The Great Food Revolution

I recently had the pleasure of viewing a fascinating documentary all about how New York City gets fed. Turns out it’s a little more complicated than, “Everyone just goes to SeamlessWeb, clicks on the food they want, and it arrives.” This documentary, titled “24 Hours, 24 Million Meals,” shows a day in the life of New York food production, consumption, and distribution, taking an in-depth look behind the scenes of your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

To my pleasant surprise, after the screening, I found out that “24 Hours, 24 Millions Meals” is actually the third episode in a four part Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series called “The Great Food Revolution.” I was excited to learn more and one of the producers of this series, Jackie Carlos, was kind enough to answer some of my questions, so please read on and discover some interesting info about where your food comes from in New York:

SeamlessWeb: Tell us a little bit about “The Great Food Revolution” and why people should be interested in learning more about it.

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Jackie Carlos: Everyone should care about what they eat and where it comes from. But since very few of us live on a farm or work in the industry, it’s unlikely that we really have a clue about the origin of our food. We buy it at the market or store, we order it for takeout/delivery, or eat at a restaurant, usually without a second thought. Well here at The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV Documentary Unit we wanted to answer these questions:

  • How did this food on my plate get there?
  • What are the reasons that we eat what we eat?
  • Why is there such an obsession with food these days?

And that’s the inspiration behind our series “The Great Food Revolution, A Citizen’s Guide to Eating in the 21st Century.” It takes viewers on a gastronomic journey to explore how we have transformed the way we eat, drink, and think about food, and why.

So to answer your question, I believe that anyone who eats, enjoys eating, or buys food should be interested in learning more about it. It’s clear that all over the world appetites have changed. Here in North America, we’ve gone from the leathery meat and potatoes and overcooked vegetables of a generation ago to tofu, pine nuts, radicchio, and burgundy reductions. Food itself has been transformed – it has gone from what merely gets us through the day to a status symbol, the subject of magazines, TV shows and websites devoted to cooking, dining, and enjoying.

In this four-part series, shot in mouth-watering HD, we offer a first-hand look at the people who produce, ship, and prepare what we eat.

SW: How does “24 Hours, 24 Million Meals” fit into the larger “Great Food Revolution” framework?

JC: In this segment, we wanted to look at how one of the world’s most populous centers, a city of concrete, glass, and steel, actually feeds itself. Yes we know that New York has plenty of green space, and there are a few urban farmers, but there’s no doubt that it’s a crowded city with its own unique challenges when it comes to food supply.

“24 Hours, 24 Million Meals” shows the complex choreography of distribution that keeps New Yorkers fed. It’s a dance of supply and demand that happens in cities all over the world, every day. We wanted to pull back the curtain and show you the secret world of all the people in your community and beyond who are responsible for getting that food to your plate. We chose New York City because it’s big, and it’s filled with people who demand great food.

SW: What specifically did you find special about New York as a food city?

Sarge's - Pastrami Sandwich

JC: The fact that New York City has a large and ethnically diverse population makes it an intriguing food city. This entire series explored how immigration and travel have altered the way we eat, and obviously the city is a magnet for people from all over the world. We loved the passion that New Yorkers have for restaurants and were amazed by the amazing variety and caliber of options, from cheap and tasty street food to expensive (and also delicious) twelve course tasting menus. In addition, it didn’t hurt that many of our viewers are familiar with New York’s celebrity chefs and high-profile restaurants from popular culture, or that many Canadians visit, work, and live in New York City, appreciating its restaurants as much as the locals.

The way New Yorkers shop and eat was the clincher. Yes there are greenmarkets and access to high quality food, but there are also real challenges for consumers at all income levels. Whether it’s the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who go hungry each day, or the millions of others whose small kitchens and lack of storage space make preparing fresh food a difficult proposition, New Yorkers face a unique dining climate.

SW: What is the most surprising/impressive/interesting New York food fact that you learned in making “24 Hours, 24 Million Meals”?

JC: I was surprised by how many people work all night every night to make the food that New Yorkers eat every day. I was impressed when someone who worked in the fruit import business managed to calculate that there were 20 million bananas, give or take a few hundred, on a vessel we filmed docking at the Staten Island terminal. I was also amazed by all the years of training it takes to work in high end restaurants.

I confess that I found everything intriguing, from the route that a red pepper takes before it moves through the Bronx market and ends up in an arepa in Long Island City, to the story of the couple from Manhattan who moved to upstate New York to make artisanal cheese.

Please enjoy this clip featuring the always entertaining Zach from Midtown Lunch for a taste of the style of the documentary:

SW: After making this documentary, are you more or less excited to eat in New York City restaurants?

JC: I’m always excited by eating in restaurants in New York, and making this program didn’t change that. I visit the city regularly, whether or not I’m producing a documentary there.

Please visit “The Great Food Revolution” website to learn more and watch clips from the entire series.

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