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by Cecily Upton (and Jonny Hunter and the Underground Food Collective).
Photos courtesy of Kevin Walsh

To those who think that the collective cinching of belts (and the accompanying groan) happening across America these days might usher more and more folks into the open arms of fast food value menus and away from the perceived expense of good, clean, and fair food, I offer up a series of dinners eaten last week as a counterpoint.

Alongside my good friends and Terra Madre delegates, the Underground Food Collective, I helped organize three Pre-Industrial Pig dinners – celebrations of food (particularly pork) raised with integrity and without shortcuts, and held both in Brooklyn at the homes of friends as well as in Manhattan in partnership with Slow Food NYC at Astor Center.

When we began advertising for the seven-course, family style meals in mid-December, we worried that the impending holidays and the “financial slowdown” would mean we’d be twisting friends’ arms to get anyone to come. Turns out we had nothing to worry about; tickets sold out fast. Now all we needed to do was give folks an experience, and a meal, worth their time and their money.

As the days approached, we borrowed chairs from friends, hung bikes from ceilings to make room, and cooked and cooked and cooked. The meals themselves were delicious, but the real show was the Madison, Wisconsin area cooks and producers who raised and processed the food. As they shared stories, introduced their families to diners, and served the courses themselves, it was clear that their hearts were in each dish. Their dedication to their craft, and more importantly, their lifestyle, impressed the guests even more than their perfectly velvet paté or their succulently sweet pork loin.