant do its best to buy ingredients from local suppliers and farmers? If nothing else, this is a good starting point for everyday consumers – choosing restaurants that support organic, ethical food production.
Last night I went to such an establishment in the Highlands called Root Down. Owner Justin Cucci believes the greenest thing is something that already exists, a mindset that is immediately backed up by the restaurant’s location in a space formerly occupied by a gas station. Whatever produce and herbs they don’t get from their on-site garden is purchased from farms throughout Denver, and they even give a shout out to their local suppliers on the menu and constantly update the “organic percentage” of the food they offer. It was 75% when I went, and I appreciate the hell out of the transparency.
Veggie-burger sliders, mussels in a Thai red curry sauce, sun-dried tomato pizzetta with prosciutto and pineapple, and organic sweet potato fries with lime curry sauce were our choices from the rock-solid happy hour menu. Cocktails that are typically $9-$10 will run you $5 from 4:30 – 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Those dishes, along with this rant, serve as an appetizer for my culinary adventure to Columbus, which I will preview tomorrow. Hope you’re hungry – lots of food chatter on the way.