By Melissa Groth
National Geographic Channel will be premiering its new original miniseries documentary, EAT: The Story of Food, this Friday. It’s a six-episode compilation of interviews with the world’s most food-obsessed folks in which a discussion of the past, present, and future of food is put on the table. The series will span a number of interesting topics including food revolutionaries, diet trends, and the technological and scientific sides of the food industry. Nat Geo presented a panel discussion on The Story of Food at its headquarters. Moderated by executive producer Pam Caragol Wells, the panel featured food historian, author, and professor of both those things at The New School in NYC, Andrew F. Smith; Chef Boy-ar-Dee heir and founder of Cucina Academy, Anna Boiardi; primatologist and author, Richard Wrangham; and celebrated chef and DC sweetheart José Andrés.
Clips from the series were previewed throughout the evening, spurring insightful and often humorous observations and discussion by the panelists. Three major topics tossed back and forth between the panelists were:
What an experience with food can reveal about a culture, and more.
Tacos from Southern California spring boarded Andrew Smith into discovering Mexican food and thinking about how something that is considered a Mexican food item can be completely different from actual Mexican food, and what that means for cuisine. José Andrés drank margaritas and ate grasshoppers, worms, and escamoles (ant larvae!) gleefully after hours at Rosa Mexicano in New York, 1991, awakened to the many possibilities of food. Anna Boiardi came to America and discovered PB&Js and hamburgers, as well as what it means to eat like an on-the-go American. Richard Wrangham ate like the apes do in Tanzania, raw and with a lot of chewing– we’re talking hours of chewing– and in doing so discovered more about what it means to eat like a human. Which led to….
The human relationship with food.
According to Wrangham, all organisms are looking for ways to “turn other organisms into bits of itself.” For humans, this means cooking, and the feeling of pride, and even escape, that comes along with it. Food is a way to connect, a way to celebrate, it is involved in all significant aspects of the human life. Andrés revealed his recently troubled “love/hate” relationship with meat and why he is focusing less on meat these days and moving toward vegetables. It’s a power struggle, basically. To paraphrase: you cook the meat and you are proud, you chew for five seconds and it’s “like an orgasm;” but then for the next 35 seconds you are under the control of the meat, chewing, unable to express yourself you feel powerless. That doesn’t happen with vegetables.
Why not? I’m not sure. But I’m going to make sure to watch the “Carnivores” episode in hopes of clarification.
There is an increasing population of people who need to eat, what to do?
The overarching consensus here was don’t fear the GMO. Transparency is absolutely necessary when it comes to the implications of using GMOs in food, but these may be the solution to feeding the world’s projected population of 9 billion in 2050. The trouble with GMOs is when the science is hidden from the public, and controlled by just a few of the heavy hitting corporations of the food industry. In other words, José Andrés’ words, we, “Cannot put the business of feeding the planet in the hands of the very few.” Richard Wrangham also presented an interesting point, that in the 20 years since GMOs have existed, there have been many food borne illnesses and epidemics, none of which were caused by GMOs.
Featuring interviews with about 70 of the world’s finest chefs, bloggers, food historians, writers, and foodies, EAT: The Story of Food seeks to discover, “When we ate what, why we ate it, and how it has made us who we are.” The six episodes will cover food revolutionaries, carnivores, sugar rushes, sea changes, guilty pleasures, and staffs of life. Sure to be full of fun facts and enlightening insights, EAT is a must see. But make sure you’ve eaten– like a trip to the grocery store, you won’t want to do this on an empty stomach.
Images courtesy of National Geographic