I received an email today from Food Systems NYC notifying me of the upcoming NY Chili Fest 2011 on January 30th in Chelsea Market. This excited me as I absolutely love the stuff, and really, anything hearty and stew-like. As I scanned the event description and list of participating competitors, though, I realized that every single entry would have a beef base. A quick call to the event organizers confirmed this statement from the website:
Dickson’s Farmstand Meats is supplying each chef with 100% dry-aged, locally-raised beef from Wrighteous Organics in Schoharie, NY, as the base for their chili, providing a level playing field for the competition. An exclusive panel of on-site celebrity judges vote on the 2011 Chili Champ of NYC. The 1st place team wins $2000 in addition to the illustrious 2011 Golden Chili Mug.
First, a note of appreciation for the fact that the beef is local and responsibly-raised/not factory-farmed. But while that’s great, my point of contention is that the event organizers have [possibly inadvertently] ended up giving people the sense of being pointedly excluded and deemed irrelevant or undesirable.
To say I was – and still am – disappointed is a given. I wanted an excuse to sample chili from some of the noted and up-and-coming cooks in the city, while comparing their styles. And, perhaps more importantly, I was a bit insulted that not only is this perpetuating the already-widespread perception of chili as a meat-only dish (it’s not! Seriously, it’s all about the beans and the sauce, and really, anyone who says chili is hard to make without meat is deluding themselves. I mean, check out this Gold Rush Chili. This Spicy Veggie Chili is a bit more daunting.), but an entire community of eaters and chili-lovers are now excluded from enjoying this event. It’s worse than how I felt when Brooklyn had their Chili Takedown and the veg versions elicited gapes and scowls just at the ingredient-list from eaters who didn’t even taste any of it. But that was a guest problem, not an organizer issue, since Matt Timms lets competitors invite themselves so it’s equal opportunity chili, he has hosted a Tofu Takedown (yum!) and non-meat chili has won the chili competition in the past.
Am I a food snob? I would hope not. I try not to be. And I often feel competing urges to either smack or debate vegangelicals when they get on their stump. But I guess there is a part of me that expects the same respect for my decision to eliminate meat from my diet as I respect others’ decision to keep eating meat. Part of that respect would be presenting OPTIONS. Especially when big events sponsored by influential players like FSNYC and Chelsea Market are involved. is it too much to ask for them to acknowledge an entire eating community in NYC whose members play a huge part in the success of both their sales and their mission for fostering locally sustainable and interactive food production communities? To create an event that is inclusive instead of exclusive; that does not perpetuate the idea that a type of food is exclusive to a particular group of people? That flies in the fact of community.
Perhaps it’s that I am spoiled for vegetarian options? Living in New York City, one of the world capitals of gastronomic variety, that is highly likely.