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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