FEAST was…

Feast Portland was kind of a big deal. It brought foodies, business owners, and chefs from all of the country to celebrate food, and celebrate Portland.

There are differing opinions, of course, as to the event’s success and purpose. The Willy Week makes a good point about the prices and the pomp and circumstance. And then there is the other side of the coin, pointing out the positives for the economy, Portland tourism, and the amount of money that went to charities fighting hunger. As always, it’s not all good and it’s not all bad.

I had the privilege of attending many events for free because of my current position with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. I attended the Sandwich Invitational,

the Night Market and Whole Foods Market Speaker Series. If you know me, you know I love food. And I mostly love food because it facilitates community, good conversation, and often times reminds me of a place I have been before. That is why I really enjoyed the Speaker Series. Everyone was fabulous, from Randy Gragg of Portland Monthly sharing with us all what makes Oregon a unique place (the urban growth boundary that preserves our farmland, historical preservation of buildings, the wide variety of crops exported around the world…)
to Karen Brooks reminding us all what makes the Portland food movement awesome (camaraderie!) to Chef Sean Brock making my heart melt as he waxed poetic about one of the loves of my life: Southern Food.

After this session I wanted to walk over and give Sean a big high five and hug. Yes! Someone is finally eloquently expressing what anyone from the South already knows: Southern food is misunderstood, and vastly underrated. He talked about how it’s not all about fried chicken, but mostly about vegetables, about living off the land and out of the basement full of preserved veggies. It’s about a sense of place and a sense of history. Who knew anyone could talk so long about rice and have me at the edge of my seat. If you don’t believe me, just read this. What if all chefs were this passionate (or as he describes himself: crazy) and were fighting to keep the heritage of food alive? I wish all chefs had a seed bank.

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton was also a highlight. She was feisty, well spoken, and deeply honest. I appreciate that. It was a nice way to bring some realism in the room and remind ourselves to not take things so seriously. In fact, we should also stop putting so much pressure on food to solve all of our problems, as she said:

“Sometimes I think, ‘poor little food.’ I mean just think about what’s being asked of food these days. Food is going to save the planet, we’re going to cure obesity, we’re going to save the dysfunctional family because if you just eat a meal together at the dining room table every day all you’re eff’ed up family problems will go away, it will create memories.And I think, ‘the poor madeleine.’ The little f&$king madeleine carries so much freight these days.”

And she’s right, we do put a lot of pressure on food these days. But, there is also a reason, a method behind this madness. While working here at the ODA, I see how my coworkers are making our country and this world a more positive place, as they listen to many stakeholders, introduce producers with buyers, facilitate conversations over a meal, open doors for connection over shared experiences, and help people from different areas of the world from different sectors find common ground. That’s what it’s all about: bringing people together. In this case, we do it with food.

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We’re in this Together

I came across this last night while reading the news. Her stare is engaging and haunting. Reading about her rich and passionate life and her to-soon death brings tears to my eyes.

How she describes her experience at Yale and her anxiety and also hopefulness for the future is very familiar to me now.

To all my BGIers: “We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.”

The Desire for Clarity

Walking back from lunch today, I was reminded of a customer I once had waiting tables in the North Georgia mountains. I was right out of college, saving money to move to Edinburgh, she was eating alone. We chatted a bit. I remember being in awe of her as she told me she had just finished up her Masters, and when her fiance asked her what she wanted as a gift, she requested a trip by herself. She sat and enjoyed her meal slowly, taking it all in, and writing letters to friends and family who had supported her throughout her journey. I admired her for her accomplishments, and for her wherewithal to know what she really needed was a big, fat, quiet, inward-looking break.

Now I find myself 7 years later, about to finish my MBA. I am tired and sad and an emotional roller coaster.  I’m proud of myself. I moved here to Portland with just a small suitcase and a smile.

Now I (almost – 10 days! ) have an MBA, a partner, and an incredibly strong community. The unknowns after June 10th are vast, exciting, and unnerving. I can tell Taylor and I want to make a decision about the future so we can have some clarity. What is our next move? Will we do something crazy like move to Costa Rica? Or do something equally crazy like buy a house and start a family? Will I start a business? The possibilities are endless and so are our imaginations.

Grandmother

Sitting in the sun, watching the water of the Willamette flow under the Broadway Bridge, Grandmother comes to mind. As some often do at the beginning of an ending, I think about those that came before me, those that made my reality possible.

Aundria Marie Newman was born December 6, 1918. Meeting her one would never know what hard times she overcame, from deep poverty and an abusive step-mother. She embodied true joy and love throughout her life. Gratitude and appreciation for the small things.

She and my grandfather, Carl Dewey Newman (Pop), saved every penny they could to ensure a better future for their future grandchildren. They started saving for my education before my parents even met. I remember at my college graduation how sad I was with Pop gone and Grandmother too old to attend. I remember feeling the weight of joy and gratitude.

While in my 20s my mom found a picture of Grandmother in her 20s, we look like twins. December babies. She had a quick smile and a marvelous laugh. That was one of her favorite words, marvelous. Oh and wonderful too, she loved wonderful.

She told great stories. The first time she had pizza. Her travels with my mom in Europe. She exemplified the art and grace of laughing at yourself. I remember her pulling her suitcase out of her bedroom, ready to head back home to Tennessee, and her overcome with laughter as she realized she had put on her hose, but had forgotten her pants. She laughed the hardest out of all of us.

Every time we visited her at the nursing home, after the Alzheimers set in, she said, “Amy, isn’t this the most wonderful place?” Always the optimist, always wanting to have the best time in any situation. What fun.

Root beer floats. Cheerios. Cornbread. Green Beans.

We celebrated her 90th birthday together. Waking up the next day, she told my mom, “I don’t remember what I did yesterday, but I know I had fun!”

A love for education was deeply engrained in Grandmother and Pop. Without a high school degree my grandfather was able to succeed in many ways, including bringing compassion to business and positive change to his community. They taught me the value of education, hard work, and working together.

So, today, I am thinking about Grandmother. Today marks three years after she passed. I can still hear her laughter, taste her famous chicken sandwiches. I will continue to think about the strong women that have come before me. The women that laid the foundation for my success.

Only a Pawn in Their Game

There are some interesting things going on in our country these days. I guess, though, it might always be “interesting.” While reading this article I was struck by the well explained paradox that is the South and also the base of the Republican party, and, in the end, the paradox of people. Without getting into more details, the author is pointing out that one of the stronger Republican states is also one of the most dependent on Federal aid for the every day citizen. And, with that, by voting for any of the candidates in the GOP, they are thereby voting to have the very aid they depend on, put in jeopardy.

But that is not what I want to talk about.

As a history major, I am sad to say the story of Medgar Evers (mentioned in the article above) is not one that I was familiar with until today. His life and assassination inspired the Bob Dylan song, “Only a Pawn in Their Game” and this led me to remember this incomparable song written after September 11, 2001. The thread is clear: citizens killing and being killed are just pawns in a system. As poems. We are metaphors.

We are all metaphors for a larger game that we have no control over, or so those in power hope. BGI makes me think a lot about power, and how, although it is the most interesting and inspiring communities I have ever been a part of, it still feels small, and the idea of us actually changing the world seems somehow totally plausible yet incredibly naive. I still feel “stuck” in a system that runs deeper and holds stronger than I could ever imagine.

I did not grow up in the Civil Rights era and I will never claim to understand what it was like for any side at that time. I only have my experiences and research to inform my opinion. That being said, just like then, we have a lot to continue to fight for, right here and right now. Our rights are being threatened. The citizens of this country are suffering because of the food that we are told is okay to eat. We are told that corporations are the same as people. The discussion about women’s health is about politics, not women. Money has more votes than people. It’s all become a game.

Our food system is feeding us food that is not food. I am angry that I no longer feel safe eating the cornbread I grew up on and the biscuits my mom makes with love. Little has changed in regard to social justice and economic equality. As Eric Schlosser eloquently expresses,

As upper-middle-class and well-educated people increasingly reject fast food, the industry has responded much like the tobacco industry once did when that demographic group decided to quit smoking. The fast-food chains, like the tobacco companies, are now aggressively targeting African-Americans, Latinos, and the poor. America’s low-income communities now boast the highest proportion of fast-food restaurants—as well as the highest obesity rates and the highest rates of diabetes. Two vastly different food cultures now coexist in the United States. While some Americans eat free-range chicken and organic produce, exercise regularly, and improve their health, most are consuming inexpensive processed foods, drinking large amounts of soda, and reducing their life expectancy. The contrast between the thin, fit, and well-to-do and the illness-ridden, poor, and obese has no historical precedent. The wealthy used to be corpulent, while the poor starved.

What brings me hope is that, as Schlosser expresses, our future is not inevitable. As large as the issues appear, and as powerful as the status quo feels, we can and must still fight for what is right. What do I mean by “right”?

I mean living in a society that honors our demands:

  • to know where our food is coming from,
  • to truly understand the affects our environment and our food have on our overall health,
  • to have access to healthcare
  • to speak our minds without threat of censorship,
  • to access a life that inspires us within.

This pawn isn’t ready to allow its opponent to declare checkmate yet.

Learning to Walk Away

Goodbyes are like going to the dentist. Nobody likes to do it, everyone should experience it at least once in their lives, and, while an overall unpleasant experience, the benefits will outlive the aches and pains.

I prefer hellos.

Hellos often coincide with goodbyes. The excitement of something new and the sadness of leaving. I’m walking away from something that I know can’t serve me anymore and I accept I can’t help any further. I want the best for them, but you have to give a little in order to get, and to me, they are not giving enough. Such a lesson surrounding people, culture, and true purpose. For my money, investing in people provides the greatest return. People. Planet. Profit. They all bleed into one another.

For tonight, bring on the champagne in celebration of hello!

Trying to Be Big.

I’m often surprised and deeply embarrassed when I cry in front of someone. Tears sneak up on me and all I can do is force a smile while the tears stream down and the skin around my eyes becomes blotchy red. I look down. For me crying is a sign of weakness and vulnerability that I am too often embarrassed to show. I want to appear strong. This is bothering me, but I can handle it.

I love that crying doesn’t lie. That it is essential to living. That I can’t not cry. Crying and I are becoming better friends these days. It’s good. Over the past two years my emotions have become more raw and real. Crying reveals to me what I am experiencing and how I am handling it internally.

I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of hurting me with his words. His words are meant to hurt. Looking for attention and a way to to stir up trouble, like a puppy when it poops in your shoe. When it came up in conversation with a friend, it could have just been another conversation surrounding politics, but instead, out of the blue, the tears. He was surprised.

I guess when a man calls every woman who uses birth control a slut, it affects me. I use birth control. I live with a man to whom I am not married. I have sex. Damn it.

Some inspiration:

Tony Porter: A Call to Men

Eve Ensler: Over It

My Dear Johnny