Earth Day was founded 40 years ago to bring attention to the nascent environmental movement. On Wednesday, Houston celebrated the first-ever national Food Day event, meant to bring the same energy to the SLGT and healthy food movements.
Nationally, Food Day was Oct. 24, but Houston officials celebrated it two days later during the weekly City Hall Farmers Market by adding a celebrity chef competition, a town hall meeting and the city's largest communal luncheon, with tables set up around the downtown reflecting pool.
Spanjian encouraged everyone to grab a seat at the long, horseshoe-shaped configuration of tables to commemorate the occasion.
The highlight of the festivities was the Recipe 4 Success-sponsored Collard Greens Throwdown between Monica Pope of t'afia, Haven's Randy Evans, Peter Garcia of El Meson and Houston Food Bank chef Jose Montoya. Working with local ingredients sourced at the market and from locals like Atkinson Farms, chefs created mini-plates judged on taste, simplicity, presentation, texture and the use of local ingredients.
Montoya admitted he didn't often work with vegetarian food at the food bank — he said they get about 15 requests a week out of thousands served — but he presented a flavorful mix of greens, squash and tzatziki sauce on pita bread dubbed the Mediterranean. Garcia spent the 15 minutes it took to prepare his fragrant clam and collard green dish talking to eager students from St. Catherine's Montessori School about ingredients like bay leaves and saffron as well as the origins of collard greens. (Did you know it's the same species as kale, cabbage and broccoli?)
Evans stewed his collard greens in a light roux for a spicy taste and added collard-greens-wrapped pork shoulder and some crispy slaw to the mix. But Recipe 4 Success founder and throwdown organizer Gracie Cavnar announced that it was Pope who won over the judges (including me) with a dish dubbed "greens and beets," which included mustard, black pepper and cinnamon for a mix of sweet and bitter flavors.
After crowds had sampled dishes from each chef and the farmers market booths, City of Houston director of sustainability Laura Spanjian encouraged everyone to grab a seat at the long, horseshoe-shaped configuration of tables to commemorate the occasion.
Will Food Day grow to be the hallmark of a movement like Earth Day has? It's still early, but the City Hall crowds showed that interest in healthy, local foods isn't going anywhere anytime soon.