making friends, talking food politics, and sharing a meal at the sunday supper eat-in
i went to an absolutely fantastic event called the ‘sunday supper’ eat-in at the yerba buena center gallery space over the weekend. an eat-in, as you can see on the eat-ins website, is a shared group meal, a public potluck, a community food event designed to get people together to share real food and conversation. in addition, eat-ins are meant to get people talking and thinking about ”good, clean, fair food’ and hopefully using that dialogue as a catalyst for action. there’s so much that needs to be done to make sure it’s a right and not a privilege to have food that is just and healthy and sustainable. it was great to have this event to get people reflecting on all the complex issues inextricably tied to the food we put in our mouths on a daily basis.
about 100 people showed up bearing overflowing bowls of salad, fresh-baked bread and arugula pesto, pie pans full of corn fritters, chocolate bread and olive oil cake, spicy cabbage rice, prosciutto and dates, olive and onion tarts, and even a huge bucket full of sweet hibiscus tea, plus so much more. there were a lot of regular people interested in food, as well as a number of invited food activists, authors, chef, and organizers who were there to spark conversation around their work. we all sat around the long table like a family reunion, piled our plates high, and chatted with our neighbors about all things food. irene, you would have loved it.
the theme of the potluck was ‘food your grandmother might make’ in honor of international women’s day, which reminded me of michael pollan’s eater’s manifesto. he offers the same phrase to help people choose real food, not processed food product, since most of our grandmothers didn’t have access to super wal-marts and high fructose corn syrup and slim-fast. instead, they might have made pasta or dumplings or enchiladas or any other of the many delicious items on the table at the eat-in. i’ll be honest, it’s extremely unlikely that my grandmother would have made a corn-tomato-bell pepper-broccolini-bean salad, but i was thinking a lot about bittman’s ‘vegan till 6pm’ idea and also wanted to make something cheap and easy. plus, like a three-year old or a magpie, i enjoy bright colors.
annie and i showed up a little late, just as all the invited food people were introducing themselves. but we felt immediately welcomed because everyone was so friendly and the food provided the perfect conversation starter to begin talking to people. what did you bring? why did you make it? how did you hear about the event? we were lucky enough to have the perfect conversation starter to introduce ourselves to bryant terry – oakland chef, activist, and author of cookbooks grub – ideas for an urban organic cuisine and the just-released vegan soul kitchen.
eating at pizzaiolo on friday, i noticed the VSK cookbook sitting on the bar. since i happen to be reading grub right now (i’m into food/cookbooks as bedtime reading, having just finished how i learned to cook, the tenth muse, and roast chicken and other stories), i started telling annie about this cool food politics and recipes book by the same author. as i spoke, i noticed the couple at the table next to us getting up and the woman giving me a funny sort of smile. i looked at her dining companion. i looked back at the cookbook. back at the dude now on his way out of the restaurant. back at the cookbook. neurons…slowly…firing…in…brain…oh hey! i was just sitting next to bryant terry! small freaking world. i related this story to him at the eat-in and we ended up plopping down next to him and his gigantic tub of bright-red hibiscus tea to chow down on these delicious corn fritters and chat:
as if i wasn’t psyched enough to sit down and chat with the author of the book i’m reading, who also happens to be an awesome chef, food justice activist, fellow of the kellogg foundation, and an incredibly chill, funny guy, we were joined soon afterwards by the organizer of the eat-in himself, the super cool gordon jenkins. gordon worked to incorporate sustainable food into the dining program at yale as an undergrad and also helped develop content for the absolutely incredible slow food nation event here in san francisco last september. he’s now working on a bay area meat CSA with my friend aron, organizing eat-ins, managing the eat-ins.org website, and probably doing a bajillion other impressive things as well. how does he have time for all this and have such great hair? he probably knows magic. anyway, let me introduce you to bryant (left), a tasty olive oil cake (middle) and gordon (right):
annie, bryant, gordon, and i talked about everything under the sun while stuffing our faces full of homemade deliciousness. urban food deserts and the fact that west oakland has 53 liquor stores and no grocery stores. the organizing power of young people and the growing student movement to get fair food into university dining halls across the country through the real food challenge. bryant’s journey through naming his book and how the juxtaposition of ‘vegan’ and ‘soul food’ leads to many an interesting debate. a discussion of southern farms and soul food (next up on the bedside table is hogs and hominy, a culinary history of soul food). what the terms ‘slow food’ and ‘real food’ mean to different people and how to make those connections. what to do when funding for important work on just and sustainable food falls through and how to build on the valuable work that’s been done so far and continue the momentum. our hopes for the new secretary of agriculture.
we touched on so many fascinating and important issues, i felt like we could have talked all day. i also wish i could have talked to all the other interesting and dedicated people there – for example, karen heisler, who co-founded the delicious mission pie bakery around the corner from my office that supplies us with amazing banana cream pies on the reg as well as the associated pie ranch, a farm and food education center south of SF. or nikki henderson, senior strategist of green for all, an organization i’ve been interested in since i heard founding president and new white house green czar(!) van jones speak at slow food nation and read his book, the green collar economy. however, in a way we did get to interact with people beyond chatting face-to-face because gordon had laid down a tablecloth of white butcher paper and provided markers. we were encouraged to write down ideas and random thoughts (and draw adorable food cartoons) so we could all walk around at the end and get inspired.
some of the ideas were very practical and specific:
some raised topics for discussion and action (and shouted out familystyles!):
still others involved mushroom doodles, i’m-bored-in-high-school-chemistry-style stars and hearts, and rhyming food haikus:
my personal favorite scribblings epitomized the event for me:
i couldn’t agree more. food is all about love and sharing and enjoying delicious things with people you care about, which only serves to make the food taste better and enrich the whole eating experience. food inspires so much passion and brings people together like nothing else, which was proven by the instant friends made in bryant and gordon after enjoying the meal and conversation with each other. i left the event truly inspired by all the incredible work done within this local food and justice community, but also a little sad to be leaving this incredible community for london. however, i also left with an upcoming connection to the slow food community in london and the goal of organizing my own eat-in over in the UK, so it’s all good. i’ll continue to explore delicious eating and slow food all over europe, whatever that may look like. and i can still educate myself and hopefully even take action to improve fair food access in the U.S. with this great worldwideweb and all the many many food-related links branching off from even just the few websites i’ve linked to in this post. so please, click this link to read about my new friend gordon and this one to read about my new friend bryant and go get yourself inspired to take action too.
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