Adam Gopnik on the Fashion of Sustainable Eating

by Ashley Wu:

Faced with the choice between taking the “green pill” – which would save the planet from environmental destruction as well as extend our own lives – and eating dinner every night, which would we choose?

According to Adam Gopnik, acclaimed New Yorker writer and author of the new book The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, we would almost invariably choose the latter.

“Dinner has become a good in and of itself. We started with the animal need to eat food, but through the shared experience of the table and gastronomic culture, we have turned this need into a desire.”

So the sustainable food movement, one that promotes local, seasonal, natural ingredients as a means to protect the environment, is also fundamentally a reflection of our shifting tastes. In the words of Rousseau, it has become fashionable to “share in the peasant’s soup,” to eat only what naturally and seasonally grows around us. Yale’s dining halls no longer serve eggs; they serve cage-free eggs. Burgers are no longer on the menu; all-natural burgers are.

“Behind every plate of food that we offer to our friends is a statement behind who we are, who we want to be, and what we want the world to be like.”

This idea that food is a vessel for affecting a change in global culture is exciting, and Gopnik suggests that the only way to make the sustainable food movement permanent is to first make it fashionable. If we can change the world’s ideas about what is fashionable, our tastes will change, which will in turn alter our inherent values. This is what works in music, fashion, and now, in food.

On a small scale, the popularity of Whole Foods shows this kind of trendiness. On a worldwide scale, Copenhagen’s Noma (known in the food world as one of the world’s best restaurants) also proves that ideas that were once only “fashionable” can truly alter tastes and values.

“Chef Rene Redzepi makes chocolate taste like soil, soil taste like chocolate, and he serves vintage carrots. All with local ingredients. It’s is the most popular restaurant of our time because you get to eat local – and you have to pay a lot.”

Redzepi would agree that food no longer just gives us a “mouth taste”. It now gives us a “moral taste”. If we like locally grown organic zucchini, we don’t just eat it, we say we’re improving our world and our morals when we eat it. But Gopnik reminds us that the only way to globalize this movement is to “make it look cool.”