The American Public Gardens Association recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, taking root (pun intended) in the Twin Cities for a weeklong gathering of horticulturists, conservationists, green thumbs and everyone in between.
Amongst a week of classes and exhibitions was the conference’s keynote speaker: Minnesota transplant and famed chef Andrew Zimmern, mastermind behind the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” franchise. There was no daring display of stomach-churning delicacies, and he wasn’t there to recall stories from around the world. Instead, he focused on how narrow (and terrible) our food choices have become, as well as Minnesota’s untapped potential to becoming a farming mecca.
In a one-on-one interview prior to his speech, Zimmern explained the motivation behind changing our mindsets.
“America’s the only country in the world where 14 ounces of animal protein has to be the center place of every meal,” he said. “We know when we travel around the world and look at other cultures that small amounts of animal protein—lean animal protein—with lots of colorful vegetables, beans and farinaceous foods is a more healthy way to eat.”
Zimmern explained that while the “sexy story” over the last few years has been to explore seafood options outside the traditional tuna, salmon, shrimp and lobster, it’s time we have that conversation about plants. In particular, it’s time we have that conversation right here in Minnesota.
“Why doesn’t Minnesota own the word ‘farm’ in the same way Wisconsin owns the word ‘cheese’?,” he said. “… I have a hard time understanding with so much arable land, so much agrarian space, why we aren’t developing more innovative ways to do indoor farming, coop housing, all the tried and true methodology. I would like to see the state of Minnesota get behind that.”
Our secret weapon to making this happen? The University of Minnesota’s agricultural program. It was there that the honey crisp apple was created; it’s there that scientists are making local grape varietals possible. Why, then, would other plants be out of the question?
“It’s almost like it’s an unfair advantage, and yet the stories that are coming out of (University of) Minnesota are not about that,” Zimmern said matter-of-factly. “There are small experiments being done with this; I would like to see us put the gas pedal on that. We have to figure out how to feed this planet. We’re not going to do it with feed-lot cattle.”
It’s hard to say if and when his prophetic vision will take a stronger shape—but until his Bizarre Foods life runs its course, Zimmern will continue traveling the world while simultaneously advocating for his beloved state’s future.
The APGA Conference crowd took kindly to the chef’s impassioned speech. And they all seemed to agree on Zimmern’s overall sentiment: “Plants are magical.”
Look for the full interview Monday, June 29th.