Eating Authors: Jon McGoran

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Jon McGoran

It’s another exhausted Monday, at least for me, as I spent the last three days at a convention. But I’m back, and in honor of coming home I’ve brought you a local talent for EATING AUTHORS. This week’s guest is none other than Philadelphia author Jon McGoran.

Jon has a more intimate relationship with food than most of our guests, having been an advocate for cooperative development, urban agriculture, and labeling of genetically engineered foods. As if that weren’t enough, he’s written a pair of thrillers dealing with genetically engineered food. In addition, he’s also authored an assortment of forensic crime thrillers under the name D. H. Dublin.

Among his other associations, Jon is a founding member of The Philadelphia Liars’ Club, a group that includes such folks as Greg Frost and Jonathan Maberry. Regardless of whatever else might be said of them, with Jon among their number we can at least hope they’re eating healthy.

LMS: Welcome, Jon. Please tell us about you most memorable meal.

JM: Food is very important to me. I love to cook and I LOVE to eat. But what fascinates me most about food is where it comes from: the way it is grown or produced, the systems, the politics, the economics, and how those things impact the food that results from them.

Deadout

My mother, rest her soul, was wonderful in many, many ways. But as a cook, not so much. She had a few signature dishes that were favorites, but I still remember thinking the family had truly arrived when we graduated from spaghetti that came from a single can to a multisource meal that involved a jar and a box.

It wasn’t until my late teens, when I started working at a local food co-op, that I began to learn about and appreciate good food. And all the while I was learning about that fresh, delicious and (to me) exotic food, I was also learning about how it was produced — at a time when that production was changing dramatically, and in many ways not for the better.

I eventually became the editor of the Co-op newspaper, and then the communications director, all the while learning more and more about the wonderful and terrible ways food can be produced. Some of what I learned was so alarming it began to inform my crime fiction and SF, and forms the basis of my novels Drift and Deadout.

After Effects

With all that in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that one of my most memorable meals — while absolutely delicious — was as much about the ideas and the people and the production as about the food itself.

Last summer, Philadelphia’s renowned “Mural Arts Program” celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a summer-long celebration of heirloom foods called “What We Sow,” a series of wildly diverse events that culminated in a feast called “70×7.”

As moderator of one of the events in the series (a panel called “The Politics of Seed-Saving in the Age of GMOs”) and a contributor to an upcoming book on the project, I was invited to attend the dinner.

Conceived by international artists Lucy and Jorge Orta (who also designed beautifully decorated plates and table runners for the event), “70×7” was a celebration of local heirloom vegetables prepared by chef Mark Vetri for 900 people assembled from a wide variety of backgrounds: food advocates, funders, urban farmers, students, artists, writers, academics, and others. A quarter of the invitations were distributed via a lottery, and there were even seats set aside for passersby to spontaneously join the meal.

Drift

That spontaneity infused the meal in other ways, as well: originally scheduled to take place at Independence Mall, the shutdown of the Federal Government forced a last-minute change of venue to Philadelphia’s Thomas Paine Plaza, across from City Hall, making the event a triumph of logistics in addition to a public art masterpiece. The venue also forced a shift from the original plan of a single long table to a configuration with bends and folds and zigs and zags, and, as it turned out, many more angles of opportunity for people of vastly different backgrounds to meet and discuss the food they were eating, and what it meant to them and why. Dinner was delicious: simply prepared dishes made from heirloom varieties of fennel, squash, beans, potatoes and more. The setting was dramatic and the place settings were exquisite. But the most exciting part was the people: many that I knew and many more that I didn’t, from an incredible diversity of backgrounds and interests, all coming together to enjoy this amazing meal, getting to know each other, and hear each others’ viewpoints on so many of the issues that are impacting the food that we eat.

It was a magical meal, with only one glaring flaw: no dessert. But that was okay. There was a great local gelato place around the corner.

Thanks, Jon. Though now I’m anxious about the safety of eating GMG (gene-modified gelato).

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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