Volume 76, Number 24 | November 1 - 7, 2006

Food for political thought

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel
Kerry Trueman and Matthew Rosenberg, founders of Eating Liberally, at their favorite haunt, the Union Square Greenmarket.

By LINDSAY FELDMAN

As workers at Sammy’s Noodle House on 6th Avenue frantically prepared lo mein for delivery to busy Greenwich Villagers last Tuesday, Kerry Trueman, standing in the kitchen of her 3rd floor apartment across the street, took her time preparing a radically different noodle dish — macaroni and cheese with biodynamic grass-fed hot dogs.

Slowly, deliberately, Ms. Trueman, 46, hovered over the stove, adding hot dogs from Hawthorne Valley farm upstate and organic grass-fed milk from the Union Square Greenmarket. Now that Trueman has quit her job as a food writer for a mainstream website dedicated to healthy living, she has time for a new online project that caters to her passion for healthy food and the health of the nation. Called Eating Liberally, the website and eating club are devoted to food, politics and the politics of food. It’s a risky endeavor, but it’s one Ms. Trueman and her husband Matthew Rosenberg have been building towards since they met 13 years ago.

“I’m worried about the money, but I’m more worried about the country,” Trueman said.

Eating Liberally is modeled on Drinking Liberally, which started in New York in 2003 and gained huge notice by organizing gatherings for like-minded, left-leaning individuals to talk politics over a pitcher. Eating Liberally takes it a step further, throwing some fresh, locally grown grub into the mix.

Eating Liberally plans to encourage readers to join their neighbors for some good food and stimulating gab, be it a progressive picnic, a wonky weenie roast or a green tea party. The Eating Liberally website also includes a blog with information and news articles dedicated to food issues of the day such as buying locally, banning soda from schools, and the industrialization of organic food.

Rosenberg, 40, a computer consultant, unveiled EatingLiberally.org in August, but the official launch of Eating Liberally is scheduled for this month, to coincide with the release of the film “Fast Food Nation” for which Trueman served as a consultant. In the past two months alone, the website has garnered hits from all over the world.

“People are just waking up to this stuff,” Trueman said of the barrage of new books and films examining how the fast food industry has transformed our diet, landscape, economy and culture. “Our demographic is anyone who cares about what they eat and how.”

Trueman, whose grandfather was a farmer in Canada, and Rosenberg, whose brother is a chef, both have epicurean blood in their veins. But their transformation from foodies to organic foodies is more recent.

“In the early 90’s we became obsessive gardeners,” Trueman said of the garden they once cultivated on the roof of their 6th Avenue walk-up apartment. “We were using Miracle Grow — it was like a garden on steroids. Then we realized the error of our ways and became obsessive organic gardeners.”

The fruits of their labor are now often poached by starlings and squirrels in their garden in upstate Rhinebeck. What they have left­ — hazelnuts, zucchini, arugula, and this year a bumper crop of puria, a pepper so hot it is literally off the Scoville chart — is often fodder for dinner guests.

“Small intimate dinner parties are what we live for,” Trueman said. “My friends who think they don’t like vegetables will taste my one-pot meals and say ‘I usually don’t like beets but these are really good!’”

Married eleven years ago on Halloween, their favorite holiday, Rosenberg and Trueman met through mutual friends from NYU, where Rosenberg had been a journalism graduate student.

“It was obvious to our friends that we had a lot in common,” Trueman said about their shared love of vintage toys, addiction to news and unwavering dependance on mass transit. When it came time to choosing a second home, for instance, they selected their cottage in Rhinebeck because it was in walking distance of the train. Their decade-long neighbor there, Bard medieval studies professor Karen Sullivan, often drives them to the supermarket.

“To go shopping for food with them is quite an educational experience,” Sullivan said by phone. “For Kerry, food has become a political issue in addition to a social one.”

According to Trueman, making a difference can be as simple as altering your buying habits, by shopping at a local farmers’ market instead of a chain supermarket.

“Anytime you buy local you’re getting the freshest, tastiest food,” Trueman said. “It’s incredibly gratifying to do business with farmers directly.”

A regular at the Union Square Farmers’ Market, Trueman has befriended old time vendors such as Jonathan White of Bobolink Dairy Farm in New Jersey, famous for his grass-fed cheeses and wood-fired breads, and Keith Stewart, “the garlic guy” from Keith’s Farm in upstate Greenville, known for his garlic and perfectly irregular heirloom tomatoes.

“Tomatoes are the gardener’s gateway drug,” said Trueman. “Once people taste a homegrown tomato they get hooked on growing their own food. That’s what happened to us.”

Now, Trueman is tending to her new mission, offering the virtual community of the lefty blogosphere an opportunity to get together in person to literally nourish their “netroots.”

Trueman and Rosenberg held their first meeting at Rudy’s Bar in midtown this August, using it as introduction to the ideas behind Eating Liberally, namely that the way we grow our food, and what we choose to eat, have a tremendous impact on our environment and well-being. Also discussed was the profound role that politics plays in the food that ends up on our plates.

Next came a book party for Andy Stern, head of the largest union in the U.S., the SEIU (Service Employees International Union). Co-hosted by Drinking Liberally, the event promoted Stern’s book, “A Country That Works.” Trueman and Rosenberg were delighted to promote the book, as Stern has been relentless in trying to make companies like Wal-Mart be more socially responsible.

In addition to hosting New York City-based events, Trueman and Rosenberg are encouraging readers to hold Eating Liberally events in their own neighborhood, providing details on their website on how to do so.

“There’s something liberating about hanging out with a group of friends who share your frame of reference,” she said.

“And if we can inspire healthier eating habits among the hardcore political junkies who are too busy with their “Get Out The Vote” campaigns to eat anything other than pizza and Chinese take-out, that’s an added bonus,” she said.

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