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.

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

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

Fast Food, Fancy Food 19 January,2007Thy Tran

  • Anonymous

    Anyone here Eric speak? I missed it. Would love any highlights

  • Thy Tran

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend, but Michael wrote about it. It’ll be interesting to hear how the Q&A session went.

  • Anonymous

    There was one rather interesting comment I remember from the Q&A. A woman from New York, noting the recent ban on trans fats in her city, cited that Monsanto is a major supplier of the new, trans fat-free oils.

    How nice that THE major developer and marketer of genetically altered seeds and bovine growth hormones should step in.

    There were other questions, neturally, but there was a lot of “Gee, I really loved your book” comments thrown in, so I drifted in and out of the discussion. I am blaming insufficient caffeine for that.

  • Anonymous

    ummm… I meant “there were other questions, naturally”. I blame that typo on not paying attention.


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website, wanderingspoon.com, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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