Politics and Culinary Tourism?
Washington, DC. May 1st, 2006 ---- At a meeting in the Senate recently it was commented that I had abandoned the political arena to take up writing about Fast Food. "Isn't that Culinary Tourism, asked a legislative aide, visiting as many Wendy's as you can in a week?"
A good laugh until I pointed out that we were all there at the invitation of a Senior Senator to promote food and tourism in their State. That the free wine we were drinking was a promotional item from a Wine Tour, and that the Senator had just extolled the virtues of Culinary Tourism for bringing in badly needed income to the rural areas of the State.
"Anyway, said I, let's talk about the restrictions on buying wine from these small struggling farm wineries and taking it home, across State lines." Suddenly Culinary Tourism wasn't a joke but a legislative issue, revenue earner and publicity vehicle for the State.
Over the years it's the cries of anguish from small wineries that have made me first research and promote Culinary Tourism in Washington, DC. Here a direct result of restrictive and outdated legislation was crippling an entire rural industry, when jobs were disappearing and whole communities were declining as people left for the big cities.
Further validation was gained during the creation of World BBQ Magazine three years ago. Traveling the country and meeting BBQ competitors in rural areas made me realize the impact food had on small communities. They considered Washington, DC to be as far away, and as much of an inconvenience to their life as Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. "They tax us into the ground but don't do squat for us down here in the South" was a sanitized version of the usual reply.
Many years ago I was attending a reception at a newly independent former Soviet Republic where a frustrated Trade Secretary was unloading about restriction on his Vodka and sausages. He was explaining that without exports of Vodka and cured meat products he only had Plutonium and left over missiles from the Soviet days. "Why don't you tell the Americans our food is as good, if not better than the Italians" was his plea. Within seconds he was moved to a quiet corner to have an earful from two State Department people for joking about selling Plutonium. Later he continued our conversation focusing on how the United States doesn't appreciate the wealth of food, wine and Vodka his country produces. I didn't dare to point out that his President was anti-American and politics drives the culinary tastes of the modern world as much as culinary excellence. Ask the French, but don't mention Freedom Fries!
There is a growing upsurge in the interest to develop the cultural and culinary resources of rural areas and this is a win-win situation in times of declining energy resources and need to develop small industries in rural areas. The development of traditional sustainable agriculture and the promotion of local and ethnic cuisines is essential in today's world.
Washington has a key role to play in this development, but in true Washington fashion the lobbying dollars of big processed food and agriculture giants will destroy the hopes and dreams of artisans and culinary innovators. But there is hope. Congress feeds off the dollars of special interest groups, sucking up the lobbyists bribes. But they still need the votes of the folks back home to be at the Feeding Trough of Corruption here in DC. The many small voices should join together to call for change, and more resources to be allocated to small rural businesses, instead of the huge corporate juggernauts.
Next time you are at a BBQ Festival, or buying fresh produce at a Farmers Market, or eating that Corn Dog at a Country Fair, look around and count the votes, and influence around you.