The United States of America has been on the verge of wiping out its agricultural roots in the name of industrialization and a fast life for some time now. But when situations become particularly grave, counter-reactions often have the opportunity to develop more quickly. Thus, in the USA today you can also find many inspiring examples of communities rebuilding their local agricultural economies and putting food back at the centre of society through the development of innovative distribution schemes, the success of great local restaurants and young people returning to the land. And all of this has stemmed from an impassioned environmental activism that makes these steps forward even more sustainable.
The young people in the U.S. really amaze me. Take Athens for instance, a university city just a few kilometers from Atlanta in the deep southern state of Georgia. It is a pleasure to visit this charming settlement, taking in the social and economic life that revolves around the many young students, and it only takes a couple of days to realize that something very important is happening here for their food system. Some of the restaurateurs, from luxury fine dining to informal and cheap establishments, have struck an intimate relationship with the strong movement of young organic farmers who grow food just outside the city. Meanwhile students and locals fill the seats in these places where you eat local.
One such place that really impressed me was Farm 255, run by a collective of young people who not only serve wonderful seasonal dishes but also operate Full Moon Farm that provides the majority of raw ingredients for the kitchen. The rest of their produce is sourced from the numerous small-scale farms surrounding them who are committed to sustainable agriculture and formed the Georgia Organics association. It’s no coincidence that the word ‘roots’ keeps coming up in Farm 255’s communications – they are part of an ongoing effort to reconnect to local agricultural traditions that are strong and multicultural in this region, including the important cultural legacy of the unhappy era of slavery. The cuisine is simple without being banal; reminiscent of home cooking that starts with wonderful ingredients and leaves a memorable impression. The artisanal beer is made in-house too, and at the end of the night there is always someone to sing a song, taking us back to their own roots.
Another establishment that will make you fall in love with Athens, The National, is reminiscent of a 1950s diner. It was conceived by local chef Hugh Acheson whose other restaurant 5 & 10 is bringing critical attention to the city from gastronomes across the country. Hugh also uses only local ingredients, to which he adds great culinary skill; another young protagonist in this local food revolution in Athens. This network between restaurateurs, producers, students and musicians is supporting the development of a story without rivalry and creating something that is very worthy of being seen, and tasted.
Slow Food International President
First published in La Repubblica March 16, 2011