Love for Local. MK Culinary Belfast: Summer 2016

Johanna Penry is a Summer 2016 student of Level 1 Fundamentals of Raw Cuisine in Belfast, Maine. Upon graduating from Pace University with a BA in Advertising, she adopted a vegan lifestyle while working in the NYC digital media industry. She quickly realized that the West Coast was the promised land of cheaper produce and veg-lover acceptance, and heeded its beckon. Her migration to Los Angeles led to embracing plant-based food as more than just a diet. She wanted to prepare it herself, and so she has been working as a personal chef in Los Angeles. Originally from Connecticut, she is excited to be enjoying the scenery and produce of the rural east coast once again.

Although I grew up in Connecticut, I had never been to Maine prior to this program. I flew into Portland, snagged one of the last rental cars, and immediately forgot my jet lag as I turned onto the highway and faced a stretch of highway that can only be described as an ethereal water color painting. I knew in that moment that this experience, this place, would change my life.

Fast forward to day one of our class. We visited Ararat Farm, a local supplier of both PlantLab and Arata- Matthew Kenney’s newest concept restaurant here in Belfast. It wasn’t my first visit to a farm, but it was the first one I had visited since deciding to make plant-based food my career. We walked along rows of kale and cilantro, hung out with some of the farm animals, and I thought about how few people visit the places their food is sourced from. How few people even know enough to care about such a thing.



When you visit the grocery store, seasonality affects prices to a certain degree. But with the rise of globalization and modern food sourcing, the average person doesn’t even realize what is or isn’t in season. It honestly isn’t something I had given much thought until recently.
In class, we learned that consuming raw food allows our bodies to get the most nutrients that a given food has to offer. Maine is famous for its blueberries, so in week 2 we made the Blueberry Bee smoothie. It was a simple recipe but had such a vibrant taste and I felt extremely energized afterwards.
But the way most people consume food is not from fresh, raw produce grown in the state they live. For example, a tomato is picked in Florida, shipped out to New York a few days later, lands in a grocery store about a week after being picked, and maybe bought the next day. Then it sits in a fridge for a few days, and by the time someone gets around to putting it in a pasta sauce, that tomato has experienced a significant loss of its original vitamins and antioxidants from the vine.
Why would we want to lose those nutrients? No one actually wants that to happen, with the exception of the corporations who profit from this cycle. But because we have drifted so far as a society from the growing and cooking of our own food, we simply don’t understand that these are problems that significantly affect our health and wellbeing.
To me, that is the beauty of this experience. The opportunity to be closer to our food, and the nutrients it offers, in turn becomes the opportunity to share that with others. While I am still unsure of where this culinary journey will take me, I’ve realized that the benefits of local and organic produce are a message I want to promote via my cooking.

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