Over the past decade, something interesting has taken place in the Midwest. All ears, it seems, are on Minneapolis, as the city earns its title as a major birthplace of indie rap artists. It's home to the upwardly mobile, self-described “hip-hop collective” Doomtree, who once was seen as a best kept secret of middle America. Today, another secret is out: They’re foodies, and conscious ones, at that.
There are seven members of Doomtree, including Sims, the blue-eyed, 32-year-old indie rap artist who, in the span of less than one minute, can list what he seeks to eat at every city he visits: Pho in Seattle, peka in Croatia, and soup dumplings in any city with a Chinatown, to name a few. Growing up, his family cooked nearly every meal at home, serving up traditional Irish and German fare he still vividly recalls, like the sauerbraten and spaetzle his grandmother would make: Two meals he credits as “formative.”
Above all, Sims has gotten into the habit of asking one major question about what he eats: Where did it come from?
“We’re so disconnected from our food,” he says, over a lunch of salmon and vegetables at Chelsea Market’s Buon Italia, during the New York stop on Doomtree’s “All Hands” tour (dates here). “We don’t really think about the heritage of our food, and what it means culturally, and where we’re getting it from.”
He shares that he’s been working hard to eat clean: A journey to food consciousness that he attributes to two major factors. First, he says, it was the infamous pink slime revelation, which made him want to learn more about what, exactly, he was eating. “I’m going to do research,” he says, “and find out what kinds of things I do want to eat, and try to steer myself toward that.”
It’s an effort that’s amplified by the second major influence of his new outlook on eating, which is his wife’s ownership of Minneapolis restaurant Muddy Waters. Something of a local landmark, it's a gastropub serving up, as Sims describes it, “fancy bar food.”
“One of her challenges is how to get good food and make it affordable,” Sims says, reflecting the widespread issue of accessibility to healthy cuisine. “It’s expensive to get all local, all organic from local farmers. At some point, the cost has to get passed down.”
Such matters are prevalent within the Doomtree family. Dessa, one of Sims's co-artists, has made it a point to pay tribute and give business to local farmers and food producers on her solo tours. It’s a familiar world to Dessa, whose mother, Sylvia Burgos Toftness, owns a Wisconsin cattle ranch (grass-fed, of course) and hosts the Deep Roots Radio podcast.
Sims finds himself troubled by the conflict that Sylvia faces in her enterprise. “The Monsanto lobby is a nearly unstoppable force,” he laments. “They are making it so hard for someone like Dessa’s mom to be a farmer.” As a result, he is overwhelmingly non-judgmental of - and empathetic with - those who don’t or simply can’t make the same efforts to eat well and source food the way he does.
“Some people eat cheaply because they need to. They don’t have any money,” he says, almost remorsefully. “One of the reasons that the corn subsidy is such a successful program is because it made all this cheap food … so more people can eat. The unfortunate side of that, is that there’s a lot of detrimental health effects.”
He pauses. Sims is not afraid to get political; that much is clear in his music. It’s evident that he’s paying attention. “That sort of a reliance of cheap food … detrimental economic side effects can come from it, as well.”
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Sims, really, has seen it all, as anyone will during a self-driven van tour. This time around, for the “All Hands” tour, the collective is privy to a bus, allowing them to at least sleep more and stop at places like Whole Foods and co-ops for their meals. For their 2012 “No Kings” tour, however, gas stations were a primary source of what comprised a typical meal for Sims on the road: A Chobani yogurt and hard-boiled eggs. (“And who knows where those came from?” he asks.)
Doomtree also traveled to Europe on that tour, where petrol stations continued to be a source of edible fuel between shows, but where the food landscape is markedly different (read: GMO labeling, et cetera). That’s where the vast dichotomy between thoughtfulness toward food in Europe, versus that of the U.S., became painfully apparent. “First of all,” Sims says, “people are sitting down, eating their food inside. As Americans, we eat in the car. They don’t do that there. It’s just not part of their culture or heritage.”
Then, there’s the quality of selection that he observed: “Caprese sandwiches, genoa salami, fresh fruits and vegetables.”
At the gas station?
“At the gas station,” he repeats. “That’s just what it is. That’s the food they have there.”
Still, Sims is realistic. He knows that there’s going to be the occasional cheeseburger; otherwise, he says, “It’s just not fun.” He’s also conscientious of the degree to which a major change in food production might be up to consumers, but is optimistic.
“People are starting to be more conscientious of the food that they’re eating,” he says, nodding to a general step in the right direction. “If the consumer starts changing their mind, or changing where their dollars go, you watch the companies follow suit.”
Perhaps food policy will become fodder for Sims’s next solo album. “I’m excited for the future of food,” he says. “It could be cool.”
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Image: Sims Official Facebook Page