Introducing… HeadCount Festy Food Reviews

[caption id="attachment_378" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Spicy Pie"]Spicy Pie[/caption] While attending a festival, my friends spend a lot of time critiquing, analyzing and dissecting. They talk about the music sometimes, too. Mostly though, serious analysis is reserved for food.

We share important information, like Spicy Pie going up to $6 a slice (and still burning the roofs off everyone’s mouths) or that some quiet little stand is dishing out the best home-cooked grub on the grounds.

OK, maybe my friends are a little out of the ordinary. I remember once being in a hotel room after a Phish show and hearing my old Pharmer’s Almanac co-authors go on and on about this great pot cookie they’d had that afternoon – the texture, the perfect amount of chocolate, how it wasn’t too filling. I interrupted to say, “You guys realize that most people raving about ganja food four hours later are talking about how high they got?”

So the food obsession is a little offbeat. But food and dining are an essential and central part of the music experience. And as HeadCount evolves, I've come to view that in a new context. Food is political. How we eat, how our food is made, and how it is transported touches virtually every issue facing this country. From health care to the environment to how special-interest lobbyists influence policy – it all plays out on our plates (or pitas).

With all this in mind, I’d like to announce and introduce a new feature to the HeadCount blog: FESTIVAL FOOD REVIEWS. Food reviews with a special emphasis on health, the environment, vegetarian menus, organics, locally grown food and the ability of concert festivals to be a place where food becomes a statement. This is linked to HeadCount’s new “What’s Your Issue?” campaign where we try to drive awareness and action around six hot-button issues of importance to the music community - “Food and Farm Policy” being one and "Sustainability and Conservation" another. So what better way to start that discussion than by reviewing the food in HeadCount’s natural habitat?

Now, anyone remotely familiar with my diet is probably laughing at the thought of me trying to write an organic-food review. The closest I’ve ever come to vegetarian eating at a festival is living on fried dough and arepas. But I made a conscious decision to adjust my diet a bit at Mountain Jam in Hunter, New York, on May 30th; to eat a little healthier, try some new things and learn about where it came from.

My first stop was Michael’s, a food truck that parked itself at Mountain Jam’s “Awareness Village.” It was the only food in the village and appropriately served an ecclectic menu including some vegetarian items and pork dumplings. OK, so I went for the dumplings. But first I noticed that the gas tank on the truck was marked “vegetable oil only." This was the first food vendor I’d ever visited that could get to the show on the same oil my lunch was getting deep-fried by. I asked about the ingredients and the source of the dumplings, and that was somewhat disappointed: bought frozen in Boston's Chinatown. They tasted a lot like the frozen dumplings you’d get in Chinatown, too, which is to say pretty good if you like that sort of thing, which I do. But I don’t think I was changing the world by eating them.

[caption id="attachment_361" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Michael's vegetable oil-powered food truck"]Michael's vegetable oil-powered food truck[/caption]

A few hours later I stopped by “Crescent Foods,” a purely vegetarian vendor set up in a long row of less healthy food stands. I asked the server if, beyond being vegetarian, there was anything particularly environmentally or health-conscious about their fare. She silently pointed to a compostible cup. I ordered noodles with peanut sauce, which was bland and tasted like it was made with basic supermarket ingredients. (I gave up meat for this?)

[caption id="attachment_362" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Crescent Foods World Vegetarian Cuisine"]Crescent Foods World Vegetarian Cuisine[/caption]

A few hours later, I moseyed over to the “Solar Cafe” for a late-night snack. It was perched by itself on the outskirts of the main concert field, close to the action and doing brisk business throughout. I’d heard these guys had the best noodles at the fest, and that the grilled cheese was no ordinary parking-lot food. They had a buzz. They also had three solar panels reaching far into the air above a sign that read, “All proceeds support solar education.” I spoke for a while with the owner’s daughter, a charming young woman named Willow Mauch. As she worked a row of blenders, making some very creative veggie concoctions, she was kind enough to let me in on the back story. Her dad has been installing solar panels for about 20 years in the tiny town of Northwood, NH. The café is an offshoot of his business, Sun Weaver, to promote solar energy. The blenders and lights are powered by the sun.

[caption id="attachment_364" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Solar Cafe"]Solar Cafe[/caption]

Willow described the café as a statement, as an attempt to raise consciousness. It’s also a pragmatic business, as the folks at Solar Café had clearly figured out that an environmentally friendly approach to making food has its benefits at a festival. “See how we have this fat spot?” she said, leaning in to me. “It’s because we don’t have to plug in.”

I passed on the spinach and broccoli quesadilla and went for the grilled cheese, which definitely lived up to the hype. I walked away a happy customer. I also felt satisfied that my snack was a tasty manifestation of how festivals and the music community can push America forward. Festivals are a place where consciousness thrives and an entrepreneurial spirit seamlessly coexists with a love-thy-neighbor ethos. This should be embodied by the food served and the people who serve it. I hope to see more vendors like the Solar Café at the festivals HeadCount visits this summer, and I hope that locally grown ingredients someday become a standard and profitable selling point on Shakedown Street.

To do our little part to champion the inevitable food revolution, we would like to offer up the HeadCount blog for festival food reviews that are far better informed than this one. Do you have a refined pallet when it comes to health, nutrition and festy food? Well the next time you hit a music festival, take a few notes and ask a few questions. Take a photo of the best (or worst) food stands and find out what festivals they’ll be at. Then email your review and photos to [email protected].

A core belief of HeadCount is that the music community has great power to drive change. How we eat at festivals is a way to start, one bite at a time.