June 27, 2014

Nick Offerman's take on farm-to-table

The mustached voice of farm-to-table.Nick Offerman is primarily known as the mustache-toting, wood-crafting, snarky Ron Swanson on NBC’s show “Parks and Recreation”. However, Offerman is more than a mere television personality. While Ron Swanson has in many ways swallowed the identity of Nick Offerman, the man himself has become a down-to-earth symbol of the long-forgotten values of preparing fresh food and working with one’s hands. Though his alter ego has expanded into a hyperbolic, cartoony role that many have adapted as a catchall to represent manliness, Offerman maintains an aura of humility, directing much of his media attention to discussing growing up on a farm and woodworking. In this way, while Offerman’s character has become a folk hero with a penchant for only eating red meat,  the actor himself has become a modern food guru. Recently, Offerman has tried to separate himself from hyper-masculine guise of Ron Swanson by waxing philosophically about everything from woodworking and the search for masculine identity to the farm-to-table movement.

Nick Offerman on farm-to-table
Offerman’s new memoir, “Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living”, highlights life lessons he has learned and found affective to his success. In the beginning chapters, Offerman discusses how he was influenced by growing up on a farm, gaining understanding of the importance of working with one’s hands, fishing and preparing food. Though some of his anecdotes are a bit crass – imagine him helping his grandfather neuter pigs as a child? – Offerman strives to navigate how he benefited from always knowing the origin of his food.

“There is no part of this country where one cannot find a source of fresh, organic meat and produce,” he explains. “I’m not talking about Whole Foods, I’m referring to farmers’ markets and local butchers and fishermen and -women.”

He later discusses farm-to-table returning to being the normal means of how Americans access their food. While Offerman’s character Ron Swanson essentially survives on a diet of red meat, namely eggs and bacon, Offerman also expands to express the importance of healthy foods like kale and asparagus. He is very vocal about the fact that he would not survive if he ate with the same tenacity as his television character.

His biggest takeaway from this musing is that meat and produce are foodstuffs we often purchase far away from their origins while in fact it is much nobler to obtain food directly from the source. For additional reading on the philosophy of farm-to-table, Offerman recommends the writers Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry, potentially great reads for students enrolled in Austin culinary arts program to learn more about farming and environmental conservation.

Nick Offerman on food in general
In an interview with the Boston Eater, Offerman further expressed his love of fishing and fresh seafood. He explained that when he’s on the East Coast he orders by using phrases like, “Please ask the crew to supply whatever they consider to be the local meat specialty.” He is primarily talking about fish, but also broadens his point to discuss all meats, paying particular attention to seeking out local fare wherever he travels. Fishing is another pastime he often talks about when he discusses food.

Despite his cult status, Offerman’s book retains a tone of humility, one of a man who genuinely believes in the values he preaches. Though Ron Swanson is perhaps a shadow of Nick Offerman, the man who has become a beacon of machismo is both food-savvy and environmentally conscious, instructing all of us on how to build our own canoes, paddles and all, and reconsider the way we access our food, one meal at a time.