Grist for the Mill

I like old-fashioned food. Readers of Edible Manhattan know I’ve got little appetite for the latest trends; instead, our pages often tell stories of people who farm, cook, cure and ferment the traditional way, be they butchers, bakers or cotechino-stick makers. From heirloom seed-savers and heritage breed-raisers to immigrants from Puebla who hand-roll tortillas to foragers plucking pigweed from the city sidewalk, we seek out people who treat meal time like a time machine and eat the way their great-grandmothers might have.

Not this time.

It is my pleasure to present our special Innovation issue — filled with food ideas that are decidedly new. But don’t worry: You won’t find odes to pink slime, GMOs or inventions that impoverish the planet or public health. Rather, we sat down with the tastemakers who embrace tradition and technology, the enlightened eaters with a foot in the past, an eye on the future and a finger on a smartphone. It’s an issue of ideas.

A few look like science fiction. The thought of farming edible insects or growing lettuce in climate-controlled skyscrapers might sound like a post-apocalyptic dystopian diet — but we talk to advocates for each who say these ecological innovations should become realities in our lifetimes.

Other ideas are already implemented. New York Sun Works has set up dozens of living science labs in schools across the city, where kids grow hydroponic produce for credit and eventually eat their homework. NYU’s sown seeds for a tiny for-credit farm right on Houston Street. And one Parsons student set out to reverse-engineer high-fructose corn syrup, with tongue-in-cheek DIY results that offer serious food for thought.

But for me, the most exciting innovations in this issue are about social actions, not chemical reactions. I’m talking about new approaches to old problems, offering exciting possibilities. Like the way a whole host of investors and incubators have stepped up where banks fall short, ushering in an era of food start-ups and yielding more new artisan businesses than you can shake a popsicle stick at. Or the way our lawmakers up in Albany turned Prohibition on its head and set out to foster alcohol production in New York — resulting in a glass-full booze boom benefitting farmers and drinkers alike.

And then there’s my favorite story in this issue: the tale of a teacher on Rikers Island who, after seeing too many great kids land back behind bars, realized what they really needed was a good job. The result, a food truck called Drive Change, is hitting the streets as you read this, offering locavore grilled cheese — and serving ex-inmates empowering employment.

Now that’s a future I can’t wait to live in. See you there.

Betsy Bradley

Elizabeth L. Bradley writes about New York City history and culture. She hopes to find Tiffany blue dragees in her Christmas stocking this year.

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