The Perennial Plate: Sustainable and Adventurous Eating
When something that may be gross to you is enjoyed by the rest of the world, perhaps you are missing out.
Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine spent a year doing snappy weekly episodes on their blog The Perennial Plate about finding good food - everything from churning butter to hunting a tree mushroom for making tea - in Minnesota. It was so successful, they headed out on a 6-month cross-country tour for another series of weekly videos about food across America. Klein started The Perennial Plate as a way to combine his three passions… food, film and creating positive change in this world. "More and more, what we eat is of paramount importance, and as I live in the Midwest, I’ve decided to make this show about the way I would like to eat here. I want to be eating delicious, adventurous and above all, sustainable food.”
The series has been a cult hit and distributed via The Huffington Post, Grist, Serious Eats and Take Part. Daniels is also one of the authentic and knowledgeable online voices in the SAY 100 food channel.
We checked in with Daniel at the end of this latest tour of American food to see what he's learned, what he's reading and eating now … and what's next.
What are the most suprising things you've learned on your travels about good food and where to find it? One of the most surprising things is how much Americans are willing to share about their struggle. Not just with the economy, but in their day to day lives. These are not the stories you expect when you are filming about fishing or farming, but they come out, and they are often just as important to the equation as the food details.
Your episode on Eating Insects got a lot of attention. What are some of your other most popular posts? I hate to say it, but people love the weird stuff and the videos with killing. Those videos have backlash, but they also get a lot of views. Included in that pantheon of shock-value films are frog catching, wild boar hunting, catfish noodling, dumpster diving, squirrel eating... the list goes on. If this were a TV show and had to get advertising numbers, these types of stories would probably make up all of our content (though they would also be a bit more censored). But we like to switch it up: one week insects, the next week workers' rights.
What are some of your personal favorites and why? Our favorites on the road trip usually manifested themselves in the longer videos, and they tend to be a little more introspective. We made a video about an Apostolic family in Ohio that we loved. It was exactly the kind of situation that we hope to film in every episode. We want our own opinions, as well as those of our audience and perhaps the subjects, to all make a shift. We want to think differently after developing a relationship. That happened with this conservative family that was very open minded and loving. They shared their simple, effective and beautiful way of life with us. It was inspiring, and an example of what real Christianity might look like. Other favorites were Sea Urchin diving and strawberry picking in California (A Day in the Life) and grass-fed beef in Montana (The Cows and the Horses).
You're a food activist – if you could change one thing about food politics in the US what would it be? I'm a food activist in the sense that I want people to think about their food choices. They don't have to decide on the same path as me, but I want them to at least consider all the alternatives. But if I could change one thing, it would have to be the corporate hold that exists in our government. It affects every aspect of our lives, and food is no exception. If you make people (rather than profits) the most important thing, many of the food issues will no longer exist -- or at least not in their current capacity.
What are a few easy things you encourage everyone to do right now to eat in a more socially responsible, sustainable and adventurous way? For adventurous, I think it makes sense to consider the rest of the world. When something that may be gross to you is enjoyed by the rest of the world, perhaps you are missing out. For socially responsible and sustainable, I think there are steps to take, but the most important is probably to eat less meat. And when you do eat meat, make sure it comes from a responsible source. Fresh food, seasonable vegetables, local, organic... there are so many things to consider. Michael Pollan's Food Rules book is a pretty simple and easy place to start.
You've worked in some of the best restaurants in the world (The Fat Duck, Craft, Bouchon…). Yes. I've had the opportunity to travel and cook in some great places. Those experiences are mostly about inspiration and developing creativity or a work ethic rather than technique or recipes. When you work with excellent people, they rub off on you (hopefully).
Any plans to take what you've learned and start a restaurant of your own? You never know. I moved back to Minnesota three years ago to start a restaurant, but The Perennial Plate happened instead. The idea of one day opening a restaurant is very appealing - but it would have to be ultra-affordable and using only good ingredients.
With all this adventurous eating on camera – what's your go-to comfort food off-camera/at home? I eat similarly at home as I do on camera. Our show is pretty "realistic" in that sense. But as far as not eating sustainably, I love avocados and eat more than I should. I love pizza and BBQ - that's pretty comforting. In fact, barbeque is the only time I don't follow through on the sustainably raised meat quest.
What other sustainable food blogs do you read? Who else is doing it right? I read Tom Philpott, Mark Bittman and Marion Nestle. Civil Eats is a great blog as is Honest-food.net and Food Curated and I have a NY Times addiction of course. I don't know who is doing it right because I'm not sure anyone really knows. We like to not present ourselves as experts in the series, most of the episodes are about things that I want to know about, as opposed to subjects that I'm an expert on. So it's a learning process all the time.
You raised money for this season from your many fans on Kickstarter. What's next? When this season finishes in March, we'll announce what's next. One thing is for sure, we will continue to make more shows, hopefully they will evolve and develop.