Photo credit: realmountainvalues.com
Molly Lawrence, CFJC Intern
On a Tuesday evening, the six of us gathered together to build community around food. We met in my quirky apartment in downtown Sacramento; everyone sharing their delicious home cooked dishes, wine glasses merrily clinking. The conversation flowed organically (a combination of wine and positive vibes…). There was a willingness to share: an acknowledgment of subjective experiences, and genuine curiosity. We were five women and one brave man. However, Randy held his own quite well! I sat back fascinated by the ebb and flow of conversation, admiring each individual’s ability to self-reflect and speak from a place of heartfelt truth. At times, the conversation appeared a little chaotic–in part due to my shiny new facilitating skill sets, but also because of the energy tangible in the room.
Many individuals met for the first time in this intimate setting. I wondered whether or not that would deter some from engaging, but everyone was willing to contribute in their own way. After everyone had gotten seconds and thirds of the abundant food, we began the discussion by sharing our own ‘food stories’. Everyone took a few minutes to lead us through his or her chronological food timeline. Many of us had very different experiences, from Mariko growing up around household diet fads, to Mary Helen’s experience living on a mid-western farm. Jing shared her experience of weekly Asian market trips with her family, as she learned that those turtles in the tank were actually for eating. Scarlette shared her mother’s observation of food as medicine, and how her father cooked for them and kept them on track with their healthy eating goals. Randy explored his shift from frozen foods to eating whole foods as he transitioned into his college community.
The theme of community was present throughout the evening. Jing brought up an interesting thread, that it is about the networks we engage in that present different cultural understandings and opportunities. Her family’s network was very much engaged in eating a whole, plant based diet. She said that processed food was never accessible growing up. Our food culture shapes our perceptions, and our relationship to our food. With an abundance of advertisements targeting unhealthy, processed food, many felt that this ‘planting of the seed’ presented an especially challenging obstacle in making informed choices. How do these ads shape our desire? One attendee brought up the disturbing fact that she observed a Burger King occupying a historical plaza in Mexico. These foods being marketed to us are addictive, Randy pointed out. In The End of Overeating, by David Kessler, Kessler states that the food industry has managed to figure out the exact “code” necessary for making us over-consume and overeat as a result. With our over-abundance of inexpensive, palatable foods, how do we as consumers in America regain control?
I think that it all comes back to creating equitable local food systems, with informed and empowered constituents. Scarlette added that through mentorship, we can build community, and re-connect with where our food comes from. Growing our own food creates sustainability in communities, and healthier individuals. Randy added that re-introducing disconnected individuals to their food takes time, repeated experiences, and a subjective approach. He has observed this through this work at Soil Born Farms, an urban agriculture and education project located in Sacramento. Taking a systemic approach, he stated, by creating community gardens, educational curriculum, and accessible opportunities for all community members leads to deeply-rooted change.
Jing reflected upon her experience as a child, growing up within the UC Davis community, and her gratitude for being given a small garden plot of her own. She vividly described the grounding experience and the creative process of growing her own food, learning by trial and error, and the passing down of generational wisdom. Her whimsical garden accounts I think brought us all back to a place of wonder, of opportunity, of connectedness with the earth. I’m sure we can all think of time as children when we felt a profound one-ness with Mother Nature, as she enveloped us and transported us to an organic state. We all are capable of returning to that place, and connecting with our local food system is a great example.
As the evening came to a close, I wished that we had 5 more hours to discuss food! Everyone brought such unique, and thoughtful perspectives to the shared space. And for me that is the best part of Kitchen Table Talks: that we can re-energize and support each other to continue having these important conversations in our local community. We must continue to do the work, to hold space for others, and to move forward towards a more just and sustainable food system. I am looking forward to branching out into the Sacramento community and hosting another KTT very soon!