John C. (Jack) Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president

A Nation of Marvelous Eaters

But lately that’s exactly where I’ve found myself, hanging out with the in crowd, partying like it’s 1999. At the Giant Eagle.

Yep, the hottest spot in town is a grocery store. Twenty-somethings, couples in their 80s and lots of us in-betweeners spend Friday nights queued up like it’s the season opener at Ohio Stadium. Why? To spend $6 sampling wine and food.

On a typical Friday, this unique store, Giant Eagle Market District, hosts 500-plus people who spend hours leisurely visiting six stations to study and taste featured wine/food pairings. Their carts have wooden cup, uh, goblet holders. The line, which forms outside before meandering through the 125,000 square foot store, isn’t annoying; it’s part of the attraction. Revelers make friends, sip wine, talk food and, as I’m sure Giant Eagle appreciates, fill their carts.

While its scale may be extreme, this “Foodie Friday” event is anything but an aberration. Americans have become a nation of “marvelous eaters,” says food industry tracker The Hartman Group, and are “enamored of food, eating, and the theatrics of cooking…documenting what we have eaten, where it was procured, and with whom it was consumed.”

My reaction to this explosion of epicurean enthusiasm is mixed. The farmer in me is still absorbing it all. As an avowed commando shopper (get in, get out, nobody gets hurt), I’m slightly embarrassed I actually enjoy the spectacle. As Farm Bureau’s exec, I’m worried. I wonder how the food culture and agriculture will get along.

Farm Bureau’s mission is to connect consumers and farmers. But just how do you connect the gastronaut, who can describe in detail the perfectly balanced salty butteriness and delicious crunchiness of the premium wafer on which his soft ricotta cheese rests, and the wheat farmer, whose contribution to that cracker entailed fighting a drought, paying a mortgage, managing manure and nursing the occasional busted knuckle? One sliver of baked grain; two completely different frames of reference; zero common ground. It’s a formula for a massive food fight. Or, just maybe, it’s a recipe for connecting foodie and farmer.

I’m a big believer that experiences shape expectations. So what might happen if we left our fine dining venues and the cabs of our combines and spent some time on each other’s turf? The connoisseur who is exposed only to exquisitely prepared gastronomic delights could see that growing food can be dirty, noisy and smelly. The farmer who considers his commodities to be simply sustenance for a hungry society would learn that consumers don’t take his food for granted; they crave the story behind every bite. If we gourmands and growers step outside our comfort zones, we’ll learn something new about the food chain and probably have some fun.

Getting started is easy thanks to your Farm Bureau membership. This magazine brings you stories about food, farmers and food fanciers. But don’t stop at reading—get out of the house or off the farm. Your dues are a ticket to experiencing aspects of food and farming unlike any you’ve seen before.

Of course, if you’d like a little more personal service, I’m your guy. Need to know which cheese best complements your favorite Ohio wine? I’m partial to either the soft-ripened full-bodied aromatic bleu, or I can go with the Cheez-Its. Let’s chat Friday night at Giant Eagle.