The California Drought Dinner - A Los Angeles Pop-Up Event

An urban setting for dinner at a local artist's studio.

An urban setting for dinner at a local artist's studio.

Figs, goat cheese, and paprika.

Figs, goat cheese, and paprika.

Drinking strawberry and watermelon shrubs during cocktail hour.

Drinking strawberry and watermelon shrubs during cocktail hour.

After an amazing experience talking about and eating sustainable food recently at Casamor Farm (read about it here) I decided to attend another pop-up style dinner here in Los Angeles.

This one, titled “Beyond Water, A Studio Dinner,” was hosted by A Sustainable Kitchen (a community organization that “brings people together to learn, share, and discuss sustainable strategies for everyday life”) and local artist, Jeff Hastings. The chef for the evening was Jeston Garner.

The idea of this dinner was to experience eating and drinking as an artistic and culinary exploration of the current California drought.
Table decorations for the A Sustainable Kitchen Drought Dinner.

When we sat down to eat, the chef explained the concept for the meal. (1) We would be eating foods that didn’t require much water. (2) No food products were wasted in the cooking process---everything re-purposed to something else. And (3) we wouldn’t be eating with any utensils or off of plates. Yep, we were going with finger food (how this related to the drought, I have no idea).

Chef Jeston then talked about the large amount of water used to grow food, and how when food is wasted, water is wasted (true story). His suggested solution to this waste is for home cooks to turn kitchen food scraps into something else edible and delicious.

Grilled fruit with sauce made from re-purposed berries.

Grilled fruit with sauce made from re-purposed berries.

The suggestion of re-purposing food sounds good in theory, but it’s thinking too small. We need to be talking about the big water issues--the crops farmers grow around the state, the effects on California’s economy, whether we’ll start pulling water from the Columbia River in the future. The leaders of the dinner didn't create a space to discuss these topics, and the guests I sat near weren't interested in exploring them. Such a missed opportunity!

As we proceeded through four courses (there happened to be a lot of elk) I discovered that dinner was unusual in one more way: no water was served. Thirsty? Stick to the wine you brought because there were no water glasses and no water pitchers. Was this part of the art experience? I wasn’t feeling it; I like to stay hydrated.

If the lack of drinking water was a way to conserve, it was ridiculous. Even if our current drought gets much much worse, clean drinking water in LA is not going to be reduced. Lawn care, washing clothes, and washing dishes would all be limited long before drinking water.

Dessert: a shortbread cookie with cream and fruit.

Dessert: a shortbread cookie with cream and fruit.

As we munched on dessert, I realized I wasn't going to get the deep dive I wanted at this dinner. It seemed, instead, like a foodie-centric indulgence allowing attendees some feel-good warm and fuzzy moments about saving water. It was out of touch with the bigger issues.

And I LIKE talking about those bigger issues. That’s how we begin to make large-scale change.

As we left, I surreptitiously filled my water bottle in the sink in the bathroom and chugged it while walking back to the car. Is there a drought? Yes. Do I still need to drink water? YES.