Food-Justice Fete Fills Brower Center

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It wasn't very long ago that all meals were made with local ingredients, because they had to be, and were never cooked by strangers, Mollie Katzen told a standing-room-only crowd at Berkeley's David Brower Center last night.

The award-winning author, whose classic Moosewood Cookbook is considered the Bible of the natural-food renaissance, was the keynote speaker at Food Justice: It's What's for Dinner, a benefit for the West Oakland urban-agriculture project City Slicker Farms organized by American Jewish World Service and the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

Before savoring a multicourse, locally sourced organic vegan dinner comprising spiced kale, raw "pad thai" (with extremely long zucchini strips masquerading as noodles), red quinoa, jicama salad, and fruit compote -- prepared and served by the Berkeley Student Food Cooperative -- which will open a grocery/deli/cafe next January -- attendees sampled the wares of cool local outfits such as Amanda's Feel Good Fresh Food; Three Stone Hearth; Premier Organics, which produces the Artisana line of organic raw nut and seed butters; and Davenport's Swanton Berry Farm. Oakland beekeeper Julia Roll offered succulent spoonfuls of honeycomb. At other booths, attendees collected pamphlets about gardening, eating fruits and vegetables, and a theory that diabetes can be reversed with the help of raw foods.

In the Brower Center's theater after dinner, the PJA's Alexander Sharone asked the crowd: "In a world rife with injustice, where do we start?" Well, with food, he said, and with becoming more conscious and compassionate about what we eat, where it comes from, who produces it, and how it's produced. Katzen, who lives in Berkeley and whose latest book is 2007's Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less, kicked off a night of discussion (and a screening of the documentary Food Stamped, in which the filmmakers attempt to survive as must food-stamp users on one dollar per meal) by lamenting that "food and cooking are one of the very few fields in which the greatest wisdom is behind us." Just a few generations back into the early 20th century, she said, "there was no such thing as food packaging, and people would have been suspicious" of any ingredient that arrived from miles away in a printed wrapper. "But now," Katzen said sadly, "people are suspicious of food that isn't in packages." On the matter of food awareness, much less justice, she said we still have a long way to go. Invoking a biblical story, she quipped sadly: "We're still in the middle of that forty years in the desert."

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