Fast Food, Fancy Food

Every January, food professionals from around the world make their way to San Francisco, lugging jars upon bags upon boxes of fancy food. Yes, "fancy food" is an industry term. Silk-wrapped green tea, sparkling quince jelly, Cryopac poi, vermouth-soaked olives, Spanish ham, Australian wine, pink salt, black salt, gray salt, chocolate with peppercorns and coffee beans with twice the caffeine--it's all there for the tasting.

Over the coming days, well over a thousand exhibitors will settle into the Moscone Center with their colorful displays and their 80,000-odd foods to sample. Long aisles will be dedicated to entire countries, while special stretches will be given over to categories such as What's New, Organic, Gifts and Foodservice. No samples are supposed to leave the floor. Clear bags and lots of uniformed attendants ensure that no one will be able to reverse engineer their competitors' new products, so while it's one of the most fun all-you-can-eat fests out there, it's overwhelming for even the hardened and hard-core. Entire articles have been written on how to tackle the Fancy Food Show: go with a goal, pace yourself, perfect your elevator speech, and for goodness sake, don't forget your business cards.

Although you need to be a professional to snag a badge, the keynote speech this year is open to the public. Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, will take to the podium this Sunday morning to talk about the role of the specialty food industry in helping America eat more healthfully. With substantial time promised for Q&A, it should be an interesting conversation between the man who showed us the dark side of the food industry and those who make a profit from our love of all things yummy.

Schlosser is an intelligent, engaging speaker who answers questions thoughtfully and honestly. I once heard him explain why he still eats hamburgers, with Alice "I've Never Eaten at McDonald's" Waters sitting next to him and a hall packed full of Berkeley folks waiting to pounce. He was able to articulate his beefy preferences without false guilt, convoluted excuses or -- most importantly -- self-indulgent self-righteousness.

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I imagine the discussion will touch on how small, local businesses can prevail over big bad companies, how quality is more important than quantity, and how -- whew! -- we can still have our organic, locally-produced, whole-wheat cake and eat it too. What Schlosser adds to the more predictable arguments are his sharp, investigative observations and his forthright conclusions. So, whether you've read Fast Food Nation or not, it'll be worth pulling yourself out of bed this weekend. Listening to Schlosser speak is one of the best things we confused eaters can do for our stomachs and our souls.

Exclusive Keynote with Eric Schlosser
at the Winter Fancy Food Show
Sunday, January 21, 2007
8:30 - 10:30 am
Moscone Center
747 Howard Street, San Francisco

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Tickets are $40 and can be purchased at the NASFT's page for Educational Programs at the Fancy Food Show.

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