The two sites have little in common, save perhaps the fact that each was started by a small group of women who have developed deep expertise in their particular field of interest: American Food Roots on the history and evolution of U.S. gastronomy and Food Tank on the contradictory and problematic Western food system.
In early December, four D.C.-area food writers launched American Food Roots, led by NPR contributor Bonny Wolf , who conceived of the project years ago. Wolf recruited three other culinary scribes — Domenica Marchetti, Michele Kaya l and Carol Guensburg — to start building out the site in September 2011.
Together, the quarter have put together a charming and informative site that combines research into the cuisines of all 50 states with features, videos and recipes on all kinds of American cooking, whether the increasingly international flavor of the Thanksgiving spread or the decreasing presence of coddies in Baltimore. Trust me, if you read American Food Roots, you’ll learn something about the meals you eat, like the Christmas tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. (Is it an Italian tradition or an American one?)
“We really felt that there wasn’t anything out there quite like this,” Marchetti tells All We Can Eat. “We really wanted to dig a little deeper. We wanted to explore and tell America’s food stories and tell what people are eating in America’s kitchen.”
At this point, American Food Roots is a “labor of love” for the co-founders, says Marchetti, author of numerous books on Italian cooking, including “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” (Chronicle Books, 2011). In fact, between the four writers, they’ve invested about $10,000 of their own money into the project, Marchetti says. The site is looking for volunteers to provide stories or video anecdotes on foodstuffs close their hearts or even flesh out some of the state culinary histories.
One territory that currently has no food history on the site is, interestingly enough, the District of Columbia. “We’re not dissing Washington,” Marchetti says with a laugh. “We’re leaving the best for last.”
The four founders do have a business plan for American Food Roots, which could involve collaborations and partnerships with other groups, like state tourism bureaus. “If we get the numbers on the site that would entice advertisers, that’s one way we’d go,” Marchetti says.
By contrast, Food Tank: The Food Think Tank, is tackling a far more difficult task: reforming the entire food system, whether reversing the vast amount of waste built into the system or weaning ourselves off the high-yield commodities that dominate our diet (think: soy and corn). The site, which launches on Thursday, is co-founded by Ellen Gustafson and Danielle Nierenberg , two activists whose youth belie their wealth of experience in sustainable agriculture, hunger issues, poverty and nutrition.
As the founders note in the video above, “We’re trying to bridge the major disconnect betweenorganizations that are fighting hunger and organizations that are fighting obesity. The two groups have more in common than they think.”
I asked Nierenberg via e-mail how Food Tank’s mission will differ from other groups fighting the same battle on hunger, obesity and nutrition.
“Our goal is to find ways to bridge domestic and global food issues,” Nierenberg writes. “We want to highlight the need for changing the metrics regarding how food security and nutrition are measured. While yields and calories are important, they aren’t the only measurement of a healthy food system — we also need to consider environmental sustainability, the nutritional quality of food, gender equity, involvement of youth, etc., when measuring whether a food system is ‘successful.’ ”
“We also want to tell stories of hope and success in agriculture and highlight the innovations that are working on the ground to help alleviate hunger and poverty while also protecting the environment and shine a spotlight on these initiatives so they get more attention, more research, and ultimately more funding and investment,” she adds.
How will these lofty goals translate into weekly actions?
“Our biggest goal on a weekly basis is to connect with our readers, share their stories and get their ideas,” Nierenberg says. “Food Tank will be a community of activists, advocates, researchers, scientists, policy leaders, farmers, chefs, food manufacturers, journalists, students, academics, and others who are sharing their experiences with a broader audience.”
“At the same time,” she adds, “we’ll be conducting solid research and analysis — evaluating different food systems, establishing different metrics, putting together reports and presentations — to make sure we’re building a solid, science-based foundation for changing the food system.”
You might be heartened to learn that Food Tank’s budget comes from private funders, collaborations with other non-profits and foundations. ”We’re not accepting corporate funding,” Nierenberg says.