Jim Eisenstein is passionate about the importance of buying and eating local food — so much so that he has developed his own saying to describe his conviction.
“I like to say, if all you needed to do was fill your stomach, you could eat sawdust with high-fructose corn syrup in it, but that’s not what it’s about.”
Eisenstein, from the organic Jade Family Farm in Juniata County, was one of 23 vendors who displayed their products at a Culinary Week event Wednesday.
Vendors, chefs and musicians came together on the lawn outside of South Hills School of Business and Technology to celebrate Culinary Week in State College and to promote local products.
Every day through Sunday, local participating restaurants are offering discounted three-course, fixed-price menus so that guests can try a variety of dishes made from locally grown ingredients.
Eisenstein supports the event and believes strongly in the nutritional value of local food.
“People don’t talk enough about nutrition,” Eisenstein said. “Therefore, they don’t realize that buying fresh produce and eating it makes sense because you’re getting more for your money. Otherwise, get your sawdust and your high-fructose corn syrup!”
The other benefits of local food seem obvious, he said.
“It helps the local economy, it helps farmers, gives us food security, but we don’t talk enough about the nutrition. I think it’s all about nutrition, so that’s what I always emphasize,” he said.
Melanie Rosenberger, of Greenmoore Gardens, shares Eisenstein’s opinions on the importance of healthy eating.
“We live in such an agriculturally rich area in Centre County,” Rosenberger said, “and I think utilizing that and getting food out to people so they can lead healthier lives is really important.”
Not only is it important for the customers, but for the vendors themselves.
“We thought it was a really great opportunity to connect with the community and to be a part of food week,” Rosenberger said. “It’s really important for us as organic farmers to connect with our customers and just the community in general. We go to farmers markets for the same reason.”
Lori Miller, who works with the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, decided to organize the event for similar reasons.
“Our goal was to have a community atmosphere to pull in the vendors that are with the farmers markets,” Miller said. “We did something at the farmers markets last year and found that it was a little bit disconnected, so we thought it’d be great to have it in one location.
“The goal is to give a sampling of the food that their restaurants have available and then encourage people to go out and dine at our restaurants during Culinary Week and beyond.”
Greg Meagher, who works in the Knowledge Kafe at South Hills, was one of the chefs who gave demonstrations throughout the day, showing a crowd how to roll sushi.
“This is something I enjoy doing because it’s creative; it’s giving me control of what I’m doing,” Meagher said. “I enjoy teaching, so it’s a fun job.”
Meagher considers events that promote local food a crucial part of any community.
“I’m an avid gardener myself,” Meagher said. “I think it’s important because you know where the food comes from and you’re helping people who are helping the community.”
Jennifer Norton, of State College, appreciated the event because of its positive impact.
“Well, I think supporting the community is important, and helping the environment,” Norton said. “Certainly there’s an extra element of freshness too.”
Patty Mitchell, of Unionville, was pleased to find a variety of berries she could make her homemade jam with. She praised the freshness of the products.
“When you bring peaches from across the country, it’s a different kind of peach they have to grow in order to not get mushy and ripe,” Mitchell said. “So this way you get the freshest possible stuff.”
Eisenstein also emphasized the seriousness of fresh food.
“I have a friend who is in the nutrition department at Penn State and I asked her what difference freshness makes,” Eisenstein said. “She said that broccoli loses 20 percent of its vitamin C within one day of harvest. So you know if you’re getting broccoli that comes from California. Even if it’s organic, it’s not gonna have the same nutrition.
“We’re in an ideal location. This is a food paradise around here; I mean, you can get almost everything and the food is fresh, and that really makes all the difference.”