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The Ecogastronomy Initiative // Food for Thought // Cheese Curds // Italy // Glen Beck // and Widespread Panic.

Maybe I’m reaching here because I have exactly 23 minutes before the juggling kids show to throw out what’s been on my mind for the past two weeks. What could cheese, Italy, Beck and Widspread possibly all have in common? Bear with me … here is the back story:

  • Last week, after 4 months of nagging, I was hired to help at the new Teton Valley Creamery. Basically, this place is my dream business—artisan cheese and handmade gelato are the two main products produced from local milk in a small facility in downtown Driggs. We have a sweet little shop that’s been flooded with everyone from the grandmas down the street to German tourists in search of our rumored cheese curds.
  • This fall I’ll be going to Italy with the whole family. We’ll be guiding cooking school, climbing and biking adventures, and I’ve been chosen as a delegate for the 2010 Slow Food International Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto in Turin (Torino).
  • The Fourth of July 2010 weekend in little old Teton Valley featured both Glenn Beck and Widespread Panic performances—two extremes that amplify the differences in our community. There was quite the nervous buzz on the street.

    And why is this significant?
    Mormon pioneers populated Teton Valley for over a century until an overflow of workers from Jackson Hole began moving in. In 2009, National Geographic put Driggs on their list of “100 Best Adventure Towns in the U.S.A.” For a while, as property values soared, Teton Valley’s “progressives” and “conservatives” tried to live in harmony. But with the recent political and economic climate paralleling national trends, irritating disparities have become severely inflamed. Explosive speculative land development, freedom of speech, the separation of church and state, and six suicides in the past year are just a few of the issues that have this rural community shaking their heads and pointing fingers.

    David Huntsman, a personal friend of Beck, was responsible for inviting Beck to speak Saturday, July 3, at the new Huntsman Springs development and golf course. In hopes to quell the uproar, local Democratic Senate candidate Tom Sullivan offered to speak at the event before Beck, but his request was denied. With a cult following frequently compared to the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic played at the Spud Drive-In, a local landmark, on Sunday, July 4.

    So what happened?

    For Glenn Beck I was stone sober, dressed only a bit hippy-ish (just in case someone mistook me for a supporter). It was a lot of bible-based patriotism; the crowd was calm and quiet and uniformly dressed in button down collars and khakis. There were hundreds of kids everywhere. The anti-Beck rallies never materialized. I’ll spare you my personal opinion of this wildly popular guy because I’m trying to make a different point here.

    For Widespread Panic, the next night, I was still only dressed a bit hippy-ish—mild compared to the crowd. Not one to miss the full experience, I did imbibe. The crowd was insane, dressed in every kind of get-up and costume and every person there danced like a maniac. It was basically mayhem. Again, my personal opinion of how much fun it was is irrelevant.

    The point is … nothing happened.

    Everyone went to their respectable events and ignored the other’s (6000 to Beck, 4500 to Widespread). There was no violence, no arrests (that I know of), no name-calling, no protests, and no drama. Could the paradigm change I proposed a couple months ago really be possible in this incredible community? In May, after a barrage of rude letters to the local newspaper editors, I wrote:

    “My utopian dream:
    What if we decide we won’t wait for Washington to fix things, quit calling each other names, and start listening. I’m willing to bet most of us want the same things: security for our family, health, beauty around us, and time to enjoy it. What if we quit saying we can’t, and start saying “Why not?”

    So now we get to the cheese curds.

    For those of you not from dairy-land in the USA, cheese curds are basically cheddar cheese that has not been pressed or aged. It’s a chewy, squeaky glob that tastes of sweet warm milk and, salt. But more than that, these crazy curds have proved this magic ability to bring back memories for a wildly diverse range of people—memories of Teton Valley for the old timers when there were local cheese makers and the milk wasn’t just trucked to be processed far away and never seen again—or to anyone who grew up near a farm anywhere in the world they remind them of the days when family farms were thriving and selling food locally down the street.

    And now to Italy:

    The theme of this year’s Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto is Food +/= Places, a New Geography for the Planet. The theme is “expressed by two words, food and places, put into relation by two commonly used signs, + and =. What does this mean? It means that there could be no food without the places it comes from, food that is expression of the land, of the climate, and of human capabilities; that it is through food that each place expresses its distinctive, recognizable characteristics. Food is an edible and concrete part of our identity, as the element that shapes the landscape, as an expression of culture. Places here mean the territory that belongs to the people who were born there or live there now, that take care of their space and know it well.

    Glenn Beck believes that uniform worship of a Christian god is what is going to save our country. The Widespread revelers would most likely agree that wide diversity of thought is what will save it. We will never agree on religious ideology, and no one wants to be told what to do and how to live, but we can all agree on a cheese curd. Seriously, though, could it be that our most basic human needs are what will bring us together in the end? As we learn to live together and face the economic and environmental calamities facing our modern world, the societies that will thrive are those who look to their neighbors and focus on their similarities, respect their differences, and learn to live in peace. We all know what happens when we don’t.

    What do you think???

    BTW: Sorry for the formatting… this pgm has a bit to be desired…